The fire was glowing bright orange, burning at a temperature above 2000 degrees. We pulled our safety goggles on, slid on our gloves, and got down to business.
The business was glass-making and the results were beautiful glass flowers, shipped to our homes the next week. I was in Corning, New York with One Carry-On and Stories My Suitcase Could Tell for a Finger Lakes adventure. We had heard we couldn’t visit Corning without spending time at the Corning Museum of Glass, but I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it much. I was completely wrong.
I frequently visit museums on my travels, but am generally more excited about art museums (like the ones I visited in Spain or France) and history museums (like this one in NYC), than what I assumed would feel more like a science museum. As it turns out, the Corning Museum of Glass is all of those types of museums, wrapped up into one, with added bonuses of live glass-making demonstrations, the opportunity to create something yourself, and a killer gift shop.
We use glass in so many aspects of our lives – look around you right now. At the very least, you’re seeing the windows in your home or on the subway, the screen on your device, and the glass you’re drinking wine out of right now (I assume everyone enjoys my blog with a proper glass of Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Semi-Dry Reisling from the Finger Lakes). Considering how prevalent glass is in our lives, we probably don’t think that often about how it’s made or about its history.
It was when I walked into the lobby and saw the giant bright-yellow Dale Chihuly sculpture, Fern Green Tower (similar to the one I saw at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in June) that *of course, Erin* the museum wasn’t going to be about windows and eyeglasses. At the same time, I also suddenly remembered that I was intrigued by a woman making glass beads in a flame when I was in Lafayette, Indiana. This was definitely going to be way cooler than I thought it would be.
We had a delightful knowledgeable tour guide named Ed who took us around to some of his favorite pieces. There was nothing without a story, whether it be that the piece reminded the artist of his time in the military or that the artist was trying to represent the coastline of his home country of Scotland. The variety of pieces was diverse, from Gianni Toso’s Chess Set with chess pieces as different figures in the Jewish and Christian religions, where each piece had a different emotion on its tiny glass face, to Karen LaMonte’s haunting life-sized Evening Dress With Shawl, just missing a glass human inside of the dress, though there are ribs and a belly-button if you look hard enough.
We paused briefly in the exhibition room that displayed 35 centuries worth of glass history, spanning the ages and the globe, but it would have taken us too long to go through everything. We hit a few highlights in the Glass in the Islamic World and The Rise of Venetian Glassmaking sections, stopping to marvel at a few mosaics while we were at it. At one smaller mosaic, Ed told us that it had taken the artist 15 years to create the piece and that in each square inch, there were 1500 pieces of glass. “1500?!” I asked, and Ed responded, “I never lie…but you’d never know it if I did,” with a glimmer in his eye.
Next on the list was the Contemporary Art + Design Wing. Many of the art pieces in this gallery are large-scale and therefore were extra impressive to me, especially when I heard how much some of them weighed. We walked underneath a gorgeous chandelier by Fred Wilson called To Die Upon a Kiss that had come to the museum in pieces with no directions which is supposed to show that death can be beautiful. Wilson’s black mirror (no relation to the Netflix show), I Saw Othello’s Visage in His Mind, is on the opposite wall inside of the gallery. We learned about Katherine Gray’s Forest Glass, where she found and arranged vintage clear, amber, and green glassware in rows to resemble trees in a forest if you are far enough away to see the big picture.
The Corning Museum of Glass is also home to several temporary exhibits. Travel bloggers love maps of any kind, so we were drawn to Global Cities by Norwood Viviano (on view until September 9, 2018). Above a map on the ground were hanging glass forms to represent population growth and demise in 33 cities around the globe. It was interesting to compare older cities with more gradual growth to newer cities that have had intense population booms.
Another temporary exhibit we checked out was Tiffany’s Glass Exhibits (on view until January 7, 2018). I loved seeing the impressive mosaics, especially a beautiful pink and peach mosaic fireplace with musical instruments, *and* I was impressed that in the Tiffany Studios, women worked side-by-side with men, which was rare in those days.
While Ed gave us a good overview of glass-making as we walked around, science is not my favorite subject. It wasn’t until we sat in the Hot Shop to watch the live glass-making demonstrations that it started to click for me. There were two professional gaffers (glass-makers) creating pieces in the fires while we were watching. There was a host to the show who explained what was happening and there are even cameras in the ovens so you can see exactly what is going on. I loved how when you thought a piece would become one thing, it suddenly turned into something else.
Though it wouldn’t be hard to spend four or five hours in the museum, we had too much else to explore in Corning to stay for longer. Because the museum is so large, tickets are good for two consecutive days. You could stop to have lunch at Hand + Foot or to explore the Gaffer Shopping District and head back later on or the next day. Anyone under the age of 17 is free and there are discounts for locals, college students, seniors, and the military. I’d recommend purchasing a combo ticket with the Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate art museum, focusing on Western and Native American pieces as well as some thoughtful contemporary art.
If you choose to do the Make-Your-Own-Glass activity, for which reservations are recommended and costs are extra, there are several different options for anyone over the age of 4. We created glass flowers that day with the help of some experts who put our pieces into the fire for us and guided us along the way. The pieces have to cool overnight but you can pick them up later that week or have them shipped to you. I’m in love with mine and I don’t even think I’ll sell it to the museum when they come asking – though if I keep all of my pieces, it’s going to be difficult to become as famous as Chihuly.