Corning Museum of Glass

Saturday, Aug 26, 2006
A couple of years ago we enjoyed viewing an installation at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens called ‘Chihuly in the Garden’. Dale Chihuly is a famous glass artist from the Pacific Northwest with a very distinctive style, and the combinations of his glass sculptures with the plants in the gardens were quite striking.

When we first walked into the Corning Museum of Glass, fittingly enough in Corning, NY, Vance goes ‘that looks like a Chihuly’. Guess what? He was right!

The museum is awesome. About ½ of the complex is a large and extensive collection of glasswork thru the ages, with examples going back to Greek and Roman cultures, as well as earlier artifacts. The gallery is organized by date and style, and most exhibits had an audio wand component (yea!), which offered a kid friendly and more adult oriented explanation of the work – information about the artist, the work, and technical information concerning how the piece was created. Although the audio portion could get a bit long winded at times, for the most part, the kid friendly version held Vance’s attention rather well, and he spent a good deal of time viewing and learning about artwork that he otherwise probably would have totally tuned out otherwise.

The collection is extensive, and had examples of almost any conceivable type of glass artwork. We tended to prefer the more modern pieces, but we all gained an appreciation for the effort and artistry that went into all of those old cut glass pieces that all of our grandmothers have.

The other half of the museum was more technical, with exhibits concerning the history of bottle making, glass blowing, fiber optics, creation of (flat) window glass, telescopes and microscopes, history of pyrex, glass crystal….if it was glass related, it was in there. The fiber optics section was particularly well done with a demonstration of broadcasting a video wall signal thru 250 miles of fiber optics, with each step along the way illustrated.

Of great interest were the live demonstrations – there are almost continuous shows where an artisan creates a complete piece, with a narrator describing each step. Watching a bowl or vase being created in front of your eyes really gives you a good feel for how it is done. There was also a demonstration of the strengths and weaknesses of glass – tempered, laminated, etc……

But the absolute best part was the ‘Walk-up Workshops’. In a side building there is a glass studio where 30 min workshops are offered demonstrating a variety of glass techniques. All but a few are child appropriate (the exception being the glass pulling, where you can create a ‘flower’ by blowing and pulling molten glass!). Vance sandblasted a coffee cup with a pattern of his own design. You first put stickers on the cup on areas that you wish to remain clear – any uncovered areas become frosted after the sandblasting. Once prepped, you take the glass into the sandblasting booth, sticking your hands into heavy gloves (like the machines you see to handle biohazards), holding the cup in one hand and the nozzle in the other. After a min or two of sandblasting, Vance created a very professional looking frosted coffee mug.

Denise created a fused glass wind chime, where she glued colored glass pieces onto a glass base, then the piece is placed into the oven at a temperature hot enough to bond, but not melt the glass pieces. Because of the time needed to cool the piece, they will have to mail her creation to us, so we won’t get to see the finished product until we get back from our trip.

In our final workshop, Vance created a glass bead over a propane flame. Using sticks of colored glass, he melted the glass around a metal stem. By using multiple colors and layers, he was able to create a ‘Christmas UFO’ bead. Again, because of the cooling time we won’t see the finished product until much later. Vance really enjoyed this part – he was quite excited about getting to do ‘flamework’. He was somewhat disappointed that he couldn’t do the glasswork where they stuck the glass into the furnaces and then manipulated it (you have to be 14), but we spent a good deal of time watching others created glass flowers and vases this way. All in all, the studio was the best part by far….you get a really good feel for how glass artwork is created.

After finishing up at the museum, we headed back to Watkins Glen – Vance wanted to swim, and swim he did, although he didn’t last long because of the cool temperatures. The park offered a hayride that we took advantage of, and then we drove to the next village over for the ‘Montour Falls Ghost Walk’.

This requires a little explanation. We only had a brief blurb about the event in one of the state park newsletters to go by, and received some sketchy directions on how to get there…in other words, we weren’t sure what were were going to, and weren’t sure how to get there. Driving to Montour Falls (the next little town), we passed several small, then one sizable waterfalls. Once into the village, Denise yells “look at that waterfall!”, and off to the right, at the edge of town, is a huge, high waterfall. We circle back to look at it, and find a group of people gathered at the steps of the library (a wonderful old turn of the century building). Ta-da! We found our Ghost Walk! The Ghost Walk (which seem to be popular up here, as we’ve found another couple of towns doing it) are a history walk, where the ‘ghosts’ of town inhabitants from years ago narrate their history. We enjoyed this thoroughly, and learned a bit about the history of Montour Falls and the region.

Vance: We started the museum by seeing a Chihuly sculpture. Next we went to a gallery about glass and listened to our wands to tell us about the glass. They had a funny audio where the man in the wand said “ I’ve heard of the invisible man, but the invisible woman!” and “ Hey, maybe her dancing partner is the headless horseman”. Then we did sandblasting, we put stickers on the cup and then made them pure white. Next we did flame working, I fired up colored rods of glass to make a bead. Luckily, I was ten so I could do it. Then we went to an exhibit on glass technology. There was a show there about kinds of glass and how hard they were to break.

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