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Heart of Glass

The Museum of American Glass celebrates New Jersey's rich glass-making heritage.

Posted September 13, 2011 by Nick DiUlio

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Corning Museum of Glass
Artists create a glass pumpkin in the WheatonArts Glass Studio.
Courtesy of WheatonArts.

Corning Museum of Glass
An exhibit at the Folklife Center.
Courtesy of WheatonArts.

Corning Museum of Glass
A clay vessel from the Festival of Fine Craft by artist Michael Cho.
Courtesy of WheatonArts.

In the early 1960s, Frank H. Wheaton Jr. visited the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. He was amazed by what he saw.

Dozens of the museum’s most prized pieces had not come from western New York, but rather southern New Jersey, the region where Wheaton’s grandfather—a pharmacist named Dr. Theodore Corson Wheaton—began making his own pharmaceutical bottles in a Millville glass factory. That visit to Corning gave Frank Wheaton the impetus to start his own museum, where South Jersey’s rich glass-making heritage could be properly displayed.

Fifty years later, the Museum of American Glass in Millville contains about 7,000 pieces and is the only museum in the country dedicated exclusively to American glass. Some of the artists showcased there hail from South Jersey. It’s also a key component of the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center.

In recent decades, WheatonArts has evolved into more than a home for its world-class museum. Nestled in 60 acres of shady pine groves deep in Cumberland County, the center boasts everything from glass art workshops to museum stores to fellowship programs for glass artists from around the world.

“We often refer to Wheaton as a sanctuary, where one can observe the creative act as well as participate,” says WheatonArts executive director Susan Gogan. “We are fortunate to have relationships with visitors and artists from throughout the United States and beyond, and in the last five years we’ve strengthened our commitment to provide meaningful programs for those living in the region.”

This month, Wheaton will host its 12th annual Festival of Fine Craft. From 10 am to 5 pm on October 1 and 2, more than 125 juried artists from all over the country will display works of studio art glass, stained glass, jewelry, metal sculptures, wearables, baskets, clay pieces, wood carvings, furniture and two-dimensional art and photography.

Recently hailed by AmericanStyle magazine as one of the country’s Top 10 fairs and festivals, the Fine Craft fair will also feature entertainment (including a live band, and a roving and interactive magician), food and even a pumpkin patch made entirely of hundreds of glass pumpkins.

“This is our flagship,” says Wheaton marketing and public relations director Janet Peterson. “It’s a great opportunity for people who have never been to Wheaton before to immerse themselves in the whole experience.”

That experience extends well beyond the center’s fall festival. Visitors to Wheaton can enjoy the art sanctuary year round in myriad ways.

In addition to the glass museum, Wheaton has multiple stores, including the Gallery of Fine Craft, a rotating exhibit space that recently showcased works by South Jersey artists and craftspeople; glass, ceramic  and woodcarving studios, where visitors can watch artists making their creations; and the Folklife Center, a rotating exhibit space that highlights the artistic contributions of South Jersey’s various ethnic and cultural groups. And for those who are interested in participating in the creative process, Wheaton offers classes and workshops in glass, ceramic, wood carving and flamework.

“We don’t just use our artists for their entertainment value,” says Gogan. “We engage with the audience on a deeper level, which I think instills a sense of comfort in our visitors, and over time they become a part of our community.”

For more information on Wheaton’s classes, exhibits and events—including upcoming holiday-themed activities—visit wheatonarts.org or call 800-998-4552.


 


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