STORY WRITTEN BY BURTON WASSERMAN
For 21st Century Media
Residents of the greater Delaware Valley know the region of South Jersey offers visitors more than marvelous beaches, glamorous casino hotels in Atlantic City and other locales that dot the coastal shoreline. Wonderful travel and tourist sites and the appeal of the natural landscape are especially inviting in the summertime when the prevailing weather is pleasantly agreeable.
Typically, Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center, off New Jersey Highway #55, in Millville, is currently offering a unique exhibition titled: “NJ 350: Through The Lens of Glass” in the Museum of American Glass on the grounds of the center. It explores the long-standing relationship between the making of glass products and the region of South Jersey, from the Colonial Era to the present day. The central focus of the exhibition draws attention to the renowned collection and the archives of the museum. It will remain on public view until Jan. 4.
Convenient parking, interesting shops, art galleries and both food and beverage service in family friendly facilities are all available at the center. In addition, there are regularly scheduled demonstrations of making handcrafted paperweights and other objects, offered in a modern glass studio designed to be reminiscent of a Victorian Era glass factory.
An essential natural ingredient for creating all manner of glass objects, from windows to industrial products, tableware and containers for food, cosmetics and medicinals fine sand, which, when melted at high temperatures becomes transparent glass. This was abundantly present in the land underfoot in South Jersey. The addition of other chemicals to the molten glass yields assorted colors and various stages of opacity to a given batch. Another necessary resource was an apparently endless supply of hardwood trees which provided wooden fuel for heating the furnaces in which the sand was melted.
There was also a considerable number of European immigrants who brought “old world” glass making skills with them to New Jersey. In addition, there was also a supply of native born residents who potentially became skilled and semi-skilled workers who found employment in the glass industry. The exhibition shows how all of these factors came together to become a significant productive presence during the last three and a half centuries in southern New Jersey.
Along with the emphasis on utilitarian products, the exhibition also features the museum’s unique collection of serious artworks formed by talented personalities who use glass as their principal medium of choice. They include selections by recognized artists who live and work all over the earth as well as superb examples by Paul Joseph Stankard, the eminent, worldclass master of flameworked floral sculpture enclosed in solid glass paperweights. His home and studio are located a short distance away, in Mantua.
Yet another presentation, currently on display at Wheaton Arts, is an installation titled “Durand: Made in New Jersey.” This display will also remain on public view through Jan. 4.
The exhibition presents examples of an unusual art-deco approach that was applied to the making of what came to be known as Durand art glass. They were crafted at the Vineland Flint Glassworks in nearby, Vineland, from 1924 to 1931. Besides the elegant Durand ware, the company also manufactured technical glass products for use in chemical laboratories.
These Durand pieces, unlike the impersonal selections made for scientific and industrial purposes, have a distinctive esthetic identity and charm, all their own. It is rather akin to the primarily ornamental quality evident in examples of Tiffany glass. Consequently, the Durand items are highly prized by serious connoisseurs who collect what is often called art glass.
Clearly, they have stood up to the test of time and are no longer looked on as novelty selections. Invariably, they encompass both a distinctive originality of pattern design and a high degree of disciplined craftsmanship that was faithfully exercised in their execution. For these reasons, they project a measure of artistic integrity that is unique and genuinely inspired.
IF YOU GO
Wheaton Arts Center is open six days a week, from Tuesday through Sunday. The visiting hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (856)-825-6800 or check www.wheatonarts.org/museumamericanglass/aboutmuseum.