NJ350: Through the Lens of Glass

2014 Museum of American Glass Exhibition

NJ350: Through the Lens of Glass

Kristin Qualls, Director of Exhibitions & Collections

Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center joins the state-wide celebration of the 350th anniversary of New Jersey with a new exhibit, NJ350: Through the Lens of GlassNJ350: Through the Lens of Glass will explore the relationship between glass and South Jersey from the Colonial Era to the present day.  The exhibit will feature the renowned collection and archives of the Museum of American Glass, oral histories of local glassmakers and examples of current glass craft and artistry of artists currently working in the region in order to show the continuity and change in the South Jersey glass tradition.

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors will be met by a series of vignettes that highlight various aspects of the relationship between South Jersey and glass.  The vignettes are created through display of historical artifacts and modern art pieces, quotes from glassmakers past and present, and primary source documentation from the Museum’s archives.  Broken into three major themes, each vignette stands on its own. Together they show how creativity and artistry have been integral to the evolution and understanding of glass in South Jersey.


The first theme explores the multitude of histories inherent in the South Jersey glass tradition.  With sand, forests, and proximity to waterways, the natural resources in South Jersey were well suited to sustain glass making.  Immigrants brought the skills to make the fledgling industry thrive while successive waves of immigration influenced techniques and traditions, melding to become the South Jersey style of color and decoration. The glass made in South Jersey reflects larger social and cultural events and celebrations, giving us insight into what was considered important at the time.  Changes in economy and business practices felt throughout the country affected what glass was made, by whom, and how.

The second theme explores the evolution of handmade glass in South Jersey from the earliest days to the present day artistic expressions. Since the first glasshouses, glass made in South Jersey has been mass produced as well as made into individual pieces of art – but all made with skillful craftsmanship.  Revival movements and museum replicas preserve the memory of the South Jersey glass tradition.  That tradition blends with innovation as knowledge, values, and skills are handed down through generations of glassmakers, each of whom add new meanings and individual artistic perspectives.

The third theme explores how we understand and interpret the South Jersey glass tradition, illustrated through the WheatonArts story. WheatonArts began as the bicentennial era vision of our founder, Frank Wheaton Jr., to create a Victorian themed tourist destination that would pay homage to South Jersey’s glass culture.  In 1983, the establishment of the Creative Glass Center of America Fellowship Program, providing studio fellowships to contemporary artists from around the world, laid the foundation for the evolution of “historic” Wheaton Village, to Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center, now a highly respected major arts institution in New Jersey.