I’m probably not the only person guilty of underestimating the Corning Museum of Glass, how interesting could a glass museum be after all? That’s what I thought for years and it wasn’t until I recently visited the Finger Lakes region of New York and found myself in the town of Corning that my opinions were turned upside down. It was a good lesson in humility and how very wrong I can be about places I haven’t even visited, judging a place on what I think it is and not what the experiences shows. I left The Corning Museum of Glass dazzled by the institution, truly one of the best museums in the world but it’s so much more than that. Institution really is the better word; it’s a center of creativity, artistic endeavors, education and more. Looking back at the experience, I want to make it my mission to convince everyone that yes, a glass museum can indeed be fun for these reasons and many more.
The first thing I noticed walking into the foyer of the museum was the architecture. I love well-executed design, and the different wings of the museum are impressive in their size, style and scope, but the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing truly blew me away. This massive, 100,000-square-foot space exemplifies everything that is great about the museum, mimicking the creative works on display in the space. Natural delight is filtered in, creating special lighting effects of its own. But of course it’s the amazing artwork on display within the wing that is most impressive. With always changing displays, the Museum highlights some of the best glass artwork in the world from the iconic to the bizarre. I could have spent the day just wandering this one gallery, making me understand why a visit to the museum takes at least a day if you truly want to do it justice.
Immersion into all things glass
As you would expect, this is the place to go to learn all about glass, but in a way that is engaging and even immersive. Throughout the museum are a variety of hands on stations where docents lead guests through short lessons in everything from glass production to glass in nature. Also throughout the day, guests can watch expert glass artists do their work and in the process not just learn but see how molten blobs are transformed into something extraordinary. At the heart of that experience is the Amphitheater Hot Shop, the world’s largest space for watching a glassblowing demo. With 500 seats and 360-degree views, guests can watch every aspect of the glassmaking process. And thanks to a series of monitors and cameras, you can see everything on stage, even inside those massive ovens. It’s a fun way to experience the incredibly difficult skill of glassblowing and I guarantee you’ll walk away both with a fierce appreciation for the art as well as a desire to try it for yourself.
Yes, amazing historical exhibits
What I think is at the heart of the Corning Museum experience though is the fact that it houses the world’s most in-depth collection of glass, showcasing 3,500 years of artistry and innovation. I love history and I love a great museum, so I was in geek heaven wandering through the seemingly countless exhibits in the museum, ranging from the ancient Egyptians to modern day and of course everything in between. More than just looking at pieces of glass, the museum shares the history of civilization through a glass lens, a fascinating and different take on world history and one that speaks not just to important events, but also art and culture. It’s a more well rounded experience and one that I came to truly admire. The museum also hosts a variety of special exhibits throughout the year; when I visited an exhibition all about Tiffany was wowing visitors. There’s no doubt that the mosaics of Louis C. Tiffany created a new era in art and design, and in this exhibit guests not only learn about how he created these functional works of art, but can even try their own hand at putting together mosaics. Everything the museum does seeks to involve the visitor as much as possible and it was great to see that this extends even to the temporary exhibits.
Make your own glass
The museum is also a fun place not just for adults, but for visitors of all ages and one of the most popular activities is the opportunity to produce your very own work of glass art. The museum is much more than a static place with displays, it also features a very active studio where artists from around the world come to use the state of the art workspace. This also means that visitors can be glassblowers for a day, without any experience and at just about any age. A variety of products are available for production, using different techniques from hot glassworking to flameworking and fusing, visitors can try just about every aspect of the glassmaking process. When I visited, I had the opportunity to create a glass flower, utilizing the skill of glass forming. Under the expert guidance of a resident artist, and making sure to follow her directions to the letter, I was able to pull glass and see just how amazing it is to work with. I didn’t only walk away with a pretty flower though, I walked away for a fierce appreciation of just how difficult a medium glass is to work with. It takes many years for artists to become proficient, and most will tell you that they’re always learning something new.
Town of Corning
Location is everything and calling the town of Corning its home, the Museum is in the perfect location for anyone visiting the region. Often named one the country’s best small towns, there’s a lot to see and do in this charming place. The main street running through town is as picture perfect as could be produced in a Hollywood backlot, bursting at the seams with restaurants and cafes, shops and boutiques and artists studios, all finding inspiration in a town that has inspired so many before them. There’s also a lot to do in the town, and the museums should be at the heart of the experience. In addition to the Corning Museum of Glass, the smaller Rockwell Museum features one of the best collections of American art in the world, which is just one reason of many why they’re affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.
I hope now you are at least more interested in the Corning Museum of Glass, even if I haven’t managed to convince you just how much fun it really is. Truly, this is one of the best museums I’ve visited in a long time and one I sincerely hope to visit again in the not so distant future.