Priscilla Manning Porter
Priscilla Manning Porter died peacefully at home on Nov. 14, 2010 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 93 and had been actively working at the craft of fusing glass in her Washington, Conn. studio until 2006 when the disease became too challenging. She was a resident of Jamestown on Lydia Avenue, and her sister, Barbara, still lives on the island.
Being a “Navy Junior,” Miss Porter’s education was fractured but thorough. In her very early years she attended Potomac School in Washington, D.C. and then Madeira School in Virginia. At the urging of a great aunt she spent two years in France becoming fluent in the French language and absorbing the ways of another culture.
In 1932, her father was transferred to San Diego and she attended the public school in Coronado, graduating in 1935. The next year was accepted to Bennington College. Her father died in 1937 and she had to work to pay tuition but she graduated in 1940 with a degree in science. From there her life is the story of a self-made career as craftsman, teacher, lecturer and educator.
Miss Porter moved to New York City after leaving college and worked during WWII at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, concentrating on shock treatment. After that she taught science in private schools while continuing studies at the Greenwich House Pottery. She taught ceramics courses at the Museum of Modern Art and at one point was asked to teach a course in mosaics, a new field for her.
After working with small pieces of glazed clay, she became somewhat bored and having been given a bag of glass fragments by one of her suppliers she tried transparent mosaics, first gluing the fragments to a sheet of glass then fusing the work in a kiln with spectacular and inspiring results.
“It opened doors to the imagination,” Miss Porter said, and thus began a new and beautiful craft. In 1968 a pair of fused glass candlesticks won her an award from the Artists and Craftsmen of New York and led to shows at Siena Heights College in Adrian, Mich., Patterson State College in Wayne, N.J., and the Slater Museum in Pawtucket, R.I. Her work is included in the Smithsonian Institution of Craftsmen of Eastern States, the San Jose State College in Cranbrook, Mich., and is on display in New York City and many parts of Connecticut. One of her pieces was selected to be a permanent part of the Corning Glass Museum and for years her work graced the windows of Tiffany’s and Bonwit Teller.
Miss Porter, having earned the title of master craftsman, was the originator of a hugely successful process she called “weed ash.” Working with live ferns and leaves, she dried and pressed the material and placed it between two sheets of glass. The “sandwich” was fired to a temperature that caused the plant material to burn and turn to ash but did not fuse the glass. A second firing at a high temperature fused the two pieces of glass together retaining the beautiful gray, ashen replica of the plant. At this point the glass could be slumped into molds for plates, bowls, vases and the like.
Miss Porter also found an outlet for a more colorful, artistic talent with her delicate and whimsical animals, birds and mythical creatures. Her work has been sold extensively in the United States as well as abroad and the unique weed-ash process, producing works of art both decorative and utilitarian, has long been in demand and widely copied.
Self-effacing, kind, generous and gracious, Miss Porter was always ready to give her time and self to help any person or cause in need. Not only has the craft world lost a talented and prolific artisan, but also her passing leaves a painful hole in the hearts of all who loved and knew her.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Steep Rock Association, P.O. Box 279, Washington, CT 06794 or the Potter League, P.O. Box 412, Newport, RI 02840.