The Glass Research Society of New Jersey

submitted by Bud Walker
Issue No. 211 - November 1990

Editor's Note: The following article has been sent to us by fellow N.C.C. member, Bud Walker, Vice-President of the New Jersey Glass Research Society. We reprint it here, for your information.

by Dale Murschell, Woodstown, New Jersey

On a recent visit to Washington, D.C., I had the time to visit the Smithsonian Institute. Sometime in the year previous, I had received word, from another collector, that my annoyance with certain items at Corning Museum of Glass would be muted if I ever had a chance to see the Glass exhibit at the Smithsonian. For that reason, it was a pleasure to finally find myself having time in April to make the overdue visit to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute. It seems that at some point in time the name was changed from the Museum of History and Trade to its present name.

On the day of my visit I was anxious to see the glass on exhibit at this, the most renown museum in the country. Since the Glass Industry was one of the first major industries of the country, the story will certainly be told here. Much to my dismay, I found that renovations were impacting on the Glass Hall. In fact, 30 to 40% of the items had been moved, many evidently to the Ceremonial Court as I found out later. Unfortunately there was no visible indication that the missing items were presented elsewhere, so I missed them. It was hard to miss all the open spots in the display cases with little cards that indicated the item was on loan. Many of the cards had dates of 1989 or initials or a signature. There were also many cards with dates of 1984, 1985 and 1986. How could they let something be on loan for 5 or 6 years? The general appearance of the exhibit area was bad with very poor lighting. The items were very dusty and where an item had been removed a year before, there was a visible cleaner circle. These items had been removed more than a year previous and yet the spot where they had been sitting was cleaner than the rest of the shelf. This meant that no effort had been made to clean the displays in well over a year.

I inquired as to who was responsible for this exhibit and was able to find that Sheila Machlis Alexander was curator of the Division of Ceramics and Glass. I tried to contact her but she was not in the office that day. I finally talked to Ms. Alexander by phone in early June. I questioned her on the renovations; how long they were in progress; the dust in the displays; and the missing items. This is where I found that some of the items were moved to the Ceremonial Court. I asked about the items which had been gone for 5 years and she responded that I misread the cards and that no items had been gone that long. I had my brand new bifocals with me at the Museum. Before the bifocals I may have misread the cards. She indicated that the renovations were a five year program. She also indicated that the Glass Hall had now been closed completely. She said that it was closed because of the difficulty in keeping the displays clean. I stated that it didn't appear any effort had been made to keep the displays clean, and she responded that that was not true. She said the renovations had caused the dust in the closed glass cases.

Ms. Alexander also indicated that efforts had to be put in other areas due to the renovations. Approximately 25,000 stored glass items had to be moved. She also indicated that there presently were no future plans for a Glass Hall which means it has been completely eliminated. She said that some of the glass items will show up in other displays.

I indicated that it seemed the adjacent foreign ceramic exhibit was in excellent condition. She responded that that was not true, that it was also dirty. I personally thought the ceramic exhibit looked great and when I made a point of it and questioned why the foreign ceramics were even in the American History Museum, she set me straight on a few facts.

The Museum, when under its previous name, had been given the ceramic items along with a commitment towards these items. Obviously that commitment to the foreign ceramics is very deep and will be honored even at the expense of American made glass. I asked if there was someone I could speak to about the demise of the glass exhibit. I was told that I should forward my questions to the Director Roger G. Kennedy.

Near the end of the conversation I asked if last year the Smithsonian had any type of special display relative to the 250th anniversary of Wistarburg? I guess I knew the answer before she said it, NO!

There seems to be a real problem with the basic thinking of those in charge at the National Museum of American History. I am aware of their constraint on space and the present renovations. What they have to be made aware of is that the glass industry is very American; was one of the very earliest industries; and was a very strong industry. Furthermore, the average visitor to the Museum would have a better chance of relating to the American glass industry than the foreign ceramics. The products of the glass industry are in the visitor's homes. Not many homes have a piece of expensive foreign ceramic. If they really have 25,000 glass items in storage, how can they down play the subject. The Smithsonian should pride themselves in having one of the finest glass displays and should not abandon their glass exhibit.

It is time for Mr. Roger G. Kennedy to hear from the glass collectors of this country about the Museum's glass exhibit. Anyone with an opinion should take time to write to Mr. Kennedy at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C. 20560. The present renovations are going to take 2 to 3 years to complete. At the end we want a worthy stand-alone American Glass exhibit and not just a few examples sprinkled in other displays. If we start now, we can have an impact.

If they have to down play the ceramics to give the American glass proper showing, then that decision needs to be made. At this point in time, the National Museum of American History needs to make an impressive statement relative to the American Glass Industry.