I had the fortune to attend a morning of the Pyrex Seminar at the Corning Museum of Glass as Rob moderated a session with the former Director of Design and some of his team from the old days of Corning Consumer Products. It truly was a climb into my way back machine--seeing and hearing about a time in my own history with Corning Glass Works and the men and women that worked on the same campus as me, creating American design classics, such as the Pyrex measuring cup--that we all take for granted--that those elements that our mother's used to bring us breakfast, lunch and dinner--that became ingrained in the musings we have of that time and place. And through these elements, these hard working mixing bowls and casserole dishes folded into the texture of our childhood--they have a space in our personal palettes and perceptions. For me, there was more. There was a lookback for me from the impatient twenty something designer wanting everything to be just so, and not understanding the culture that this design work happened in. Every product for Corning had to be a "hit"--so the data they gathered from the test kitchens, the consumer testing areas, and the knowledge of the incredibly shifting markets at the time (the advent of Walmart/Kmart/Target and the shrinking Department Store that Corning had built their business around). So the purple tinted glass, the brown tinted glass, the cranberry tinted glass all was founded in data and not necessarily in what we wanted to do...but in the market. Terra and some of the other ideas shown--really portrayed that the team was ready and able to do exceptional work...but were constrained by the conservatism of the corporate culture as well as the marketplace. It was far from "Design First".
Rob sklllfullly directed the team to talk about their work, some of the challenges they had and innovations blending design and the capabilities of the machines. As my friend Tina Oldknow exclaimed to me while all this was in process..."I would love a day of this...it's all so good!". And I agree....beyond the nostalgia--there were key historical moments.
A point I had forgotten was that opal pyrex was the dinnerware that was specified by the military for all of their dining halls, and the thick, thick handleless mugs--that brought comfort and home to many of those fighting or in service--brought this material into so many homes in the boom post war. So, bringing fun patterns and colorways that the Missus would want--only made sense.
Dennis Younge delighted us about the design of the stacking measuring cup. Herb Dann talked about a line of White "Opal" pyrex called Terra, a matte, decorated pattern inspired by nature--with simple forms that I want in my future split level. Gorgeous. Anna Eide, pattern designer and current Design Director for World Kitchen spoke about the complexity of a world that moved from everyone wanting the same time ("matchy matchy") to the trend now for everyone to be distinct...and how to develop designs, forms and patterns for that complexity (and multiply it by an international market). Jerry Wright, a long time acquaintance spoke about his work, his interest in establishing an archive for Corning of the design and engineering work that became a significant asset in the years to come. Rob kept it all rolling. Amazing as these guys were his seniors and bosses when Rob was a design intern in 1978 in the model shop at Consumer Products. Funny how things work.
Postscript: Can you say Tammis Keefe and the fabulous Carl Tait? This is all coming from the same vein.