Thomas Gaffield (1825-1900), an MIT trustee and member of MIT's Society of Arts, spent his career as a businessman in the 19th century American glass-making industry. He was interested in using advances in scientific knowledge to improve glass-making processes and amassed research notes and artifacts related to making glass, staining glass, the effects of sunlight on glass, and other topics. He also collected books about glass-making, some of which are lavishly illustrated. In 1905 Gaffield's widow donated her husband's published articles, books, and handwritten notes (recording the results of his own experiments as well as observations about glass-making practices made while traveling in the United States and Europe) to MIT. All of the manuscript material and many of the books are in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections.
The design for a stained glass window seen here is reproduced from a plate (fig. 22) in Glass Painting: A Course of Instruction in the Various Methods of Painting Glass and the Principles of Design, by Fred Miller (London, 1885), a book from the Gaffield bequest. The design incorporates motifs imported from Japan and also shows the influence of William Morris's arts and crafts movement, which originated in England in the late 19th century and spread quickly to the United States. Morris's arts and crafts movement looked to nature for inspiration and opposed the mind-numbing effects of industrialization that seemed to condemn craftsmen to the uncreative repetition of tasks. It did not object to all industrial procedures, but only to those that diminished the creativity of workers. Miller, in his course of instruction, asks the student of glass painting to "go back to Nature, and contrast the parent of all design with the work of men, and let your own individuality assert itself above all influences." He strongly advises against the servile copying of designs. "This is not the spirit in which to approach the productions of any other age or country, and little good can result from such a course."
The Institute Archives and Special Collections, a division of the MIT Libraries, is engaged in an ongoing cataloging project to make the Institute's rare books better known and easier to use. All titles will eventually be listed in Barton, the Institute's online library catalog. The Gaffield Collection of rare books about glass (as well as other subjects) and the Thomas Gaffield Papers, 1858-1892 (MC 139), are available for use in the Archives reading room, 14N-118. (N.B.: Some books from the Gaffield donation are located in the Limited Access Collection of MIT's Rotch Library.)
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The MIT Libraries also holds the Charles J. Connick Stained Glass Foundation Collection. The collection contains artwork, documents and ephemera donated to MIT by the Charles J. Connick Stained Glass Foundation in 2008.
Glass-making is pursued today at MIT in the Glass Lab, culminating each fall in the "Great Pumpkin Patch," at which approximately 1,000 handblown glass pumpkins are displayed and sold.
Glass at MIT: Beauty and Utility
February to July, 2012 in the Maihaugen Gallery, 14N-130
This MIT Libraries exhibit explores glassmaking as revealed in glassware from MIT laboratories, blown glass from the Glass Lab, and stunning stained glass windows from the Connick Collection. Tools, early photographs, and selections from rare books demonstrate the combination of artistry and engineering that goes into the creation of glass. The gallery is open 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Thursday except MIT holidays.
Object of the Month: October 2005; updated April 2012
MIT Institute Archives