Thursday May 30, 2024 | by Andrew Page

The Peabody-Essex Museum celebrates the debut of its Carl and Betty Pforzheimer Collection with special celebration this evening

The Peabody-Essex Museum, known by its initials "PEM", is one of the top ten art museums in the U.S. in terms of exhibition space, budget, and endowment. The Salem, Massachusetts, institution boasts one of the most important Asian art collections in the country, and its campus extends across more than 22 historic buildings. While the museum has continuously displayed a cut-glass English chandelier in one of its oldest galleries since 1804, and was gifted two dozen contemporary glass works in 2015, it had not boasted a major glass-art collection until Carl and Betty Pforzheimer announced their gift of over 260 works in 2022. This evening, in celebration of the installation of 46 of the works from the collection into the newly christened Pforzheimer Gallery, a crowd of 250 invited guests will lift a glass to honor the significance of the donation. PEM curator-at-large Sarah Chasse spoke with the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet about what the collection will mean for one of the oldest art museums in America.

Lino Tagliapietra, Odiessea, 1998. Fused hand-pulled cane and murrine. H 70 1/4, W 24, D 12 in. gift: carl and betty pforzheimer. photo: richard p. goodbody. © lino tagliapietra

Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: Can you talk about what glass PEM had in its collections prior to the Pforzheimer gift?
Sarah Chasse: We've been collecting glass since the founding of our museum in 1799, and we have deep collection of historical glass, both international and American. Our early founders collected some Roman Glass, and we have a very rare and important collection of Chinese reverse-paintings on glass. As our current museum is made up of several different institutions that have come together over time, we have European and American Glass from 1799 onward, some of it very utilitarian and others quote decorative. Although this might not be the first collection of contemporary glass, as we had a gift in 2015, it is certainly the biggest.

Richard Marquis, Crazy Quilt Teapot, 1979. Fused and blown murrine, and aventurine glass. H 4 3/4, W 5 3/4, D 4 7/8 in. gift: carl and betty pforzheimer. photo: richard p. goodbody. © richard marquis

Glass: What was so appealing to PEM about the possibility of acquiring the Pforzheimer Collection?
Chasse: The collection is truly deep and expansive. Overall, the quality of the works Carl and Betty acquired are just really strong. There's so much I've learned about the Studio Glass field just by working with this collection -- it's so comprehensive. I'm still thinking about how it compares to other major collections, especially the Heineman Collection at The Corning Museum of Glass.

Glass: What do you see that distinguishes the Pforzheimer Collection from other major glass collections in museums? 
Chasse: What makes it incredibly strong is the relationships behind the pieces they acquired, and by that I mean relationships with important dealers such as Doug Heller, from whom Carl and Betty bought their first piece -- one of Mark Peiser's paperweight vases. But also from direct relationships with many of the artists, especially Lino Tagliapietra. And then there is the collectors' relationship to the material. Carl's desire to fully understand the medium of glass had him taking workshops with Toots Zynsky and Bill Gudenrath, both of whom he studied with at UrbanGlass in New York. These early connections to some of these key players in the field, artists and dealers, gives this collection this richness and depth.

Toots Zynsky, Isabella, 2003. Filet de verre. H 11 1/4, W 22, D 16 in. gift: carl and betty pforzheimer. photo: richard p. goodbody. © toots zynsky.

Glass: I know Carl had a special connection with Lino, and can you talk a bit about how that expresses itself in the collection?
Chasse: Bill (Gudenrath) took Carl to Murano long before Lino became an independent artist and began living part of the year in the U.S., and Carl was able to choose an early piece to buy from Lino in his house. And the two couples [Carl and Betty, Lino and Lina] became very close friends -- it's more than a collector-artist relationship. While they have such a diverse range of artists represented in their collection as a whole, Lino is best represented with 46 works. I think possibly at this moment, PEM houses the largest collection of Lino's work in North America.

Lino Tagliapietra, Saturno, 2010. Blown glass. H 17, W 17, D 5 1/2 in. gift: carl and betty pforzheimer. photo: richard p. goodbody. © lino tagliapietra

Glass: Will there be a catalog of the collection coming out anytime soon? 
Chasse: It will be coming out a year from now, and I'm actually in the thick of writing right now. One of the things I've been thinking about is how Carl and Betty very much lived with their collection in their home in Scarsdale, New York, which was filled with glass in every room. They ate breakfast surrounded by pieces of glass, and it is a domestically scaled collection. There were also a number of pieces in Carl's Manhattan office, in their smaller New York apartment, and at their summer house in New Jersey. In total, they have given 268 pieces, the majority of their collection, but they are living with a few pieces, personal works mostly, including some pieces Bill Gudenrath has made for them.

Jamie Harris, Modulated Infusion Wall Panel, 2008. Blown and cast glass. H 24, W 19 3/8, D 1 3/8 in. gift: carl and betty pforzheimer. photo: richard p. goodbody. © jamie harris studio.

Glass: What can you tell me about where the works are displayed, is the Pforzheimer Gallery a new exhibition area for PEM?
Chasse: The display of the collection was orchestrated as part of the gift, which included designated funding for cataloging the collection, as well as its display, and care. For collections of this scale, it has to be the right fit for our collecting goals. Named the Pforzhemier Gallery, the collection is exhibited in  it is a space we hadn’t previously used as a gallery, an enclosed courtyard space, open to three levels, and connected to our oldest buildings. It has many skylights and offers a lot of natural light.

Glass: I understand you have a big event planned this evening?
Chasse: Yes, today is the donor celebration opening for the exhibition and we have 250 people coming tonight. Mix of our high level patrons base, and Carl and Betty and I have made a specialized list of all the close friends of theirs. There will be several friends and family, as well as six artists who have work in the collection.


Peabody Essex Museum
East India Square
161 Essex Street
Salem, Massachusetts
Exhibition Website

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.