SANDWICH — The history of glass making on Cape Cod is well and beautifully told in the Sandwich Glass Museum. Visitors trace the rise of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co. from its beginnings in 1825 through its heyday, moving from galleries displaying functional objects like goblets and pitchers in clear glass to exhibits of ever more decorative items in a burgeoning array of colors — nearly 6,000 pieces of glass in all.
The Boston & Sandwich Glass Co. closed in 1888, but Cape Cod remains a hotbed of glass artistry, where visitors can not only buy handmade glass creations but also watch artists gathering, blowing, casting, fusing, and shaping glass using centuries-old techniques and tools and, in some cases, innovative new approaches.
In Sandwich, glass blowers Michael Magyar and the husband-and-wife team of David McDermott and Yukimi Matsumoto both welcome visitors to their studios. Magyar opened the Glass Studio on Cape Cod on Route 6A in 1992. A native of St. Louis, Mo., he came to Cape Cod to be near the ocean. Watching the action of waves shortly after he arrived, he noticed that the salt water against seaweed appeared dark blue but against sand it looked emerald. He mixed emerald and cobalt glass and combined it with a bubble technique he had learned in Japan. The result, Cape Cod Sea Bubble glass, has become his signature line and now includes stemware, plates, candlesticks, and a sand-and-shell-filled "ocean ball." Magyar also creates "Venetians" — delicate, ornate vessels, often with gold and silver accents — as well as lamps and sculptures.
McDermott and Matsumoto, the team behind McDermott Glass Studio, typically work together. "She's known for color, and I'm known for shapes," McDermott said. Their signature items are intensely hued vessels that change color as the light changes, an attribute created by the use of precious metals, which rise to the surface of the glass. McDermottlearned his trade from a demanding Scottish glass master, Robert Mason.
In Dennis Port, Fritz Lauenstein of Fritz Glass makes a variety of decorative art glass pieces, including bowls, vases, and lollipop-swirled window ornaments he calls rondelles, but his specialty is marbles. Visitors can watch him work at the studio and retail shop he opened in 1991, though he suggests calling first as hours can vary.
At Pairpoint in Sagamore, the oldest glassworks in the country, one entire wall of windows in the retail shop looks over the factory floor, with its glowing furnaces and artisans moving in efficient, choreographed routines. Plaques on the wall describe the roles and backgrounds of the glass blowers, makers, engravers, and etchers, most of whom have been with Pairpoint for decades. Every item on the sales floor is made on site, said sales clerk Donna Lauder. Glass pieces range from Pairpoint's signature "bubble ball" bases for lamps and sculpture to barware to "witch balls" — beautifully colored globes said to attract, then capture, evil spirits.
The display of decorated glass plates at Sydenstricker Gallery in Brewster nearly overwhelms the eye with its range of brilliant colors and intricate designs. Glass is not blown here; rather, powdered colored glass is sifted onto clear glass using stencils. The stencil is removed and a second piece of clear glass is applied. The whole is then placed on a clay mold and put into a 1,500-degree kiln. As the glass heats and softens, it takes the shape of the mold and the design is fused. The gallery comes up with new designs nearly every year, but the deep blue hydrangea remains the most popular. Visitors can watch the process in the studio behind the shop and gallery.
At Millstone Sculpture Gallery in Brewster, Benton Jones works with metal and kiln-formed glass to create unusual and beautiful items. He likes to work with reclaimed glass, such as the discarded glass flotation spheres used by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in climate change research that form the basis of his "Melting Hemispheres" collection. His studio is on site, and visitors are welcome to watch him work.
The work of many of these Cape Cod glass artists is now found in the Sandwich Glass Museum, which is moving beyond solely chronicling the history of glass to embrace the contemporary glass movement, said Katie Campbell, executive director.
"You can't appreciate contemporary glass unless you understand historical glass. This is right in line with our mission to continue the story of how glass is thriving on Cape Cod."
Ellen Albanese can be reached at email@example.com.