The Uncommon Brilliance of Hawkes Crystal
Aidan Scully is one of three artists in the nation who cuts glass using a time-honored method. His Tiffin showroom offers insight into his craft as well as his ties to pioneering glass artist Thomas Hawkes.
Standing at an 80-year-old machine other master glass artists used for decades, Aidan Scully turns wheels of different sizes as he slowly cuts intricate patterns deep into a crystal bowl. His craft requires careful concentration and precise movements. One mistake can result in a crack that ruins the entire piece and weeks of work.
When Scully finishes, the bowl sparkles in the sunlight — the lines and circles etched into it creating a complex and beautiful geometric pattern. This custom piece sells for $2,500, a reflection of the extreme skill and precision required to create it.
This bowl, like many of Scully’s works, is cut in the “brilliant style.” It’s a nod to the American Brilliant Period in glass-cutting during the late 1800s, when American artisans who worked in this style were considered the best in the world.
Scully is one of only three glass artists in the United States today who cuts in the brilliant style. He owns Hawkes Crystal in Tiffin, a custom glass shop that makes works ranging from limited-edition Christmas ornaments and corporate awards to decorative bowls and intricate windows. Prices range from $35 to more than $3,000, depending on the piece.
“It requires a lot more skill and patience to start and finish a brilliant piece,” says Scully, a native of Ireland whose accent is still recognizable after living in the U.S. for 35 years. “Most of your famous glass houses use a shallower cut that reflects the light. It’s called brilliant cut because it traps the light.”
Scully’s ties to the brilliant style of cutting date back to his childhood. He grew up in County Cork, Ireland, as did Thomas Hawkes, the original founder of T.G. Hawkes and Co., a renowned crystal company that was in business during the American Brilliant Period and stayed open for 82 years in Corning, New York. Today, Scully’s Hawkes Crystal owns Hawkes and Co.’s trademark and produces its works with the Hawkes logo.
Growing up in Ireland, Scully walked by a glass shop each day on his way to school. He would stop in and talk to the glass cutters and watch them do their work. During one of his visits, they suggested he become their apprentice.
“I gave it a shot and have been doing it ever since,” Scully says. “Once glass gets a hold of you, that’s it. You don’t let go.”
He moved to Cleveland in 1985 to work for a glass-cutting company in the city. When Crystal Traditions in Tiffin had an opening in 2000, he took the job in part because he wanted to move to a smaller town — one similar to his Irish village. (Tiffin also has a rich glass-cutting tradition through the Tiffin Glass Co., which operated in the city from 1888 to 1980.) Crystal Traditions owned the T.G. Hawkes and Co. name and all of the inventory from the Tiffin Glass Co., including machines and products it had made but had not sold. When Crystal Traditions went up for sale in 2016, Scully and some partners bought it, although the glass cutter is now the sole owner.
“It was the perfect time to reintroduce Hawkes crystal,” he says.
In Hawkes Crystal’s historic storefront in downtown Tiffin, Scully’s works — sun catchers, ornaments, goblets, decanters, bowls and decorative windows — sparkle in the sunlight. Some are done in the brilliant cut and others in the less-difficult Waterford and European styles.
The crystal works hang from the ceiling and line the shelves, meshing nicely with the historic wooden floor and ornate stamped ceiling. Here, shoppers choose wedding and anniversary gifts, buy limited-edition Christmas ornaments and order custom windows for their businesses or crystal plaques that celebrate milestones. The store displays the finished pieces, but Scully creates his works of art and reproduces others on request in an unmarked studio on the edge of town.
“What I enjoy most is coming up with my own designs,” Scully says. “That’s how I stand out. Every piece is an original.”
He points to a custom, brilliant-cut window depicting the changing seasons that will go in a downtown Tiffin restaurant: Snowflakes for winter, sunbursts for summer, leaves for fall. They surround a circle bearing the Tree of Life, which Scully has drawn on the glass and will soon cut. In addition to windows, he incorporates the brilliant cut into sculpture and adds geometric patterns. He enjoys taking the historic method and applying it to contemporary work.
“Brilliant-cut windows are very rare,” he says. “I’m trying to incorporate the brilliant cut into other forms. It’s not just decanters and glasses.”
Although the shop has a much newer cutting machine, Scully prefers to work on the 80-year-old one he inherited from Tiffin Glass. The glass is then polished on another machine with antique, horsehair wheels that give each piece a finished glow.
Scully’s skills have garnered both national and international notice, too. He made pieces for Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan as well as first lady Laura Bush and Pope John Paul II. In 2018, the Corning Museum of Glass in New York invited Scully to give demonstrations of his work during its 150th celebration of hand-cut glass, while The Henry Ford Museum commissioned him to reproduce glass lampshades.
Even after 40 years in the field, Scully is still learning new ways of designing and creating glass art. When he travels, he enjoys visiting museums to study other works and stopping by glass shops to see what other artists are doing and to hear their thoughts. Scully is also sharing what he knows with his apprentice, Aaron Gooding of Tiffin.
“He’s a good mentor and teacher,” Gooding says. “I might not be as good as Aidan. I’ll be different. I’ll have my own style. We want to keep this alive and pass it on.”
The work Scully has mastered is very challenging and rewarding — one that requires extreme patience but also the ability to move past crushing mistakes.
“I did a beautiful reproduction, and it cracked on the last cut,” the master artist recalls. “I had to redo the whole thing. Glass can be unforgiving. It’ll tear your heart out.”
That’s when it’s time to walk away, Scully says, before returning and starting again. “You get back on the horse … You have to love it, or there’s no point in it.”
Hawkes Crystal is at 207 S. Washington St., Tiffin 44883, 419/448-4286, hawkescrystal.com