EDITOR’S NOTE: Andre George Billeci died in November 2011 at the age of 77. In 1963, he established the Glass Art Program for the NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University. While teaching at Alfred, he supervised the expansion of the school’s extensive glass facilities. By his retirement, the program had grown to include a full graduate and undergraduate curriculum. Billeci was a designer and consultant for Steuben Glass, Mary McFadden Inc., and the Royal College of Art, UK. He visited India three times as a research consultant for The Corning Museum of Glass from 1986 to 1999. His commission work included pieces for Penn Mutual Life & E.I. Dupont de Nemours. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Carol; sons, Andrew Billeci of Pauma Valley, California, John Billeci of New York City; and brother, S. Daniel Billeci of Pleasant Valley, New York. Below, former student and friend Kathleen Mulcahy reflects on her former professor.
We didn’t speak for the first two months of my graduate years at Alfred. One of the second-year grads in clay, Mike Cindric, came to me and said “you have to speak to him.” How? I thought, he was distant until I realized why. Andy didn’t tell us about his feelings or the misery that he had experienced just three months before I got to Alfred. On June 23, 1972, the Kinzua Dam had burst and flooded the valley from Corning through Alfred to Hornell. Just a week before the flood, Corning had opened a startling wondrous exhibition of Andy’s work — his opus that took years to make. Meticulous, perfectly executed, large-scale forms, magical, planetary-like installations in a darkened space lit within deep red glass forms in crystalline compositions. This world that he presented was chemist meets scientist meets artist meets child. Fantastical, elegant, smooth, and gorgeously rich in thought, all gone, swept through with the entire contents of The Corning Museum. People had lost their lives as well. It put the region in mass mourning.
Andy was holding on, stoic, when I met him, reinventing himself, finding his way as I was finding mine. He taught me this – be self-sufficient, keep going, move forward and don’t complain or blame: There is more to do. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked him, but then I really liked him, admired him and deeply respected him. He wanted us as his students to know glass inside out from bricks and their compositions to the science of glass and the complete understanding of melting glasses and fitting them together. He taught us among other things to love equipment, then love glass deeply, inside, get to know those molecules like family. Appreciate color, form, flow, and then back again to the equipment needed to get there.
We kept in touch and he would always offer his mantra – keep going. One day he called to say that he and Carol were moving to Florida and had some things for me. After graduate school, my first summer out, I was his personal studio tech at his fantastic Thurston Studio. We melted glasses, experimented, developed new glasses, made forms. Back by the cold working area he was working on a cast glass wall. He had jigs made to shape the hot poured glass sections, fitted to the grinder. He showed me how he had changed the machine from three-phase to single-phase and worked on the gearing system so it ran so smoothly. Years later he gave me that machine and I love it. It is still the best machine in my shop.
It was great to be up there, on the hill. We would walk to the pond behind his house. Carol and Andy would make dinner. We’d go inside where every chair and table was built by Andy, and Carol’s loom took up most of the living room. This told me the work was most important and living in and on and near the work was essential.
Kathleen Mulcahy worked with Andy Billeci during her MFA studies at Alfred University in the 1970s.
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