At the Rakow: A Different Type of Residency

Each year, artists and scholars alike apply for a unique residency at The Corning Museum of Glass. But instead of time at The Studio working with glass, these residents will be hunting in the stacks or pouring over materials at a desk in the Rakow Research Library. Known as The David Whitehouse Research Residency for Artists or Scholars, these ‘non-making’ opportunities offer up a much different Corning experience.

Named for David Whitehouse, a former executive director at the Museum and a highly regarded scholar who worked to build the resources of the Rakow Library, these residencies are open to artists and scholars who want to utilize the Museum’s resources, including the permanent collections and the holdings of the Library, to inform their artistic practice or scholarly research.

This year, four individuals were granted The David Whitehouse Residency and we spoke with two of them, Kim Harty and Rachel Wood, to find out what makes this particular opportunity so worthwhile.

Kim Harty, who undertook the Residency for Artists, has been investigating the connection between craft and performance through sculpture, installation, video, and performance for many years. She is heavily informed by her training as a glassblower and is interested in undoing traditional methods of making and investigating how materials can confound their expected function. During her two week residency in late June, Kim explored the ways in which glass objects function as an index, including of their makers, curators, cultures in which they are made, and technologies and processes which enable their creation. She was specifically interested in “narratives that disrupt preconceived notions of who made and collected glass objects, seeking to know more about women and non-white makers and collectors.”

Rachel Wood, who undertook the Residency for Scholars, also in June, approaches archaeological research through experimental methods, scientific analysis, and art historical and anthropological theories and methods. Her primary interest is Iron Age western and central Europe and early Roman provincial archaeology and her research focuses on the origins of opaque red glass in the 4th c. BCE as a decorative material. She is particularly interested in understanding the mindset of ancient individuals and the meanings they instilled in their glass arts. During her residency, Rachel investigated the history of red glass production in the ancient Mediterranean world and explored the Robert Brill Papers.

The library, known as The Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library since 1984, moved from it’s original location inside the Museum to its current one in 2001, providing greater space for both the collection and the dedicated staff that attend to it.

What attracted you to the David Whitehouse Research Residency?

Kim: “Although I am a glassmaker, much of my work is based on historical research. Since its inception, I have wanted to do the David Whitehouse Research Residency to have the opportunity to thoroughly explore the Library’s collection and give myself permission to dwell in the research process without distraction.”

Rachel: “I chose to apply for the David Whitehouse Research Residency because of the Rakow Research Library’s extensive holdings on glass production and technology from the ancient world, and due to my hopes to explore the Robert Brill Papers. The Rakow Library is a phenomenal place for all scholars who work in the fields of glass studies and archaeology. The ability to access so many library materials on glass in one location drew my attention, as I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to broaden my knowledge of glass production in the ancient Mediterranean world. Gaining access to Dr. Robert Brill’s research and experimental studies on ancient glasses was a major consideration for me, too, while applying, since part of my dissertation project requires me to recreate opaque red glass and Dr. Brill published studies on the subject.”

Kim Harty (left) and Rachel Wood photographed in the Rakow Research Library during their residencies in June 2023.

What did you hope to achieve during your residency?

Kim: “I had some topics that I was interested in researching, but I knew that my interest would evolve as I got to know the Library’s collection better. I was curious about recreations, replications, fakes, and forgeries as well. Through discussions with the curators and my co-resident, an anthropologist, I learned a lot about object biographies and experimental archaeology that informed my research. For instance, I was interested in ancient glass but didn’t realize that most ancient glass was not excavated until the advent of archeology in the 15th century, hence the profound influence of ancient glass on Renaissance Italian glassmaking.”

Rachel: “I hoped to expand my knowledge of glassmaking through research in the Library, working hands-on with opaque red glass at the Museum with the Conservation department, and by conversing with glass artisans. Although I came into the residency period with a background in Mesopotamian and Egyptian glassmaking, my knowledge was surface-level, and I was able to gain greater understanding of opaque red glass production in these regions through my research and hands-on study of Egyptian artifacts. Discussing the process of making and working glass with the glass artisans on site was also very informative, as my own experiments at reproducing red glass have yet to be successful.”

Did you uncover anything particularly special or unique?

Kim: “There were so many special discoveries, too many to list here. Some I was particularly excited about included a very dramatic description of Falcon Glass Works in the book ‘Busy Hives All Around Us’ from 1861. Another was Isaac Newton’s multi-page description observing a bubble from ‘Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions, and Colours of Light’ from 1704 (and it was amazing to handle this rare book!)”

Rachel: “I discovered many fascinating things during my residency, but my favorite pieces of information that I uncovered were gained through my conversations with glassworkers and glass chemists, in particular Harry Seaman, senior facility manager at The Studio! I learned a handful of very fascinating methods to produce a reducing environment in an electric furnace, which I had been struggling to do. I had no idea that by adding a bit of black tin, baking soda that had been cooked in an oven, or some wet paper towels into the furnace, someone could produce a reducing environment. I’m very excited to try these methods out—my sincerest thanks to everyone who passed along their knowledge to me!”

How has your research here affected your practice since?

Kim: “I’m a very intuitive maker, and I’m not quite sure how all of this will be incorporated into my work. Some things I’m curious about include feeding some of those 17th and 18th-century writings into AI to see how they are interpreted. I’m interested in playing with ideas of recreations, replications, fakes, and forgeries, and was particularly drawn to Cheryl Finley’s concept of mnemonic aesthetics. I’m also interested in books as objects themselves and how printed matter can be manipulated to reveal something new.”

Rachel: “My research during the residency has encouraged me to continue reaching out to glass artisans to learn more about their techniques for glass production. Although techniques and technologies have changed over the past two thousand years, I can learn a great deal from glass artisans today. I had hoped to open a door between myself as an archaeologist and present-day glassworkers and, after my residency, I was connected with individuals in Los Angeles and other areas of the United States from whom I hope to learn more!”

Rakow Research Library Reading Room
The Rakow Library reading room provides plenty of peace and quiet and some beautiful views to aid in one’s research.

To find out more about the varied residency opportunities available at The Corning Museum of Glass, visit our website.

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