CORNING, N.Y. — David Whitehouse, former executive director of the Corning Museum of Glass, died February 17, following a brief battle with cancer. He was 71.
Whitehouse joined the museum in 1984 as chief curator. He became director in 1992, then executive director and curator of ancient and Islamic glass in 1999. He remained in that role until 2011. Whitehouse had a profound impact on the museum and on the advancement of the scholarship and understanding of glass.
“David was a dedicated leader and a passionate scholar, and he will be sorely missed by his colleagues in Corning and around the world,” said Marie McKee, museum president. “David embodied the museum’s mission to tell the world about glass. That mission drove everything that he did, from the founding of the museum’s glassmaking school to the numerous publications, educational programs and exhibitions that he oversaw. We are very grateful to David for making the Corning Museum of Glass the world-class institution it is today.”
Whitehouse oversaw the growth of the Corning Museum of Glass during a critical period in the museum’s history, while continuing to position the institution as a global leader in its field. During his tenure as executive director, the museum campus underwent a major renovation and expansion, adding 218,000 square feet of public space and spacious new quarters for the Rakow Research Library, the world’s foremost library of glass-related materials. Under Whitehouse’s direction, nearly 20,000 acquisitions were added to the museum’s glass collection, nearly doubling its holdings.
As a scholar, Whitehouse understood the importance of having the world’s best research library on glass and led the Rakow Library’s growth and expansion. Additions to the library under his leadership included not only books, but also rare manuscripts and archives from artists and glass companies from around the world.
Whitehouse also conceived of and established The Studio of The Corning Museum of Glass in 1996. His vision was to provide a state-of-the-art glassmaking school that would train future generations of artists working in glass and provide a creative resource for the region. Each year, thousands of students take classes at The Studio, and tens of thousands of museum visitors make their own glass.
“David’s vision was to create a glass studio that was as world-class as the museum. He exemplified excellence and civility, and we carried out his vision with these qualities,” said Amy Schwartz, director of education and The Studio. “Everyone, from established artist to young visitor, is treated with respect and importance. As he did with all his staff, David empowered us to achieve excellence in our work of creating and programming The Studio. We were overwhelmed with his unflagging support. He had a brilliant vision and gave us everything we needed to make it a reality. Nearly 20 years later, The Studio is a major force in glass education, worldwide.”
One of the world’s foremost scholars of ancient and Islamic glass, Whitehouse published more than 500 scholarly papers, reviews, monographs and books — including three volumes of Roman Glass in The Corning Museum of Glass — in addition to serving as an advisor to various academic journals. He was editor of the Corning Museum’s annual Journal of Glass Studies from 1988 to 2011. In 1990, he co-authored with artist and scholar William Gudenrath several groundbreaking articles on the manufacture and ancient repair of the Portland Vase.
Whitehouse curated numerous exhibitions at the museum, including “Reflecting Antiquity: Modern Glass Inspired by Ancient Rome,” 2008, “Botanical Wonders: The Story of the Harvard Glass Flowers,” 2007, and “Glass of the Sultans,” 2001.
“I first met David when I was a graduate intern at the Getty Museum and, through that meeting, became inspired to study ancient glass myself. He served as the co-chair of my dissertation committee at UCLA, and we continued to collaborate throughout my career,” said Karol Wight, who succeeded Whitehouse as executive director in 2011. “David’s scholarly interests went far beyond antiquity. He studied not only ancient Roman and Islamic glass, but also worked on medieval and later material.”
In his time at the museum, Whitehouse cataloged nearly the entire ancient collection of glass. In 2011, he left his position as executive director and became the museum’s senior scholar, focusing on writing and publishing additional volumes on Islamic glass, as well as a book on Roman cage cups. “It is vital that we complete Whitehouse’s work in these important areas. We are planning to see these projects through to fruition,” said Wight.
Whitehouse is survived by his wife and children. A community gathering to remember David Whitehouse will be held in The Corning Museum of Glass Auditorium on Friday, February 22, at 5:15 pm. All are welcome.