Tuesday March 19, 2024 | by Jana Elsayed

Corning's Bill Gudenrath shares his discoveries of ancient glass process in new e-book "The Techniques of Roman-Period Glassblowing"

Even for those who've never set foot in The Corning Museum of Glass, their website is a treasure trove of information. Thanks to an ambitious digitization project that included the museum hiring a digital asset manager and strategist in 2016, you can learn about the "most comprehensive glass collection in the world" at through text and images supplemented by a wide range of videos linked to the museum's extensive YouTube channel. Click on the "Learning and Research" tab from the main Corning landing page, and you can also select "Museum Publications," where you can order exhibition catalogs or copies of the annual exhibition-in-print New Glass Review. However, most prominently displayed is the latest e-book by Corning's own Bill Gudenrath, the renowned glassblower, scholar, and Resident Advisor at The Studio of The Corning Museum of Glass, who has been exploring how historic glass might have been made using his impressive arsenal of glass techniques honed over his decades spent at the glassblowing furnace. 

Gudenrath has recently unveiled his third publication exploring historic production methods of glassmaking, which is entitled The Techniques of Roman-Period Glassblowing. The e-book, which is generously offered at no charge, seamlessly combines multimedia elements, including videos, text, and images, to narrate and demonstrate Gudenrath's theories of how glass was shaped and decorated thousands of years ago.

Bill Gudenrath Instructing Winter 2024 Studio Class at CMoG Photo credit: The Corning Museum of Glass. Photography by Emily Smith.

The publication features a user-friendly interface where clicking on a thumbnail image directs the reader to the corresponding object's landing page. These landing pages provide multiple photographic views, select 360-degree images, and essential information like dimensions and provenance. The landing pages also offer access to videos of the glassblowing process Gudenrath used to recreate it. The e-book offers a useful guide in its "How to Use" section, and also contains seven chapters, a visual index of objects, a bibliography, and acknowledgments.

Covering 53 key historical works in glass, the e-book shows readers the fruits of Gudenrath's detective work recreating 19 long-necked vessels, six objects based on the same vessel processes, eight short-necked vessels and handle processes, six bowls and dishes, eight beakers, cups, and goblets, and three compound objects. The introductory section explains the work's purpose, scope, and research methodology. The chapters focus on glassblowing techniques, with the first offering a broad view of Roman-period glassblowing practice from scientific, technical, and historical perspectives. Subsequent chapters center on specific forms for various functions, progressing in complexity. This organizational structure allows the publication to function as a tutorial for students of glassblowing, whether their interest is historical or contemporary.

Cone Beaker Blown glass. Mid-5th to 6th Century A.D. H. 23.2 cm, D. 9.9 cm Photo credit: The Corning Museum of Glass (Cat. 667), said to have been found at Acklam, Yorkshire England in 1892.

Gudenrath's video-illustrated "reconstructions" provide an expert's perspective on the probable techniques employed during the Roman period, making the ancient art form accessible and engaging for readers. This comprehensive guide serves as a standalone resource and a companion to Gudenrath's previous work, The Techniques of Renaissance Venetian-Style Glassworking. which also offers video demos of rediscovered processes.

Bill Gudenrath Demonstration for Expanding Horizons Program at CMoG Photo credit: The Corning Museum of Glass. Photography by Amanda Sterling

In a phone interview with Glass, Bill Gudenrath revealed that his inspiration for the project lay in the pivotal technological advancements of the ancient Romans, particularly the groundbreaking glassblowing technology that emerged around 50 BCE. This innovation rapidly spread across the expanding Roman world between 20-10 BCE, encompassing the Italian peninsula. The newfound ability to shape glass in a revolutionary manner facilitated the mass production of drinking glasses, replacing the traditional use of clay for such productions. Gudenrath goes on to reveal that the documentation process has evolved over decades of research. He adopts a meticulous approach, studying old objects carefully and replicating what he observes, focusing on the intricate details of the manufacturing process. The emphasis is placed on developing a process rather than just creating a final product.

Gudenrath said that one of his previous e-books delved into Venetian techniques, exploring them across Europe, but that he wanted to return to his love for Roman glass as the basics of glassblowing techniques. Gudenrath's dedication to in-depth research and the detailed replication of techniques is evident in the time-consuming process of creating and filming each object for this project.

The decision to make the documentation available as a free resource was made by The Corning Museum of Glass, according to Gudenrath. It was noted that alternatives, such as a subscription model or a packaged product for purchase, were possibilities. However, the Corning Museum chose to provide it as a service to the field, aligning with the institution's mission statement to inspire people to see glass in a new light, he said. This decision reflects the museum's commitment to accessibility and education, making valuable information and techniques freely available to a wider audience.

Jar with Two Handles and Lid Blown glass. 1st to 2nd Century A.D. Jar: H. 23.7 cm, D. 14.9 cm; Lid: H. 5.3 cm, D. 12.7 cm Photo credit: The Corning Museum of Glass (Cat. 304), said to have been in the collections of Lord Aberconway and Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941).

In his conversation with Glass, Gudenrath expressed his hope that more glassblowers will become familiar with Roman techniques. At a time where there is a prevailing focus on Venetian techniques, he sees the value in promoting the diversity and utility of other styles, particularly Roman techniques. He also sees the broader impact of the project, extending beyond the realm of glass blowers. The hope is to engage a wider audience, including those interested in various aspects of Roman culture such as ceramics, food, and clothing. By being a part of this broader conversation, Bill aims to contribute to the collective interest in all things Roman, fostering a connection between diverse communities and showcasing the rich possibilities inherent in Roman-style glassblowing.

While he acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding such ancient glassblowing practices, Gudenrath emphasizes the need to approach the craft with an open mind, devoid of preconceptions. For example, while illustrations suggest a two-person approach, concrete evidence detailing the methods remains elusive, particularly in comparison to more recent Venetian glassmaking. Despite this ambiguity, the artist, like Bill, has chosen a solo approach, drawing from a history of successful solo work. While recognizing the value of teamwork, the transition to solo practice is seamless, showcasing the adaptability of the craft. The evolution of tools, such as the blow hose, reflects a natural progression in technique. This experience underscores the versatility of glass-blowing, accommodating both collaborative and individual approaches, with an emphasis on the result and the hands involved rather than specific techniques.

To view the book, The Techniques of Roman-Period Glassblowing, click here.

Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.