Saturday, October 27, 2012
Cut glass collection lets Ferrum College professor sparkle
In 2007, Anthony Giesen began donating to Ferrum College his cut glass collection. Selected pieces are on display in the gallery named after him on campus.
Photos by Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times
Anthony Giesen wears his lucky sweater as he shows parts of his large American Brillant Cut Glass collection at Ferrum College on Wednesday.
This colored glass pitcher from Anthony Giesen's collection is on display at Ferrum College.
A signed, patterned punch bowl is among the Rarities in American Cut Glass collection donated to Ferrum College by Anthony Giesen.
This ice cream tray was hand-etched in the United States sometime between 1876 and 1916.
Anthony "Tony" Giesen admitted he was an Episcopalian when asked in 1965 about his religious affiliation by the president of what is now Ferrum College, established in 1913 by the United Methodist Women.
Giesen recalled President Ralph Arthur's reaction.
"President Arthur said, 'I'm going to have to ask you not to drink while you're on campus and I don't want you drinking publicly in Franklin County or Roanoke,'" Giesen said.
So, when Giesen joined colleagues for a drink in a bar in Roanoke, they posted a lookout near the door.
Giesen was 25 years old when his teaching career began at Ferrum. Arthur hired him to teach math and put him in charge of starting the school's equestrian program.
"I taught five math classes and five riding classes," Giesen recalled.
Now, at 72, he is Ferrum's longest-tenured faculty member. The school celebrates its centennial next year.
Giesen, a professor of mathematics, has been described by current Ferrum President Jennifer Braaten as a Renaissance man. This week, she said he is "an extraordinary teacher and valued colleague."
Giesen's interests remain varied. But he no longer rides horses.
"If I fell off a horse today, they'd have to pick me up with a blotter," he said.
He still plays piano. And he is a longtime collector of what he suggests is one of two art forms with uniquely American roots.
The other, he says, is jazz.
On Wednesday, Giesen wore his lucky sweater, the one with bright colors in vertical stripes.
More than four years ago, he wore the same sweater when photographed for a feature story about him in The Hobstar, the journal of the American Cut Glass Association.
Giesen explained Wednesday that when clad in the sweater, he has never had a mishap handling individual pieces in his collection of some 300 examples of American Brilliant cut glass.
"I knew I'd probably have the herringbone pattern out today," he said, referring to a wine decanter featuring a unique cut that he has insured for $22,000.
In 2007, Giesen began donating to Ferrum College his cut glass collection, which he has insured for $340,000. Selected pieces are on display in the Anthony Giesen Gallery of American Brilliant Cut Glass in the student center at Franklin Hall.
By most accounts, the American Brilliant period of cut glass began about 1876, as the nation celebrated its centennial, and extended to about 1916, when a combination of circumstances, including World War I, ended the era.
Artisans cut the glass by hand. And although cut glass can be traced to ancient Egypt, the American Brilliant period was remarkable, collectors say. According to one history, "American cut glass artisans excelled all others worldwide and produced stunning examples of the cut glass art that may never again be equaled."
Giesen's passionate relationship to the art form began when he was about 13 years old. His mother, Virginia Giesen, gave him two pieces she had collected.
"I said, 'You mean a person did all this cutting by hand?' and she said, 'Yes.'"
Born in Ada, Okla., where his physician father, Andrew, worked with Native Americans, Giesen was raised in Radford.
As a teenager, he earned money by mowing grass and taking odd jobs. And his mother, an opera singer, matched what he had saved when he coveted a particular piece of cut glass. She split the cost, for example, when he bought a punch bowl for $150 from a woman in Dublin.
When he was young, Giesen discovered pieces in antique stores and through word-of-mouth. He still collects, usually at auctions.
"The greatest find I ever had was a piece owned by a member of the college's board of trustees," he said.
The tankard had been in the woman's family for 90 years, but she decided to sell it to help her son complete law school.
Today, Giesen still teaches a full course load at Ferrum.
On Wednesday, 26 students attended his "Concepts of Pre-Calculus" class. He scribbled formulas on a whiteboard. He peppered the class with questions. A pause followed one query. Giesen gestured with a marker.
"By the time y'all tell me something, this thing is going to dry up," he said, smiling.
In the hallway after class, student Bridgette Soyars, a sophomore, said Giesen is a good teacher, one who tries to ensure that students understand the material.
"If we don't get it, we feel comfortable raising our hands to ask questions," Soyars said.
Later, Giesen led visitors to the gallery of cut glass in Franklin Hall. He switched on small cabinet lights to highlight the pieces' elegant dazzle.
"I wish you were here when the sun comes up," he said. "The room is full of rainbows."