About Corning

It's pretty awesome. And huge! If you think glass is a narrow focus, and dare I suggest you might even consider it dull, think again (and do it now). Despite allotting most of the afternoon for our visit (sadly I had a bus to catch), we hardly scratched the surface of what the Corning Museum of Glass has to offer. We did, however, see the hot glassblowing demonstration, possibly the most entertaining of the various shows held throughout the day (hot glass — mindblowing! Haha, do you see what I did there?), saw a good portion of the contemporary glass (Toots Zynsky's work, on display until January 29, is amazing and beautiful), and glimpsed enough of the "glass through the centuries" section to feel strongly that another visit is in order very soon.

The current special exhibition, Mt. Washington and Pairpoint: American Glass from the Gilded Age to the Roaring Twenties, is extraordinarily well-done. A kid-friendly pamphlet found at the entrance contains a scavenger hunt that encourages close observation — and, let's be honest, who doesn't love a good scavenger hunt? The installation itself is colorful and inspired, abstractly referencing period rooms while successfully focusing visitor's attention on the works at hand. Creative touches, a whimsical flourish here and a wall unexpectedly covered in fabric there, make the small space seem much more expansive and create a flow of interest throughout.

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All photos by author unless otherwise noted.


An impressive survey of the firm's work is presented, along with informative and seamlessly-incorporated digital media, and, to my mind, much-appreciated nods to the process of creating the various types of pieces exhibited. One video shows an artisan reproducing the two works flanking the screen, below which are displayed in-process variations of the same pieces. I was very pleased to find on the opposite wall enlarged black and white photographs of rooms contemporary with the works shown, providing context for the pieces and illustrating how they would have been incorporated and displayed by their owners in real life.

Another video, an effective presentation by the curator explaining the draw of a select piece, helps visitors to understand (at least in part) a purely aesthetic engagement with the objects in the show. For instance, she points out such features as the brushwork on a hand-painted lamp shade, illuminating traits that would perhaps otherwise go unnoticed and yet again drawing attention to the actual crafting of the piece.

Last, but very much not least, the final room offers children of all ages a truly extraordinary opportunity for interactivity and creativity — their very own design studio! Stocked with all the tools of the trade (including stencils, and fully sharpened color pencils), desks catering to small artists of varying heights flank a wall peppered with inspirational suggestions that include postcard reproductions and fabric samples (things to touch!). Visitors are well-equipped to style their own glass vessel designs in this inviting and very fun environment.

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Did I mention that, for a completely reasonable supplemental cost, you and your family can… wait for it… MAKE YOUR OWN GLASS STUFF? My mom made a necklace pendant, and I made the flower below (with a little help, of course). Beyond the pure enjoyment of such an opportunity, how much more does this experience help one appreciate all the pieces in the collection! Corning is such a complete win.

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A list of glass workshop opportunities can be found here, for which you can reserve a spot online in advance. If time allows, you can pick up your creation the next day and save yourself the extra cost of shipping. This, it should be mentioned, is carried out with great expediency — our happy things arrived only a few days later.

Mt. Washington and Pairpoint is open until December 31, 2011. East Meets West: Cross-Cultural Influences in Glassmaking in the 18th and 19th Centuries is another great exhibit, featuring a select and manageable group of objects demonstrating the exchange and respective influences of glassmaking techniques and styles between various regions. Intercultural trade and its effects seems to be a trendy subject at the moment, and I'm all for it — it's received too little attention in the past, and so far I've never found it less than fascinating.

P.S. The gift shop is great. And enormous. And the cafe, while slightly pricey (as many museum eateries are, though this one perhaps less so than most), has tons of options, good food, and a helpful staff.

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