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Fine Art

The Corning Museum’s Heinemann Collection

February 03, 2018

Maestrale (North wind), Toots Zynsky, Providence, Rhode Island, 2005. Gift of the Ben W. Heineman Sr. Family, 2007. Image courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass

For more than 20 years, Natalie and Ben Heineman meticulously amassed one of the largest and best private collections of studio glass sculptures and vessels. In 2006, these Chicago residents and philanthropists donated their entire collection to The Corning Museum of Glass. This very generous gift allowed the Museum to extend it’s role as the leading international repository for the presentation, preservation and documentation of contemporary studio glass.

The pieces differ substantially… although they have one single thing in common… they’re all glass. With a wide scope of ideas, each piece was personally chosen by the Heinemann’s and thus, representative of the couple’s commitment to preserving this special art form.

Natalie and Ben Heineman. The two met on a blind date when he was 16 and she was 17. Mrs. Heineman was a student at the University of Chicago and Mr. Heineman (of Wausau, Wisconsin) attended the University of Michigan. Image courtesy of: The Corning Museum of Glass’ blog

The Heineman Collection is comprised of 240 objects, dating from 1969 to 2005, by 87 artists from four continents. The development in the field of contemporary art is amazingly explored within the collection, as are different themes and materials.

Mr. Heineman was first introduced to contemporary glass in 1984 when he purchased his first piece which was an abstract sculpture by Harvey Littleton. From that moment, he was hooked! One of the founders of the American Studio Glass movement, Littleton was a pioneer in the use of glass as a material for sculptures. Coincidently, the young saleswoman at the gallery that day was Littleton’s daughter, Maureen.

Emergence, Dominick Labino, 1980. Gift of the Ben W. Heineman Sr. Family, 2007. Image courtesy of: The Corning Museum of Glass

The Heineman’s chose pieces for their collection that they personally enjoyed, and not necessarily for an investment. As you can imagine, their Chicago apartment was a museum in itself.

When it became time to think about the fate of their amazing glass collection, Mrs. Heineman was adamant that it be donated in it’s entirety. The level of documentation within the collection is something rarely found. What’s most exciting is that the couple was able to collect pieces from several artists at different stages of their lives… thus, it was easier to understand an individual’s body of work.

Eve by Lino Tagliapierta from Venice, this Murano piece was made in 1984. 71.9 cm (h) x 23.1 cm (w) x 19.7 (l). Image courtesy of: The Corning Museum of Glass

The Museum was founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) as a gift to the nation in celebration of the company’s 100th anniversary, The Corning Museum of Glass is a not-for-profit museum dedicated to telling the story of a single material… glass.

Within the museum, there are more than 3,500 years of history displayed in the galleries ranging from the glass portrait of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh to contemporary glass sculptures.

The Corning Museum of Glass, North Wing.Image courtesy of: Heintges

This collection is truly “one of a kind”. It’s rare to have such a comprehensive assimilation of pieces that were near and dear to the collectors’ hearts. It’s sure to be one of the Museum’s most treasured collections for decades to come!