The Talented Mr. BuechnerOct 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Jan Bridgeford-Smith
Maya Angelou, poet, writer, and social activist, claimed that “when members of a society wish to secure that society’s rich history they cherish their arts and respect their artists.” When you cross the threshold at West End Gallery in Corning, you’ll encounter that sentiment on full display. It is echoed by the gallery’s founder, Linda “Lin” Gardner and her daughter Jesse Gardner, current co-owner of the enterprise with her husband, John Gardner, and is particularly evident when it comes to the upcoming exhibition highlighting works by renowned artist Thomas S. Buechner. Given his extraordinary contributions of time, talent, and philanthropy to the city of Corning, it’s no wonder he has been honored here annually since his death a dozen years ago. And no wonder that this year Lin and Jesse continue the tradition by spotlighting the artist in their Upstairs Gallery during a show featuring the work of his colleagues and friends, Tom Gardner and Martin Poole, on the gallery’s main floor space. Both exhibits run from October 14 through November 10.
Nearly forty-five years ago, Lin, and her then-husband, Tom Gardner, moved their household and custom framing business from Elmira to Corning, and soon established the West End Gallery to complement the Corning Art & Frame Shop. In 1990, they sold the framing business and devoted themselves to developing a premier salon. Buechner, nationally recognized as an artist whose work was already considered collectable, one of four artists the gallery first featured. His confidence in the enterprise was consequential to the early success of the business, Lin and Jesse say. Tom Gardner, Martin Poole, and Dustin Boutwell, the other three artists who comprised the core group first represented by West End, regularly got together with Buechner to set-up their easels for an afternoon of painting the same subject. This would be followed by gin and tonics, cigars, and candid critiques of each other’s work.
Born in New York City in 1926 and raised in Bronxville, Buechner’s artistic interest, aptitude, and passion were all evident as a child, and subsequently encouraged. After graduating from the Lawrenceville School in 1944, he attended Princeton courtesy of a U.S. Navy program, served as a cadet in the Naval Air Corps, and worked for the government of Puerto Rico. Returning to New York City, he used the G.I. Bill to finance his classes at the Art Students League, then embarked on a study trip to Europe that included taking classes at the American School at Fountainbleu, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and an apprenticeship with the Dutch artist, M.M. van Dantzig. Returning to New York in 1948, he continued to hone his skills. His professional destiny, however, took him outside the studio when, at the ripe age of twenty-three, he was offered a job with the Metropolitan Museum in the display department, eventually being named the department’s assistant manager. This started young Buechner on a forty-year career immersed in the development and care of cultural institutions devoted to “securing society’s rich history.”
In 1949, he and Mary C. Hawkins, another aspiring artist, were married. The couple’s first of three children, daughter Bon, arrived in 1951 in Corning, where her father had accepted a position the year before as founding director of the Corning Museum of Glass. Sons Thomas and Matthew followed in 1954 and 1957. During this first tenure with the Corning museum, despite the demands and time constraints that accompany young children, as well as creating a proper showcase for glass wonders, Buechner established the Journal of Glass Studies, wrote the glass entry for Encyclopedia Britannica, and traveled to the Soviet Union as a guest of the government to lecture at the Hermitage. He left Corning in 1961 after accepting a position as director of the Brooklyn Museum, where he remained for ten years. He returned to the Southern Tier in 1971 after accepting a trifecta position as vice-president of Steuben Glass, president of the Corning Museum of Glass, and president of the Corning Glass Works Foundation. He claimed Corning as his home until his death from lymphoma in 2010.
Despite the responsibilities of being a father, husband, exhibiting artist, museum administrator, and executive with Corning Glass Works, Buechner painted seven days a week. He was a master of self-discipline when it came to his schedule, a lifelong habit evidenced by his prolific accomplishments. Over his lifetime as an artist, Lin and Jesse say, he produced thousands of pieces, each meticulously documented with a unique identifier that noted medium, subject, and date completed. He also produced caricatures for the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, watercolors for cassette covers, published the first guide to the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, wrote a treatise entitled Norman Rockwell, Artist and Illustrator, launched the New Glass Review, assisted with the development of the Rockwell Museum, produced a book, How I Paint: Secrets of a Sunday Painter, published by Abrams in 2000, served as an artist-in-residence in such prestigious programs as the Pilchuck Glass School and Haystack Craft School, and taught workshops in Scottsdale, Arizona, Frauenau, Germany, the Loveland Academy in Colorado, and the Fechin Institute in Taos, New Mexico. Oh, yes, and if all of that wasn’t enough, the remarkable Mr. Buechner also found time—for years—to hold regular craft classes at his Corning studio. In a tribute to him that appeared two days after his death, Jeff Murray, a staff writer for the Elmira Star-Gazette, described the artist as “a driving force in the Corning-area art world.” But he could have just as easily characterized him as a driving force of nature.
Walk-in hours at the West End Gallery, 12 W. Market Street, are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and there’s an opening reception October 14 from 5 to 7 p.m. Find out more at westendgallery.net or call (607) 936-2011.