The United Nations designated 2022 the International Year of Glass. Cooper Hewitt celebrated the occasion with a yearlong series of posts focused on the medium of glass and museum conservation.

The 2022 International Year of Glass provided an exciting opportunity to highlight many favorite glass pieces in Cooper Hewitt’s collection. We were thrilled to share this celebration of the museum’s holdings with our visitors and those who enjoy the museum’s website from afar. Over the course of the past year, we have delved into collections storage and explored the complexities behind the ubiquitous material of glass. This process has both enriched our understanding of the museum’s acquisitions and provided a platform to illustrate just how versatile and important glass has been to the decorative, fine, and industrial arts over millennia.

We have looked at Roman glass and its deterioration, Dutch engraved glass, French acid-etched glass, American pressed glass, cathode ray tube televisions, Google Glasses, naturally occurring glasses such as obsidian, modern glass beads, and much more. Our discussion has shifted from the material’s behavior, working techniques, and social and artistic history to the material’s use within mass production versus bespoke artists’ creations. We have considered why designers have been drawn to glass, with the glittering rigidity that conceals its brittle yet transformative nature. The objects chosen present a wide array of forms: angular, curved, soft, faceted, flat, and textured. We have also opened a window into how conservators consider museum collections and what sort of questions we ask as we examine objects in order to both understand and preserve them. Our concerns complement those that our curators bring to the conversation, and together we all work toward a more holistic approach to our collections.

These stories about objects ultimately point to stories about people and guide the questions we ask to unpack human history. Who made this etched decanter and why? How was this pressed plate used? How has the glass industry supported the growth of televised media and handheld technologies, and what impact has this had on our culture? How can we honor heritage and tradition through relevant, modern forms? How will new technologies such as 3D-printing change the way we use and think about a ubiquitous medium? In this way, glass serves as a literal and figurative reflection of ourselves. These posts have offered a perspective on cultural and social history through material means, and we look forward to new dialogues that will carry the conversation forward.

Explore the entire Year of Glass series.

Sarah Barack is Senior Objects Conservator and Head of Conservation at Cooper Hewitt.

Thanks to Jasmine Keegan, Marguerite Montecinos-Deppe, Chris Rochelle, Cynthia Trope, and Jessica Walthew for their contributions to this series through the year.

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