Glass Art and Heritage Landscapes – Week 1

Glass Art and Heritage Landscapes – Week 1

Is it showing my inner geek too much by admitting I love back to school season? When I was younger, I was always excited to get back to learning. No wonder I work in a museum!

This fall, I am excited about class once again. Specifically, “Glass Arts & Heritage Landscapes” – even the name gets me giddy about the possibilities of knowledge to be shared. This is a course offered at Rowan University within their art department. Taught by Dr. Jen Kitson, a professor in the Departments of Art and Geography, Planning, & Sustainability, it is part of their new Institute of Innovative Media, Materials and Design (IMMaD), which supports collaborative, cross-disciplinary innovations and expands thinking related to innovative media, materials and design. As someone with multidisciplinary degrees, this is right up my alley. Luckily, WheatonArts is partnering with Dr. Kitson, giving me an opportunity to participate in the class and share the Museum of American Glass’s incredible resources with the students.

It is due to the creative foresight of Pam Weichmann, WheatonArts’ Director of Education and Artist Services, that this partnership developed. It was she who connected our visiting artist, Norwood Viviano, with Jen, thereby sparking the development of this exciting collaborative class. The original vision, which involved the class working with Norwood in the Wheaton Glass Studio, had to be reformatted due to the pandemic. However, with a brain trust like Jen, Norwood, and Pam and a little help from Zoom, adjustments were quickly made, and the course will go on with a similar level of engagement, if not hot glass work.

To quote from Jen’s syllabus, “this course will expose students to art-geography research methods animating concepts such as landscape, place, and memory in expressive and aesthetic ways. … This class will revolve around a collaborative project with Norwood Viviano and WheatonArts seeking to generate new understanding of place through research and creative response to the legacy of glass in South Jersey. Our critical and creative engagement with the South Jersey glass landscape will include its complicated legacy as a source of industrial heritage, environmental degradation, and creative economy. Through an interdisciplinary perspective, students will be exposed to socially engaged practice, museum and memory studies, creative placemaking and geographies, glass art and digital scholarship.”

Each week the students will be given research assignments that “are intended to hone our observational skills – our capacities to notice, document, and question glass as a creative material force in everyday life and specifically South Jersey.” I will be sharing these assignments with you in hopes it “become[s] a springboard for inviting a public audience to participate in the dialogue.”

It was a new start for everybody last Friday as the class met for the first time at WheatonArts, becoming the first group of visitors on campus since we closed for the season on December 31, 2019. It also marked the return of the small glass furnace, which had been turned off since March. Thus it was a very special day for all. As noted by Jen, “Pam choreographed the perfect day – and team – amidst logistical … and pandemic obstacles. Skitch (& Eric) gave us the ultimate hot shop crash course – igniting our material imagination. Norwood injected artistic and academic frame, context, and a trajectory of the project – wonderfully preparing us for the museum. Kristin gave us the penultimate glass museum guide on history, place, and practice – stories were springing from every object. It was such a joy and privilege to hang out with you all for the entire visit.”

Pictures taken by the students and Pam and Jen show this group who have come together on a journey to explore the heritage and art of South Jersey glass. I can’t wait to learn how the students respond to their trip to WheatonArts… and what new perspectives they will bring to this 281-year-old tradition. 

~ Kristin Qualls, Director of Exhibitions and Collections