Glass in all its forms is fascinating. Melted sand turns into glittering forms and over time returns to become beach glass. The art and history of stained glass has nourished the spirit in cathedrals around the world. Glass beads have been used as money by indigenous peoples. Glass can be pulled into delicate wine glasses or braided into high tech, optical fiber to be buried or submerged fathoms below. I never expected to try glass blowing myself. It’s just one of the things to do inside the Corning Glass Museum or CMOG as the locals call it but the expansive complex is more like a museum of glass experiences.
Much more than cookware
Many of us relate Corning to cookware. The invention of heat durable glass dishes made the name famous but innovation is what Corning is really about. Look at your cell phone and the Gorilla Glass surface. It’s durable, scratch resistant and everywhere. The Corning campus is an innovation center at its heart and close to Cornell University. Quietly new discoveries and products are being developed there while those of us outside of the scientific sphere marvel at the art glass galleries and demos nearby.
Enter the Corning Museum of Glass
When you enter the multi-story CMOG building, you have several ways to turn. Ride the escalator down into the massive gift shop and stroll beyond into the courtyard with its cafe. Turn into the Amphitheater Hot Box where passionate, master glass blowers love nothing more than showing you how it’s been done through the ages and introduce you to their high-tech furnaces. You can wander up into the Art and Design wing or into the galleries of historic glass through the ages. Glass blowing classes have their own studio across the courtyard. That’s where I made a tumbler and glass pendant, which were cooled and wrapped for pick up the next day.
Catherine Ayers, glass master, inside the Corning Amphitheater Hot Box
Glassblowing Demos and Experiences
The huge Amphitheater Hot Box churns with excitement throughout the day. I watched Museum Glassmakers, Chris Rochelle and Catherine Ayers explain how glass blowing is done. Then we were able to get close to the action as several other glassmakers made the process of creating filigree goblets look easy.
When you love your job! My glassblowing teacher
Next in the Class Studio, I joined a small group to create our own pieces. Working with enthusiastic Glassmakers, I learned how to roll and blow as a tumbler made of glass bits I’d chosen came to life. Later I stepped into a classroom setting where each of us had a torch and we proceeded to make pendant beads. Happily, both items made it home intact. Getting close to the process has me reeling in the realization of how long and much work goes into great glassmaking. That hot fun was a cool experience! And if you’re curious about other cool museum experiences, here’s my post about the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Museum in Milwaukee.
Watch this short video about the Corning Glass Museum
The Contemporary Art and Design Wing
The new wing is astonishing and spacious. Designed carefully over years it guides natural light through concrete baffles suspended beneath a ceiling of angled skylights. The radical design illuminates large and small pieces for the best effects, transforming them as clouds pass or night slips close. The new Contemporary Art and Design wing houses extraordinary works commissioned for the Corning Glass Museum. The pieces range from surprising, ethereal, and butterfly light to heavy masses. That’s wonderful enough but take time to examine the building and how it affects your experience.
A moment with Rob Cassetti, Sr. Director of Creative Strategy and Audience Engagement.
How the new wing would feel was discussed for years before the Corning Curators even saw a drawing of the proposed extension. They looked at how glass galleries around the world felt as much as how they looked. For example, the architectural firm, Thomas Phifer and Partners, told Rob Cassetti, Senior Director of Creative Strategy and Audience Engagement, that the Corning Glass Museum needed a Zen Space. The resulting ‘Porch’ (Thomas Phifer is from the South) gives you a place to be still, to watch the shadows and light change. The slender space allows you to view the pieces from a quiet perspective instead of continually moving through to the next and the next piece or space.
The most riveting pieces I studied were the chandelier, Carrion – a massive blood red Venetian piece created by the artist, Javier Perez. He consulted with the Corning Glass Museum curators about creating a piece symbolizing the opportunistic appetites that have decimated the glass industry in Murano, Italy. How to do that with a giant chandelier? Drop it to the gallery floor and position stuffed Ravens pecking at the remains! The remnants form a moving and bittersweet beauty.
Carrion, a glass installation by Italian glassblower, Javier Pérez.
My second favorite piece, the Virtue of Blue, is a realization of Dutch artist, Jeroen Verhoeven. He was inspired by the sparkle and shine of thin, blue solar batteries. After clipping them into the shape of Butterfly wings he wrapped the small solar batteries around a huge opaque lightbulb. The delicate batteries keep the chandelier illuminated in the daylight! There are hundreds of equally touching pieces and the galleries will be rotating through their archived collections for years to come.
The Virtue of Blue, by Dutch artist, Jeroen Verhoeven
The History of Glass
The historical collections traverse human history and are full of rare pieces from early Egypt to the largest cut glass punch bowl in the world. Alexandra Ruggiero curates the collection which is dazzling in its scope. Cases on cases are set in chronological order. I had no idea how deeply the world has been influenced by the wonders of glass.
Punch bowl made by Tiffany and company in 1904. Recently found in the attic of the original owner, William Wood.
Over the gift shop is a meandering set of walkways through the innovations that Corning has become famous for. It offers insights into the scientific process and the people responsible for glass breakthroughs.
Glassblowing a pendant bead
Visit for a long day or several and be blown away whether you’re an art connoisseur or looking for a family adventure. However, toddlers would probably be happier elsewhere! There’s lots of parking for guests with a variety of lodging and restaurants close by in the Corning Village.
Located in the Fingerlakes Region of New York, the Museum is really an experience of glass in all its forms.
Corning Museum of Glass:
Open every day of the year – except four, Thanksgiving Day in November, December 24th and 25th, January 1
Adults are $19.50 and children under 17 are free. There are several other discounts as well.
Each ticket is good for two days.
Make Your Own Glass Experiences are filled on a first come basis. No experience is necessary as enthusiastic glass experts will guide you through your chosen project. The 20 to 40-minute classes cost from $10 to $32 but check the online site for specifics and seasonal classes.
Getting there takes a bit of planning. The closest airport to the Corning Glass Museum is in Elmira and a shuttle can take you to the town of Corning. There are busses from New York City. You can park your car or RV for free in the museum’s large main lot.
This tour was part of TBEX and made possible by CMOG.
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Elaine J. Masters
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