The Corning Museum of Glass (or CMoG, as it tends to call itself) is one of the most impressive, engaging and coherent unifications of art, science and history ever constructed. Its rallying point is that most supple, resilient and magical of materials: glass. In a tightly woven yet flexible narrative that takes the visitor wherever he or she might choose to wander, the museum explains glass’ origins and uses through the eyes of those who discovered them. Be it the wonders of modern optics or the new modes of expression opened up to abstract sculptors through glass, the museum focuses on the stories of the people behind the discoveries, relating them through video, text and hands-on displays.
The museum proper is divided into three main sections: the Art and History Galleries, the Sculpture Gallery, and the ‘Glass Innovation Center’. The Art and History Galleries begin in ancient times and trace the development of glass and glass-working through the ages. Starting with mostly functional items, we witness as new techniques such as glass-blowing revolutionize the craft. The Sculpture Gallery on the other hand focuses on the adaptation of glass-working to fine art. Features include abstract geometric work by artists like Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová as well as more representational pieces such as an enormous bowl of amazingly life-like fruit. The Glass Innovation Center discusses modern technological breakthroughs in glass, from the total mechanization of bottling plants to the advent of fiber optics.
The museum proper, however, is by no means the end of the story. Perhaps the largest portion of the museum is the gift shop, which is nearly a gallery in and of itself. Much of the wares are trinkets and baubles (the ‘Christmas in July’ exhibit is particularly gaudy), but there is also a section dedicated to exotic and finely crafted art pieces. One can also purchase books about glass-making, binoculars and telescopes, as well as flatware, glasses and ovenware from the Corning Home collection.
Perhaps the greatest attraction though is the on-site glass-working. In the Hot Glass Show, expert glass-blowers demonstrate how to make a variety of items, including vases and bowls. For certain shows, they even demonstrate how to add color to certain portions of the piece by melting in bits of finely grated colored glass, and they have been known to randomly give away pieces made in previous shows. An additional set-up inside the gift shop features a person making flame-worked animals from long glass rods, huddled over a fancy blow-torch. There are also opportunities for visitors to try glass-working themselves; for a slightly excessive ‘nominal fee,’ patrons can learn how to make flowers, beads, plates or sand-blasted drinking glasses. (Participating in most of these activities would require an over-night stay, however, as the pieces need to cool slowly in an annealing oven before they can be picked up.)
Overall the museum is a real treat, but a bit pricey and out of the way. Regular admission for one adult is $9, but over the summer it bumps up to $12. Discounts are available for students, children, senior citizens and members of AAA. It is located in the bowels of upstate New York, right off of Route 17 in Corning.