Part of what my background gives me is the ability to look at the material from a scientific standpoint.
Rebecca Turkington Congdon '82 has turned an early career as a mechanical engineer and computer scientist into a colorful second phase as an artist at the Corning Museum of Glass. But instead of seeing contradictions in these two phases of her career, she sees how the alchemy of science and art creates its own brilliant logic.
Congdon started in the military and aerospace industries, working with instrumentation, manufacturing systems and software development. She was employed by Corning Inc. when a date with her now-husband to the Corning Museum of Glass sparked a new obsession. By 2009, she was teaching classes in lampworking — using a torch to shape glass objects — at the museum, cultivating donors and working in her design studio.
"Part of what my background gives me is the ability to look at the material from a scientific standpoint," Congdon says. "As an artist, I like to understand the material, from things I learned in material-science classes, thermal dynamics, understanding heat exchange and cooling rates. And computer science translates to programming the ovens and using 3-D printers to make casting molds."
Even as Bucknell prepared her to be an engineer, it also gave her a glimpse of her artistic leanings. During a January Plan trip to Italy, she was captivated by art history. "I remember the professor was explaining all about the art, and I loved it. It was fascinating to hear her talk about all these paintings, the symbolism."
The glass jewelry Congdon makes blends translucent patterns, shapes and textures with intriguing names such as Tibetan Scrolls and Modern Green Feathers. She loves the process just as much as the result. "You can tune out everything. You're just mesmerized by the material; you're experimenting; you're playing. You can't afford to be distracted, because you're in front of a torch. At the same time, it's calming. It's like watching marshmallows roast in a campfire."