Let me say a few words about this flood. In 1972, Hurricane Agnes took an inland route, combined with a mid latitude cyclone track and stalled over western New York for 5 days. The immense volume of rain broke all former records and caused the river that flows through Corning to overflow its banks.
The water level reached 5 feet high – on the second floor of the museum! Because of this Lawrence Saint’s materials were submerged. When the water receded the materials were dried out and put in storage but they remained unopened until the day I looked through them.
Armed with this evidence, I decided to try my luck at Corning again. I began diplomatically, by saying, “I understand that you had a flood and that the paper records probably got ruined, but you’re the Corning Museum of Glass; surely you didn’t throw out the glass pieces, right?”
This time I was directed to Warren Bunn, the Registrar. He said, “Well, actually in our off-site storage facility we do have some metal boxes, covered with dried mud, which are labeled Lawrence Saint and have not been opened since the flood of 1972. I’d be happy to go through them with you – since perhaps you can tell us what’s in them.” It is at this moment I realized I was the Lawrence Saint expert!
Meanwhile, during this period I had been corresponding with some of Lawrence Saint’s descendants.
They planned a family reunion in Pennsylvania and I arranged to have them meet me in Bryn Athyn to see the Saint materials I uncovered in the Glencairn archives. Saint’s grandchildren, who are missionaries living in Guatemala accepted my invitation. I asked if they had any samples of glass and if they would they bring them to show me.
Disappointingly, what they produced was a sample of Saint’s striated red about the size of a nickel which had been made into a heart shaped charm – given to each of the girls as a gift from Saint’s wife.
They also showed me two roundels that came from Saint’s factory which they referred to as “formula plates”. With a diamond, each had been inscribed with a 3-digit number and the promise: “the formula for this color is in the Corning Museum of Glass”!
I didn’t leave empty handed. In one of the last envelopes I found a file folder marked “Complete Red Formula”. It was about 18 pages long! What I now know is that it is not a matter of simply having the recipe but you must also know how the glass was worked by the gaffer.
Saint’s formula required a furnace with 4 crucibles. Two of them held a mixture of “green white” – basically a clear glass with a green cast. Another contained a glass to which yellow “flowers of Sulfur” had been added and the final was a red made by the addition of “Copper scales”. The procedure was to melt these, then take the yellow, ladle it into the red and stir it 100 times. The glass blower would form his bubble from a series of small gathers, first in the clear, then in the red in a succession of 5 dips ending in clear. Stirring would ensure that the layers of red were streaky and casing with clear would prevent the color from being too dark.
Finally in the last box I found 4 small pieces of beautiful streaky reds, but the dates on the corresponding formulas indicated that these were early experimental reds and not Saint’s final mature formula.
These samples were dated 1929 which is one year after Saint received his commission for the windows at the National Cathedral. Saint’s hot shop was built in 1928 and, apparently, he was already making a striated red by 1929. Compare this to the Bryn Athyn Glassworks where Raymond Pitcairn worked with Larson from 1916 to 1922 and Ariel Gunther continued to improve the formula even after that.
After finding a written formula for “Red Glass”, I turned my attention to the matching envelope which would finally yield a sample of Saint’s red.
The envelope was marked as containing one sample of red, one sample of greenish white, one sample of pale blue, one sample of “slightly hot” flesh (draw your own conclusion here!), one sample of saffron yellow and a brown.
In fact, the envelope contained only 5 pieces of glass – all samples as promised - except the red.
I went through the complete collection, 29 boxes of envelopes, and separated them into colors: blues, greens, purples, tawny browns, flesh, saffron yellow, clears and reds. In each case every color was there, except the reds!
I was greeted enthusiastically by a research assistant who said, “I’m thrilled to show you these materials because as far back as our records go, no one has ever asked to see them before!” Almost as an afterthought she added, “And it’s our only collection that is radio-active!” That’s right: RADIOACTIVE!
This was never fully explained; perhaps Saint was experimenting with uranium glass among his other formulas.
What the collection actually consisted of were 29 boxes of paired envelopes, one envelope containing the typewritten formula for the glass that was melted on a specific day and a corresponding envelope with a physical sample of the glass obtained. This collection was reported to contain 800 glass formulas. Compared to the scanty formulas from of the Bryn Athyn daybooks – Saint’s records read like a science log. Each formula was about 4 pages long. Not only were the ingredients in the batch listed, but Saint recorded such minutia as: what time the furnace was turned on, the rate at which it was heated, how much fuel was consumed and how many sheets the tank produced that day. Even the number of gathers the gaffer took for each sheet was documented.
Her extremely helpful bibliography led me to the Smithsonian Institution. The records showed that in 1977 the Washington National Cathedral Archives gave their collection of Lawrence Saint formulas and glass samples to the Smithsonian Institution where it became part of the National Museum of American History. It was later moved to the MuseumSupportCenter where it became designated simply as: “Collection 90”.
Collection 90 is stored at the Silver Hill Facility which is the off-site storage of the National Museum of American History. I made arrangements to go down and see these materials.
What awaited me was an ultra secure, high tech storage facility.
Of course, you’re thinking the same thing I was, “This is where they keep the Ark of the Covenant, right?”
Obviously curious, I contacted the Corning Museum of Glass and said; “I’m researching Lawrence Saint. What ever happened to these two station wagon loads full of materials you received from him? I’d really like to see them.” Gail Bardhan, librarian at the Rakow Research Library at Corning wrote back to me and said, “Oh dear, those must have been some of the materials which were lost in the big flood we had back in the 70s. What I do have for you is a bibliography* on Lawrence Saint with a list of materials that you can follow up on.”
*Note: You can view the complete bibliography via a tab on the home page of this blog.