CANADA 150 - Ontario - Elmer Hookway

Posted: August 3, 2017 - 11:50 , by ROM
Canada 150, glass, Local history, Toronto | Comments () | Comment
glass steam engine

This is a glass steam engine, made by a glass blower and flame worker named Elmer Hookway, who was born in Toronto in 1889. It is fully functional, and was built by Hookway with engineering assistance from his friend Herb Hodginson. A written document, prepared by Hodginson and Hookway, accompanies the other paperwork at the ROM about the engine. In it, Hodginson and Hookway describe that the engine is "entirely constructed of Pyrex glass, the product of tubes, bars, a blow torch and educated fingers (and know how)." They go on to give some historical context of steam engines, before describing the technical details "The model is 24" long, 10" high. Bore and stroke are both 1.4. Speed is 102 RPM. Piston valve .570. Air pressure 20 lbs. Flywheel 11 7/8. H/P. 1/20 ... We have had marvellous publicity." And they did - shortly after this was finished, in 1955, Hookway arranged for a celebratory exhibition of his work at his Queen St. E workshop in honour of his 50th anniversary of working wtih glass. There is coverage of the show in several newspapers, and it attracted the attention of the ROM.

The Royal Ontario Museum has six pieces by Hookway in the Canadian Decorative Arts Collection. In addition to the steam engine, we have a second engine made in a different design, a decanter, a model swing, a model ferris wheel, and a model of Queen Elizabeth's Coronation Coach. For the rest of this post, I want to focus on a series of detail images of the coach, to show the incredible detail work that Hookway put into these models.

Detail of glass model

There is a lot that can be said about Hookway. His career began in itinerant glass work (for more information about that practice, see this page by the Corning Glass Museum's Rakow Library), after he visited a booth at the precursor to the Canadian National Exhibition as a teenager. He left Toronto in 1904, presumably just a few months after the Great Fire of 1904, and began travelling with glass workers across the continent. When he decided to settle down and return to Toronto to raise his growing family, Hookway turned his skill from fanciful glasswork to scientific glassware, preparing laboratory and medical instruments for researchers across the physical and medical sciences in the city. For most of his career, he operated his own glass firm.

detail of glass model

I am fascinated by Hookway's story, and by these pieces. I love the work for its whimsy and fun. I love it too for its clear methodical construction. They are painstaking assemblages, and I am hoping to one day learn whether Hookway drew plans or made mistakes in his creative process. The models seem effortless at first glance, but more careful exploration reveals that there was at least a great deal of careful thought that went into them.

glass model horse

I also love the way that people connect with these models. For me, personally, the glass horses in this Coronation Coach model look exactly like a model horse that my father once brought back for me as a souvenir from Italy. When I got to see the model up close, in person, I was immediately transported back to playing with my own little glass horse. I have shown images of various Hookway models to scientists, health care workers, glass blowers, ceramic artists, painters, teachers and business people. I have shown them to adults and children, family and friends, strangers and colleagues. So far, people seem to be almost universally fascinated by them. Some people ask about the engines, and the scientific details. Some people want to know more about Hookway's life. And some just smile at the models, and get a little bit lost in a reverie.

detail of model glass coach showing horses and harnass

My research about Hookway and itinerant, scientific, and industrial glass making in Toronto and Southern Ontario is ongoing. I hope to be able to share more of it in coming months in various ways. For now, I will leave you with the overall Coronation Coach image: a dreamy glass confection on a hot summer day.

glass model of Queen Elizabeth's Coronation Coach