A Design Performance Hot Enough to Melt Glass

Corning Museum glassmaker Eric Meek makes a design by Arik Levy at GlassLab. Photo by Corning Museum of Glass.

By Kelly Rush

On a sweltering day on the cusp of July, several men dressed in all black stood in front of furnaces hot enough to melt glass. Literally. The team had come together for a demonstration on Governors Island to kick off the Corning Museum of Glass’ GlassLab design program, which will be on the island through the end of July.

Designers from the New York region—including Georgie Stout, Inna Alesina and Q Cassetti—will work with Corning Museum glassmakers in a series of free, public, glass-design performances on an island that has become known as New York City’s cultural backyard.

Designers will bring their sketchbooks and ideas and join glassmakers in the GlassLab’s mobile hot shop next to Pershing Hall weekends through July 29. The teams will prototype their ideas in live sessions, allowing audiences to get a peek at an unusual process that demands coordination, teamwork and creativity while glassmakers handle an extremely hot material in a small, enclosed space.

The kickoff demonstration, held Friday at the hot shop, featured several furnaces in which glass was melted and then formed into the shape of a buoy at the direction of graphic designer Peter Buchanan-Smith. The glassmakers melted and shaped the glass in a delicate method where one slip could shatter the glass—or burn a hand. The buoy-in-progress was heated in a furnace and then pulled out and shaped by a glassmaker holding wet newspaper.

Carol White, executive director of the Corning Museum, said the museum has worked with 50 designers, including Yves Behar, Constantin and Laurene Boym, Stephen Burks, and the Campana Brothers, since starting the hot shops five years ago.

She said the museum’s mission is to tell the world about glass, and the setting on Governors Island is the perfect venue by which to introduce more designers to working with glass as a medium.

The design performances feature contemporary graphic designers included in the onsite exhibition Graphic Design—Now in Production, presented by Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and co-organized by the Walker Art Center.