Posting Number 3435 Date: 08/12/20 Return to Posting List
Many thanks for running the tributes. Jane contributed a great deal to the world of glass in her almost 50 years with CMoG. Her friends, colleagues, and family appreciate your sharing these with more people. And, as editor of the Glass Club Bulletin, I appreciate your efforts as well!
The Many Dimensions of Jane Spillman
Lunch with Jane
by Larry Jessen
This is not a paper about glass. It is a story about meeting a person with a passion for glass. A passion that is both inspirational and contagious. It begins in the mid 1980s, in late September or early October. Ive lost my diaries for those years, but distinctly remember the beautiful fall colors driving north on Route 15. I had just discovered glass. Living in Frederick, MD, I had heard of the Amelung factory, the famous 18th-century glass manufactory that operated south of town, but never thought much about what they made. One day while chatting with a friend who owned a local antique shop, an excited customer stopped by. He wanted to tell her about an Amelung vase that he had just purchased from a dealer near Hagerstown. I was intrigued and listened intently to his account. It seemed logical to me that most of the old homes were filled with Amelung and it should be very easy to find. I had a missionto acquire all of the Amelung glass remaining in town.
My friend suggested that I purchase a copy of McKearins American Glass. Since she didnt sell early glass she had nothing for me to examine, but she was sure that looking at the pictures in McKearin would help. The next weekend I headed to Hagerstown, thrilled to find a dealer who understood and sold early glass. The elderly gentleman obviously sensed my excitement when I entered the shop and immediately began asking about the Amelung vase he sold the week before. His ears really perked up when I asked if he had any more pieces in his inventory. He said that he had sold lots of Amelung and that the McKearins had been regular customers. He didnt keep the Amelung out in the shop, but if I would follow him, he had an engraved flip glass in his private storage room to show me. It was a large, straw colored flip, engraved on the front with a stylized tulip and the back with a basket of flowers. It also had a rough ground pontil on the base. He was sure it was Amelung. So sure that he intended to take it to Corning, but hadnt found time. I naively asked him What is Corning? He seemed surprised by my ignorance. It is the greatest glass museum in the world. The people there are very interested in Amelung he said. I asked if he would sell me the flip, but he refused. He didnt want to part with it because it was his last major piece of Amelung. However, after much pleading and bargaining, he agreed to sell it to meif I was willing to pay his asking price.
My excitement was unbounded. I read and reread the section on Amelung in McKearin. I showed the flip to my friend in Frederick, who thought it was exceptional. She suggested that I take it to Corning because it was a piece that they should know about. The next day I called the Corning Museum and spoke with a woman who identified herself as Mrs. Spillman. She asked if I could send her pictures of my tumbler. Tumbler, she said, correcting me. We dont call that form a flip glass anymore. I told her that I would like to show it to her in person and asked if I could make an appointment. She was sure that the director of the museum would also like to see it, so after checking his schedule, a date was set with an arrival time of 10 AM.
Leaving in the middle of the night, I made the 5½-hour drive up Rt. 15 without incident. The tumbler had been wrapped in wads of old newspaper and placed in a battered cardboard box that was securely set in the trunk of my car. Upon reaching Corning I was surprised by how modern the museum looked. I had expected to find a multi-storied brick building that resembled my depression era high school. As I walked up the path from the parking area I noticed a number of well lit offices slightly below ground level. How sorry I felt for the people who worked in those fishbowls since they had no privacy and were constantly on public display. Just as I entered the administrative area a petite woman emerged from a nearby door. Hello, she said, extending her hand, Im Mrs. Spillman, the curator of American glass. She escorted me to the lunchroom at the end of the hall. Well have more room in here she said. You can unpack, Ill tell the director that you are here. In a few seconds she returned accompanied by Dwight Lanmon, who was quite jovial and smiled broadlyin stark contrast to Jane who was somewhat dour. Dwight picked up my tumbler and silently examined it. He turned it around and around, touching the pontil and carefully studying the engraving. He was still smiling when he handed it to Jane. Jane, what do you think? he asked. I soon realized that his smile was not one of approval but rather an impish smilefor he knew exactly what was about to happen.
Jane looked at the glass for a few seconds, then with great authority said: This doesnt have anything in common with known Amelung pieces. The weight and color are wrong; the base is too thin; and how the pontil is finished is not correct. The engraving is not at all like Amelungs. This is a late 18th or early 19th century Bohemian tumbler. We have a showcase full of this glass upstairs. She handed it back to Dwight, who was no longer smiling. He looked pitifully upon me for a few seconds, but the smile returned as he handed the glass back to me saying It might not be Amelung, but it is still a very nice piece of early glass and Im sure you will treasure it. With that he quickly exited the room. Pointing to my box, Jane said You can pack this up, Ill be in my office and in an instant she too was gone.
I was devastated. I now realized that collecting glass was a big mistake. There was no way I would ever figure this out. Evidently, there was more to collecting Amelung than finding glass with a pontil in the vicinity of Frederick, MD. I decided that I would go back to collecting coinsobjects that had dates and mint marks. All I needed to decipher was how many letters of LIBERTY were visible on her shield before looking it up in a price guide. What I wanted most was to quickly get to the safety of my car and start the journey home. As I passed Janes office door I heard her call out Where are you going? I turned around to find her standing in the hallway. To my car I said. Oh, you can leave your box in here pointing into her office. Why?I asked, having no idea why she wanted my glass in her room. She now looked more confused than I was. Dont you want to see our Amelung? she asked. In my haste to escape, I had completely forgotten that I was in a museum with one of the most important collections of Amelung glass. I deposited the box where directed and followed her. She opened a door revealing a small winding staircase, like one you would find leading to the organ loft in a great cathedral. At the top another door opened - and like Dorothy stepping into OzI was greeted by the most amazing and unexpected sight. Glasscases and cases of beautifully displayed glassmore glass than I ever imagined could be found in one place.
