Glass Art in the New Jersey Pines

Deep in the pinelands of southwestern New Jersey is one of the country’s foremost centers for glass artistry. This piece is called “Mission” and was made by Sisir Sahana who was a Wheaton Arts Creative Glass Fellow in 2000.

Formerly the bottom of a shallow sea, the pine-carpeted flatlands of Southern New Jersey are laced with huge deposits of silica sand — the main ingredient for glass making. Fired by the surrounding forests of pine during the 19th century, the furnaces of more than three dozen glassworks made this Cumberland County region one of the world’s leading centers for industrial glassware production. Today, the legacy of one of the largest of those now-defunct glass companies — Wheaton — is The Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center and its Museum of American Glass. Map

Over the last fifty years, the creation, gallery exhibition, and sale of high-art glass works has greatly accelerated, driven by vibrant centers of the glassblowing craft in places like Seattle. In the 1970s, Wheaton moved to become a major player in that field by building a working replica of the original pine lands glass factory of its founder, T.C. Wheaton, complete with glowing furnaces and support programs for highly talented glass artisans. Ever since, the Wheaton Arts workshops, museum, and gallery have been both a tourist destination as well as a highly respected studio and educational facility. Its Creative Glass Fellowship program has so far boosted the careers for more than 370 emerging and mid-career artists from around the U.S. as well as the world. Its annual Festival of Fine Craft brings large crowds to an event featuring 150 exhibitors.

Artisans working at the glass furnace at Wheaton Arts
In the 1970s, Wheaton Industries built a replica of the original T.C. Wheaton Co. 19th-century glass factory, complete with furnaces. Today Wheaton Arts is a studio for working artists and the site of frequent glass blowing demonstrations for the public.
A glowing glass furnace door
It’s also a major educational center for glass artisans, instructors, students, guest artists, and Creative Glass Fellowship Residencies. Established artists often rent out the facilities for their own projects.
Glass art by Amber Cowan
A play on the 1990’s video game, Ecco the Dolphin, this glass piece by Amber Cowan in the Museum of American Glass is entitled “Ecco to the Bridesmaid: ‘I know Not What Has Happened to your Pod.'”
Glass scraps scavenged from defunct glass works
Cowan, who uses the process of flameworking, hot-sculpting and glassblowing to create large-scale sculptures, scavenges her primary raw material from the scrap piles of now-defunct pressed glass factories.
A glass sculpture by Amber Cowan of Wheaton Arts
This Cowan work, entitled “Melanie Walking Snail with Cart,” is made out of chocolate glass that was originally developed in 1900 for pressed glass manufacture at the Indiana Tumbler and Goblet Company.
A close up of an intricate glass sculpture's details
Cowan’s whimsical glass landscapes are based on story lines of the adventures of old-time figurines found in thrift shops, yard sales, and the internet.
A glass fish sculpture by Densaburou Oku
This glass fish sculpture is the work of Bucks County, Pennsylvania artist Densaburou Oku, who was a Creative Glass Fellow at Wheaton Arts in 1994.
A glass paintbrush sculpture by the late Drew Smith
A glass paintbrush sculpture by the late Drew Smith who was a Creative Glass Fellow at Wheaton Arts in 1992.
Glass works for sale in Wheaton Arts Gallery of Fine Arts
Along with the museum and the glass blow studios, Wheaton Arts features a Gallery of Fine Arts for sale.
19th century glass canes made as whimsies by glass blowers
In their spare moments, 19th-century glassblowers often created fantastical glass canes that were were great for show but tended to be too fragile for actual use as a walking stick. The Wheaton museum has a collection of them.
A potter at work in the Wheaton Arts pottery studio
Separately, there is a large pottery studio and production facility manned by professional potters who work as they answer visitors’ questions.
A sprawl of hand thrown pots awaiting kiln firing
Much like the glass works, the pottery studio is an educational facility that enables students, interns and emerging artists to practice and learn their craft.
A Victorian era coffin made of glass in the Museum of American Glass in Millville, NJ
Wheaton Arts also offers a rich trove of history about the region’s glass industry and unexpected products — like the glass coffins of the Victorian era. The Museum features both a full coffin and a miniature used by salesmen when pitching customers.
The original 19th-century glassworks of T.C. Wheaton, the founder of what would become Wheaton Industries
An 1880 Wheaton Arts archive photo of the original T.C Wheaton Company glass works in Millville.