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AAA World Article

The Looking Glass

The history and artistry of glass take on fascinating forms at South Jersey’s WheatonArts and Cultural Center.

By Stacy Tillilie

AAA World Article

Demonstrating the art of hot glass.
Photo Courtesy of WheatonArts

The sleepy South Jersey town of Millville may not be on most travelers’ radars, but when it comes to the art of glassmaking, this former glass-factory capital of the country sits smack-dab in the center of the cultural map. For here, nestled in 65 wooded acres about 40 miles west of Atlantic City, WheatonArts and Cultural Center has been attracting artists and art aficionados alike since 1968. That’s when the late Frank Wheaton, Jr., began designing and building a small village reminiscent of a late-1800s glass-factory town to preserve the history and heritage of glassmaking in the Garden State—an industry that his grandfather established in the area in 1888, thanks in part to the area’s soil rich in silica sand, which is key in glassmaking.

Today, WheatonArts is home to a dozen buildings housing working artisan studios, exhibition galleries, an event center, museum stores and an 1876 schoolhouse in a tranquil tree-lined setting complete with a picnic grove and pond. At the heart of the village is the 20,000-square-foot Museum of American Glass, touting the most comprehensive collection of glass produced in America, with about 6,500 objects on display dating from Colonial to present-day times and showcasing everything from Victorian art glass to glass paperweights to the world’s largest bottle (standing seven feet, eight inches and capable of holding 188 gallons).

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“Wheaton is a cultural center that encompasses arts, community and sanctuary,” says WheatonArts representative Marcy Peterson. “People interested in the process of glassmaking [and other arts] can make one-on-one connections with the artists. You’re able to watch them create art in their studios and have a dialogue with them. There’s nothing between you and the artists; you can see the hot glass [being sculpted] and feel the heat [from the furnace].”

Along with a Glass Studio and daily demonstrations of the artistry of hot glass, WheatonArts also features a Pottery Studio, Flameworking Studio and Paper Studio where artists-in-residence can be observed honing their craft. You’ll find many of their works for sale in the Arthur Gorham Paperweight Shop, Brownstone Emporium and Boutique, Christmas Shop, General Store, and The Gallery of Fine Craft.

Visitors are encouraged to try their hand at crafting their own art, too, by making a glass paperweight, ornament or vase through Make Your Own Experiences. Little ones can express their artistic sides in Creation Stations that include Act Out spaces (with theater props) and a Discovery Garden. Art classes (for children and adults), demonstrations and performances hosted by the Down Jersey Folklife Program—including Native American drum making and Japanese dancing—are also presented throughout the year. Seasonal events, such as Glass Weekend each June and the Festival of Fine Craft each October, bring special exhibitions, demonstrations, social events and lecture series by leading artists.

“This is a unique place where people gather, explore and create,” says Peterson. “WheatonArts is truly a South Jersey gem.” 

 

What: WheatonArts and Cultural Center

Where: 1501 Glasstown Road, Millville, New Jersey

When: April–December: Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; January–March: only museum shops and grounds open, Friday–Sunday, 10 a.m. –5 p.m. Closed most national holidays.

How much: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $7 for students, and free for children age 5 and under. AAA discount offered. Free to shop the stores and stroll the grounds (except during special outdoor events).

For more information: 856/825-6800 or wheatonarts.org

 

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of AAA World.



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