'American Brilliant' Cut Glass
Where: Orlando Museum of Art, 2416 Mills Ave. N., Orlando
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 21
Admission: Adults, $8; military, college students and seniors (65 and older), $7; ages 4-17, $5
More information: (407) 896-4231 or www.omart.org
'American Cut Glass Association convention
What and when: A dealers show and rarities exhibit from 1 to 5 p.m. July 29 and 30 is open to the public; 5 to 7 p.m. July 29 the public can bring in a limited number of pieces and receive evaluations — not appraisals — of them.
Where: Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, 1751 Hotel Plaza Blvd., Lake Buena Vista
Here’s a simple delineator of glass values: Cut glass is assembly line. Etched glass is artistic.
J. William Meek, own¬er of the Harmon-Meek Gallery in Naples, knows the difference, and as chair of the upcoming 2011 National Convention of the American Cut Glass Association, he decided to bring that aspect of American glass art to the fore. He organized and served as guest curator for “Expressions in Glass: American Brilliant Cut Glass 1876-1914” at the Orlando Museum of Art, on exhibit through Aug. 21. Conventioneers at the cut glass as¬sociation will tour it during their meeting there July 27-30. (For times when the convention is open to the public, see the accompanying box.) Some of the etched glass in this show is also cut glass.
“Cut glass was done throughout the 19th century from 1820 to 1920, but the ‘brilliant’ period is a fairly fi¬nite period,” explained Meek, whose pieces center around about 35 years of that work. “It was called ‘brilliant’ because it intensifies the limited light that was available in homes. Light was magnified by the prism of the cutting.
“It was also known as rich cut glass,” he said, adding the wry truism the glass earned for itself: “It weighs a ton and costs a million.”
Companies such as T.G. Hawkes led the trends, which included introducing curved cut lines
and etched cut glass. Not all these companies made the blank pieces on which the work was done, however; Corning Glass Works and Libbey Glass Co. in Toledo were the best known producers of those. “In this exhibition there are examples from many of these very fine cutting houses. It took five years from learning to cut glass to become an engraver. The cutting of glass was done in assembly-line fashion — the major cuts, then medium, then fine cuts were done, and these workers passed the piece right on down the line,” Meek said. Tracing lines, done with a sort of crayon, told each worker where to cut.
“Once the engraver got it, however, he’d do the whole illustration.”
Meek says some of the finest examples of American cut and engraved glass are in this exhibition. A number of them come from the collection he and his wife, Barbara, own. Barbara Meek is an authority on cut glass as well, and some of her writing, in fact, is on the pages of Victorian Home magazine in June. She is president of the Sunburst Chapter of the ACGA.
Other pieces have been lent by glass collectors in Florida, Georgia and as far north as Delaware. The last one, in fact, regularly sits in the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., and the owner borrowed it especially for this show. Solicitous owners transported their pieces, just to be sure they received ultra-special handling.
Meek admits it’s hard to pick a favorite among the pieces.
“There are easily 15 pieces I’d walk home with in an instant. It’s a pretty spectacular collection,” he said. “You can’t do something like this with the convention coming in and get away with ordinary pieces.
“It has to be a kind of knock-your-socks-off exhibition.”
One thing Meek says may surprise visitors is the rarity of colored glass. Although it was done in Europe, American cut glass, if it was colored, generally was done on a layer of colored glass over clear glass, so that when the pattern was cut, it showed clear: “It’s called ‘colored cut to clear,’ and there’s some of that in this exhibition,” Meek said.
What he’s enamored with are the etched pieces, which depict intricate scenes, from a teeming koi pond to a fern-framed forest to an impressive portrait of a bride and bridegroom. “It’s very unusual,” Meek acknowledged.
“The way people viewed this glass in 1880s is not different than the way we view contemporary glass art today,” he added. Meek thinks this is the first exhibition of its kind in the country. It’s also the first he has installed since he received his masters in museum studies at Johns Hopkins University in May.
Meek says he has assembled and lent more than 300 exhibitions since he became part of the art world 30 years ago. But regulations and practices were changing — “ An entire generation of museum staff has been turned over,” he observed — so Meek decided three years ago to study for his master’s degree.
That’s an idea much like the glass he was handling: brilliant.