Centuries of Tomfoolery

Banner for the "Centuries of Tomfoolery" exhibit. The banner is split into two sections. The larger section on the right side of the banner is an image of a clear horn-shaped trick glass in front of a white to gray gradient background. The background starts white at the bottom and turns darker towards the top of the image. The glass has six clear glass rings with small swirls in groups of two throughout the horn, a small knob at the tip, and a thick rim around the opening. The smaller section on the right side of the banner is an image of a lady with a clear horn-shaped trick glass in front of a dark teal background. The lady has her head tilted back as she pours a clear liquid out of the trick glass into her mouth. The liquid instead spills all over her face ,mouth, and light teal colored shirt. The lady has shoulder length, curly brown hair and red lipstick. Large white text extends across the top of the banner and reads "Centuries of Tomfoolery". Underneath is a teal rectangle that gets more transparent towards the left side of the banner. Inside of this rectangle is more white text that reads "Trick Glasses", "Pipes", and "Whimsical Delights".
Practical Archaeology, Drinking Horn. Marije Kuiper, Hazazah Film & Photography.

Centuries of Tomfoolery:
Trick Glasses, Pipes, & Whimsical Delights

April 4 through December 29, 2024
In the Museum of American Glass

Gif of a person with a large clear graduated cylinder in each hand. The cylinder on the left is filled with green liquid and the cylinder on the right is filled with blue liquid. The gif shows this person holding each cylinder up towards their face as they consider the contents. The person then takes a sip of the liquid. This repeats with the cylinder on the right. The person smiles at the camera before the gif loops back to the beginning. The person has a short beard and is standing in front of a blue wall and is wearing a blue blazers over a white shirt, a necklace, and a red beanie.
Marije Kuiper, Hazazah Film & Photography.
Image of three clear glass pieces from the Centuries of Tomfoolery exhibit in front of a dark gray-to-white gradient background. The background starts white at the bottom and gets darker towards the top. The piece on the left is a tall clear glass that has a circular disc at the bottom, three sphere like shapes as the stem, and a funnel-shaped top. The sphere in the center has a small circular cut-out in the middle of it. The glass piece in the center is clear and shaped like a tall graduated cylinder with five thin textured circles evenly spaced throughout the cylinder. The clear piece on the right is shaped like a small pitcher with a long handle that starts inside the glass and extends until the bottom of the piece. Three small clear spheres rest at the bottom of the curvy handle. At the top of the piece are four pieces of glass evenly spaced around the rim. These pieces are holding a round, curvy clear glass piece at over the opening of the pitcher.
Image of a glass Jacob's Ladder found in the WheatonArts Museum of American Glass. The tall piece is made up of a long continuous thin glass rod that spirals in square shapes from top to bottom. The piece is resting on a white background and it's shadow extends from the piece to the bottom left corner of the image.
Image of a Liquor Dog in front and on top of a white backdrop. The piece is made up of green-tinted glass and is shaped to represent a dog and hold liquor.

Through the centuries, glassmakers have skillfully crafted vessels, pipes, and whimsical objects for communal entertainment. Whether intricately designed or deceptively simple, these devices are valued for more than their function and artistic merit. They prompt us to reflect on evolving cultural mores and society’s sense of humor at specific points in time. They reveal the glassmaker’s imagination and their significant role in facilitating pleasurable social interactions. Centuries of Tomfoolery explores a fascinating group of objects through the lens of working artists who are compelled to recreate clever glassblowing feats from the past or push the boundaries of contemporary functional art. 

It’s easy for us to imagine drinking games in the local bar or college dorm. This raucous and sometimes embarrassing behavior is neither new nor limited to a particular age group or social class. For more than a decade, several glass specialists—both historians and glassmakers—have focused their attention on European trick glasses made as early as the sixteenth century. The exhibit includes work by William Gudenrath and Marc Barreda who use historically accurate techniques to replicate rare early glasses. Barreda coined the term “practical archaeology” to describe his investigative method of using duplicates to understand how trick glasses function without putting the fragile originals at risk.

Trick glasses often provide social amusement at an individual’s expense. For example, upon being handed a trick glass, the inexperienced merrymaker, who doesn’t know how to hold it, may be fooled into dousing themselves or having to swallow too much at once. The variety of historic trick glasses seems to be endless. Some are shaped like boots, guns, horns, or fanciful animals and others produce obnoxious noises or optical illusions. In sharp contrast to the historic glasses, contemporary glassworkers, including former WheatonArts Fellow and Netflix Blown Away contestant Grace Whiteside, explore the concept of trick glasses with bold designs and a rich color palette. 

Early American glass forms are rarely as intricate as European trick glasses, but they demonstrate a continuation of Old World glassmaking traditions. Factory glassblowers could express their creativity by making hats, horns, canes, and other whimsical objects for the entertainment of adults and children alike. These were usually made between shifts, at the end of the day, or to finish off a pot of glass. Glassblowers also made whimsies to show off their skills and impress factory visitors. Based upon archaeological evidence from the Fishtown neighborhood in Philadelphia, whimsies were ubiquitous in glassworkers’ communities where they were taken home, gifted, bartered, or sold. 

Centuries of Tomfoolery features a very significant whimsey, a schnapshund (liquor dog), which is also considered a trick glass. Although a common German form, this example belonged to the granddaughter of Caspar Wistar, who hired German glassworkers and established America’s first commercially successful glass factory in 1739. It was located nearby in the township of Alloway, Salem County, New Jersey. The glass dog has remained at Wyck Historic House and Garden, Caspar’s wife’s ancestral home in Germantown (Philadelphia), for generations and has been attributed to the Wistarburg Glass Works.  

Image of a dark green glass pipe from the Centuries of Tomfoolery exhibit in front of a white background. The pipe is comprised of a long tube that wraps around itself four times before looping up then down into the pipe shape.

Pipe smoking for rituals or recreation is one of the oldest communal activities. It is not surprising that this familiar form for smoking tobacco, cannabis, or other substances became part of the glassblower’s vocabulary for self-expression. European and American whimsical glass pipes from the 17th to mid-20th centuries echo historical forms and sometimes exhibit colorful decoration or exuberant stems. During the post-Vietnam era of the late 1970s, functional glass pipes made of durable, heat-tolerant borosilicate glass emerged as “paraphernalia.” Initially a secretive underground movement, the number of flameworkers making pipes has grown exponentially in recent decades. Once relegated to head headshops and subculture markets, pipes are now garnering the respect of top museums across the country. Like many trick glasses, the sculptural quality and technical brilliance of modern pipes often obscure the mechanics and functionality of object. This is certainly true of the work of Josh Opdenaker (JOP!) and Daniel Coyle, who are featured in the exhibit.