Shining a Light on History: Local Glassmaker Ross Delano Collaborates with The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration

Ross A. Delano is a local glassmaker with a big personality: warm, friendly, funny, and supremely skilled when it comes to designing and working with glass.

Visitors to the Museum and Studio students may know Ross from seeing him in just about every facet of the Museum—his frequent turns as a Studio instructor, once-and-future Artist-in-Residence at The Studio, artist whose digital video collaboration was selected for inclusion in the momentous 2019 exhibition New Glass Now, and lighting designer extraordinaire. Online visitors may be more aware of his popular educational presence on CMoG’s YouTube channel.

Ross’ latest project was a commission for The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, a living monument to the story of the American people.

Ross is a regular feature at The Studio.

I got to know Ross through his advocacy for StudioNEXT, as he kindly shared his time and talent to give back to the glassmaking community and raise awareness for the Glassmaking Institute, the Studio’s new two-year intensive program supporting the next generation of glass artists. His generosity and creativity know no bounds, so when he shared that his newest project was a commission for The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, I was immediately intrigued but not exactly surprised. We met in the Café and Ross caught me up on his commission.

Ellis Island Registry Room, also known as the Great Hall. Photograph by Augustus Sherman (STLI 36201, Statue of Liberty National Monument, National Park Service).

Connecting NYC to Corning 

Beth Cumming, of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, was visiting Ellis Island on a tour of active and potential historic preservation projects. Two of the glass sconce shades in the Great Hall had recently been broken, and could not be replaced commercially. Beth suggested contacting The Corning Museum of Glass, as the Museum might be able to find a way to reproduce the sconces. Ultimately, CMoG connected Ross with John Hnedak, Deputy Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. 

John Hnedak notes, “Ellis Island was the most active immigration station in the United States. Approximately 12,000,000 aspiring Americans were processed here between 1890 and about 1924. After that, immigration through the site became a mere trickle, and the station was eventually closed in 1954. Many, many millions of present-day Americans are descended from those people. Virtually all of these immigrants were processed in the Registry Room, or Great Hall, of the 1892 Main Immigration Building, the location of these sconces.” Altogether, the Great Hall is illuminated by 178 sconces: 22 on each of the short sides of the rectangle and 67 on each long side.

The registry room. A view from the third floor, looking towards the area where the legal inspection would have taken place, as well as the stairs immigrants went down when the inspections were finished. The stairs were known as the “Stairs of Separation”. (NPS Photo)

“There’s always interest in our society in building new things,” reflects Ross. “Personally, I feel like maintaining historical spaces is as important, or maybe more important, than new work. Handing these stories and spaces down to the next generation is essential, and the work of maintaining and preserving historic spaces doesn’t get enough recognition. I was proud to work on this commission and participate in Ellis Island’s preservation in a small way.” 

The Art and Science of Replicating Historic Glass

Before creating the replica, Ross needed to do some research and evaluation of the original that John sent to Corning. “The company that made the original sconces was over a hundred years old, based in France, and no longer in existence. Once I had the original sconce, I was able to observe and start planning how to recreate the color, size, look, and feel as best I could.”

“I noticed the color. The French company had used a proprietary white; I ended up going with an opal white, which is a soft white often used in lighting. The original sconces were probably shaped with a wooden mold, which has surely been lost. Instead, I used a graphite mold. I approached Tobeyco Manufacturing Company, Inc, an industrial automation company located in Corning. They created a 3D rendering that I could assess, then worked from that rendering to CNC a graphite mold. We intentionally included additional room in the mold on top and bottom of the sconce so that we could saw through the top and bottom without cutting into the body of the actual piece after the piece came out of the mold.” Ross also noticed that the original manufacturers had dipped the glass sconces in hydrofluoric acid for a finishing effect. That method isn’t an option today, so he mimicked the effect by sandblasting the replica sconces with a very fine grit. 

“It’s a very clean design. The sconces are hexagonal, and a little bell-shaped; a good period design. It’s simple, but it isn’t just a light; the sconces are useful decoration as well as being beautiful.”

The final product casts a warm glow across the Great Hall, where 12 million immigrants waited for their chance to become American citizens—and today, where millions of visitors reflect on the American experience. 

New York State from Start to Finish

One of Ross’ favorite elements of this project was the commitment to keeping the job local and supporting New York craftspeople. “When I was in New York City working on my MPS in Design Management from Pratt, we often talked about the intersection of people, planet, and profit. Locality is important to me as a maker. It is awesome that The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration reached out to CMoG, and we were able to keep this project local in the community of New York creators and designers: I’ve been a New York resident for over 12 years, my assistant James Geekie is a New York resident, and the mold-maker Tobeyco is a local Western New York company.”  

Replica sconces, out of the mold and cooled.

Ross has not been down to visit the Great Hall and see the sconces in situ yet, but he looks forward to a trip downstate. If you’re nearby, we encourage you to visit The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Explore the beautiful grounds, reflect on the myriad stories and experiences so carefully stewarded in the museum, and take a photo of the sconces and send them our way! 

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