Accomplished businessman, presidential adviser, and art collector Ben W. Heineman died at the age of 98 this past Sunday, August 5th, due to complications of a stroke. A significant part of his extensive and highly-regarded contemporary glass collection is on permanent view at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, and it stands as a testament to his intensity and achievement-oriented approach to all things. While his outsized successes as a lawyer, railroad executive, and political adviser were numerous, Heineman faced serious financial and personal challenges at the start of his long and illustrious career. At the age of 17, his father committed suicide in the midst of the devastating financial crisis of 1930. Yet Heineman perservered, putting himself through the University of Michigan undergraduate program, and successfully enrolling in Northwestern’s law school a full year early. Perhaps this challenging adolescence prepared him for his business career, where he broke through barriers as one of the first Jewish businessman tin the Protestant-dominated railroad industry, according to his obituary in the New York Times.
Along with holding positions on a string of art, charity, and education boards, Heineman and his wife, Natalie, donated their impressive collection of glass sculptures — the result of over two decades of thoughtful accumulation — to the Corning Museum of Glass in 2006. GLASS magazine contributing editor William Ganis, professor of art history at Wells College, writes in the Summer 2010 issue (GLASS #119) that the collection, particularly its vases and Mark Peiser pieces, “show an enormous range of expressive cameos, casings, figuration and abstraction,” hence a level of depth that “likely exists in no other collection.” Ganis describes the “highly personal” collection, with “comprehensive representation of glass from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s,” as a clear indicator for just “how far glassmaking has come.”
From May 2009 to January 2011, the exhibition “Voices of Contemporary Glass: The Heineman Collection” was on view at The Corning Museum of Glass. Curator of modern glass Tina Oldknow gives praise to Heineman’s donation in her 2009 catalog of the exhibit by emphasizing Heineman’s attributes of “generosity, accomplishment, discernment, loyalty, and strength.”
“What emerges from the Heineman Collection, seen as a whole, is a sense of abundance, a quality of selection and presentation, and a deep respect for, and commitment to, artists and their work,” Oldknow writes, going on to conclude that “it appears that the collection does indeed reflect the collector, and that the Heinemans and their collection are perfectly matched.”
Also at Corning is a named gallery reserved for international contemporary glass art, The Ben W Heineman, Sr. Family Gallery, which provides valuable exposure to the best work in the material, a showcase of excellence that adds to a long, illustrious, and well-deserved legacy.