Washington is recognized around the world for its colorful art glass. Tens of thousands of people visit our state every year to see the work of artists such as Dale Chihuly, Sonja Blomdahl, William Morris, Ginny Ruffner, Preston Singletary and so many others, featured in museums, galleries, and other public and private spaces throughout the region.
But what of the beauty of the glass that we use every day? This versatile material is an essential part of our lives from the moment we wake up until the time we go to sleep. We use glass in what we wear, to prepare and share meals, to communicate, even for saving lives (and so much more). Washington State History Museum is celebrating the history and many uses of glass in the new exhibition Two Centuries of Glass, on view from Saturday, September 8, 2018 through February 10, 2019.
Nearly 400 glittering artifacts drawn from the Washington State Historical Society’s collections make for a sparkling atmosphere in the gallery. The wide variety of objects date from today back to the 1800s, and a few are substantially older.
“Among the many objects visitors will see, there are three tiny glass vials that date to 0-400 BCE. They were brought to the Society by a donor in the 1800s, at a time when the objective of the museum was to display the wonders of the world to those who lived here,” said Lead Curator Gwen Whiting. “In a time when transportation wasn’t as readily available as it is today, these small glass vessels might have been the only glimpse of the ancient world a Washingtonian would ever see.”
Gallery cases shimmer with ordinary items that remind us of how crucial glass has been for daily living, as well as for science and industry in Washington, for hundreds of years. Get a look at Peter Rainier’s telescope and a fascinating array of tools that have been used for exploration; see lightbulbs that date to the turn of the 19th century; examine a medical kit from 1898; imagine who may have worn the elegant glass jewelry; and feel the nostalgia of your grandmother’s kitchen with Depression glass from the 1920s. Inspire your creative spirit with art glass, too, including the work of Tacoma’s native son Dale Chihuly and Seattle’s Sonja Blomdahl.
Although these items are taken for granted now, how different would our lives be if glass had not come into common use?
“This exhibition is an opportunity to think of glass not only as an important material, but in its broader significance as material culture and how that represents those who left these objects behind for the Historical Society to collect,” said the Washington State History Museum’s Director of Audience Engagement Mary Mikel Stump. You’ll leave with a renewed appreciation of the incredible physical and functional properties of glass.