Jane first took me to see the Amelung. She explained in great detail the differences between my piece and the authentic examples before me. Next we went to the Bohemian case where she pointed out examples like mine. I was struck by how different the American and European tumblers actually were. We spent the rest of the morning together. I was given a private tour of the entire museum by one of the foremost glass experts in the world. Sometimes she would stop and point out pieces that were like Amelungbut differentso they wouldnt confuse me. And finally, at the end of the tour, we stopped at the bookstore, which back then was upstairs in the gallery. She gave me a copy of the 1976 Journal of Glass Studies, the edition that is totally devoted to Amelung. This should really help you she said. It contains photographs of all of the major pieces and has the most recent scholarship. We returned to her office where she gave me one more gift: contact information for J. Anthony Stout, a Corning Fellow who lived in Washington, D.C. Youre going to need a mentor, she said. Give Tony a call. Im sure he will be glad to help you. After wishing me a safe journey home, I left invigorated and more determined than ever to find all of the Amelung that remained in Frederick.
Some years passed before I journeyed to Corning again. Jane and I corresponded during the hiatus, but we did not meet in person. By the time I returned I had come to the sad realization that Frederick was the last place I would find Amelung. It had been picked clean in the 1930s and 40s, but under the tutelage of Tony Stout I discovered other early glass that interested me. I had acquired quite a few American pieces that I thought Jane would like to see. Again I scheduled a visit in early October so I could enjoy the fall colors. Jane suggested that I arrive a little later in the morning so we could have lunch afterwards.
It was a typical fall day in Corning. The drive along the Susquehanna River had been beautiful and sunny until the Pennsylvania-New York border where the sky turned gray, and by the time I reached Corning a cold light drizzle was falling. As I walked to the administration entrance I could see in one of the fishbowl offices, Jane sitting at her desk, talking on the telephone. Checking in with the receptionist, I was told Jane would be with me shortly and was asked to take a seat nearby. I said that I knew where I was going and brazenly headed down the short hall into the lunchroom where we met before. The room was different; the long table I remembered was gone, replaced with a smaller round one. Totally focused on the task at hand, I put my cardboard box on the table and began to unpack my pieces, carefully unwrapping each one while dropping the crumpled newspaper on the floor around the table. At a desk at the far end of the room sat a motionless man who was staring at me. I paused for a second and he said May I help you? No, thank you, I replied, assuming he was offering to help me unpack, Im almost finished. I removed the last piece from the box and carefully arranged my glass on the table. As I was doing this I happened to look up. That man was still staring at me. I dont believe weve met he said, to which I replied, Im Larry Jessen, Im here to see Mrs. Spillman,to which he replied, Im David Whitehouse, the director of this museum, and this is my office. Mrs. Spillmans office is down the hall.
At that moment Jane burst into the room. She looked first at Dr. Whitehouse and then the crumpled paper all over the floor. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? she shouted at me. Realizing what had happened I tried to explainI, I thought this was the lunchroom& but didnt get any farther. Its NOT the lunchroom she snapped while getting down on her knees to pick up the paper from the floor. By now I too was on the floor cleaning up my mess. I glanced across the table and saw her eyes, level with the tabletop, wide-open and glaring at me. She resembled a crocodile in the Nile waiting for prey. Throughout the ordeal she apologized to Dr. Whitehouse, who, I think was secretly enjoying the drama unfolding before him. When all was back in the box, she picked it up and motioned for me to follow her out of the room. At our first meeting I misinterpreted Janes professional demeanor as annoyanceprobably for bringing her yet another piece of bogus Amelung. Now I was reassured that she had not been annoyed, because I was having an opportunity to experience her when she was really mad!
Once in her office she read me The Riot Act. I was not to wonder the halls without an escort; if I was told to sit and wait, thats what I would do. Do you understand? she asked, Yes. I nodded. Good she saidand with that she sat down and started to unpack my box. In that instant her mood changed, all was forgiven and forgotten. She spoke enthusiastically about the pieces that I had brought and commended me for learning so much since our last visit. Soon we were headed up the spiral stair and into the enchanted world of glass, followed by lunch in the corporate cafeteria.
In the cafeteria I met another Jane. Maybe because she was exhausted from the angst I had just put her through, or because she was becoming more comfortable around meshe began to speak to me as a friend and not just another quirky glass collector visiting the museum. She is warm and funnynot fuzzy. There is nothing fuzzy about Jane. She has a dry sense of humor; she can even smile and laugh if you catch her off guard. There is a great dignity about her, instilled by her southern upbringing. I asked her once why she didnt have a southern accent. She laughed and said that she never had one. I dont believe that, I think she worked very hard to sound like a Yankee. She is happiest when talking about her family. I didnt think anything could mean more to her than glass, but its so obvious that they do. She loves to research and she lives to share her knowledge with others. If she hadnt been bitten by the glass bug, I suspect she would have become a university professor, and a very fine one at that. She is a remarkable, caring person. I am so humbled that she invited me to lunch that day. I will always treasure our friendship.
I often wonder how many other lives she has touched or how many people now share her passion for glass simply because she gave a few extra minutes of her time, or offered some sincere words of interest or encouragement about their collection or research. For the next 30 years Jane and I would correspond frequently and there have been many trips to the museum followed by enjoyable meals in the cafeteria. If I was feeling down or needed encouragement Id call her and ask when I could come up. Id say I had something new that I wanted her to see. But the truth-be-told: the real reason for my visit wasnt to show her something or even talk about glass. We could have done that by email or over the phone. The reason I drove up to Corningwas to have lunch with Jane.
Return to Posting List