Tom Kelly at work
Our Market Street storefront
ur story is about us, but it’s also about more than us. It’s about quality and collaboration. It’s about paying silent homage to a local industry and adding another layer to the story and the culture of glass found in “America’s Crystal City.”
For the sake of perspective, let’s start with a little broader history. Thomas Gibbons Hawkes was born in 1846 to a family involved with the Irish glass industry. At the age of 17, Hawkes obtained a job as a draftsman for the glass cutting shop Hoare & Daily, and in 1880 he opened Thomas G. Hawkes & Company, the second glass cutting firm established in Corning. Nine years later, T.G. Hawkes won the Grand Prize for cut glass
at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle.
It’s probably not that surprising to find, over 130 years later, a contemporary glass studio located in the same historic building that was once home to Hawkes’ company. You’ll even find the name T.G. Hawkes & Company painted on the facade out front, well above the name of the current occupant, Vitrix Hot Glass Studio.
Though he does not work in cut glass, like Hawkes before him, artist Tom Kelly (owner and master glassblower at Vitrix) has built a reputation based on the uncompromising quality and craftsmanship of the glass he produces. And it is that adherence to quality that truly sets Vitrix apart as their work has been published internationally, as well as collected and exhibited, and can be found in fine stores and galleries across the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan.
Inspired and influenced by many renowned glass artists, including Lino Tagliapietra and Frtiz Dreisbach, Tom spent over a decade under the tutelage of Thomas Buechner III developing his aesthetic sensitivity and the varied techniques he has used during his thirty-plus years at the furnace.
“Hot glass challenges me constantly,” says Tom,
“I don’t think I really control the molten glass. I just influence it.” And it’s the way he influences the glass that has captured the attention of people around the world, especially with the intricate sculptures called “heechee probes” where he wraps colorful molten glass around a solid glass probe.
Unlike the Hawkes company, which at its peak employed over 400 people, Vitrix Glass Studio is a small and intimate company where a handful of talented artists can be found working at any one time on a number of unique and stunning pieces including the iconic heechees, as well as the equally popular pyroplasm sculptures, beautiful pumpkins, playful snowmen, elegant perfume bottles, and more.
Most days, while exploring the wonderful shop located on historic Market Street, customers can watch the glassblowers gather molten glass from the furnace and create these wonderful, detailed pieces before their eyes. The intention at Vitrix is to make distinctive, collectible pieces that are not only desirable, but affordable. Yet, regardless of whether it’s an expensive piece for an exhibition or a collectible memento, Tom Kelly and the artists at Vitrix strive for exceptional quality in each piece.
Growing up in “America’s Crystal City” (a name
earned in large part thanks to T.G. Hawkes), it’s easy to understand why Tom might have chosen a career in glass. Yet, doing so and then standing out requires more than a lifelong interest or event talent, which Tom and his crew of glassblowers certainly have. It also requires collaboration between the artists and their chosen medium and also with each other, for most of the
pieces require teamwork.
But the teamwork and collaboration at Vitrix begins with the relationship between Tom and his brother Bob, whose respective strengths truly compliment each other. Having a close relationship helps, but the dynamic chemistry between the brothers extends beyond their strong familial bond as the two men work hard to create something special in Corning’s Gaffer District.
While continuing to develop new pieces to add to their collection, Tom and Bob and their crew continue to draw the attention of glass lovers from around the world with their exceptionally crafted handmade glass art.