After my last post, many of you expressed that you’ve never heard of Corning. That’s not really a huge surprise; after all, it’s a big world and Corning is a relatively small town in Central New York. But there is one community in which Corning is mentioned with a knowing nod, in which Corning is the destination, in which a visit there is almost a pilgrimage. And that community is one of glass artists and enthusiasts.
Their mecca? The Corning Museum of Glass.
Corning Museum of Glass doesn’t just display art, it also helps others create it. Glass artists from around the world can come take advantage of grants and fellowships and access some of the best facilities in the world, and creative hopefuls can come try the craft in workshops and classes at all levels from beginner to advanced.
I’ve been itching to try glassblowing for years. My hometown of Albany doesn’t have any glassblowing facilities, though I did take classes in stained glass and jewelry welding while I was in high school, so I had experience in somewhat related studio arts. When I moved to Brooklyn I longingly checked out the offerings at Urban Glass, but they didn’t fit into my tight college budget or schedule. So I shelved it, knowing someday the right opportunity would come along.
And it did! When the Corning Museum of Glass contacted me asking if I wanted to give glassblowing a try, I hoped to hop right in with a beginner’s weekend workshop. Unfortunately we couldn’t make the scheduling work — they’re only offered a few times a year — and so we settled on a special one day session instead.
Big sister Margaret and I jumped right in. Within moments of meeting our bubbly instructor and donning proper eyewear, we were working on one of the fundamentals of glass blowing — gathering, which involves sticking an iron into a furnace of liquid glass and scooping up what you need to work with. (Due to the hands-on nature of this workshop I wasn’t taking many notes, so feel free to correct my terminology in the comments if you’re in the know!)
I can’t recall the exact temperature of the furnace, but I’d estimate it was more or less around the temperature of the surface of the sun. I pride myself on being functional in high heat — I lived in Thailand for a year without air conditioning, after all — but by the end of the day I reckoned that furnace would be the biggest roadblock between me and my future rockstar career in glass arts.
Our first project was to create a glass flower, and the next step after gathering was to add some color. This would seem like the easiest step — just dab in the color seeds of your choice — but we hemmed and hawed over color combinations and managed to drag it out pretty impressively.
Next, we sat down to shape the flower through various meticulous and fast-moving steps — you have to work quickly before the glass gets too cool and hardens — and donned yet another fabulous fashion statement, the arm band.
The next step was my favorite. Using pliers and pinchers, we grabbed the glass and molded it to our will, until it finally fought back and settled into its final resting shape.
We were so excited by the final results. We made that!
But the fun wasn’t over yet. We still had bird’s nest bowls to make. This is where the actual blowing part of glassblowing came in.
While our instructor was definitely hands on — both necessary and appreciated — I was amazed at how much we were doing ourselves. In between bursts of intense concentration, we chatted about what it’s like to be a professional glass blower, and teach helpless fools such as ourselves.
Spoiler alert: we had so much fun. Every time I go to a conference or travel show, travel experts are talking about how popular experiential and education travel has become. People want to do and they want to learn. Never have I felt that so strongly as I did in the Corning workshops!
Clearly, The Corning Museum of Glass is more than just the world’s largest glass museum. It’s also a place where artists come to create, and others come to watch them at work. With live demos throughout the museum and Create Your Own Glass workshops available, CMOG is as much about doing as it is about seeing.
The museum is huge — mind-mindbogglingly huge — huge enough that tickets are actually valid for two days. Now, granted, I’m a self-confessed art addict with a design degree, but within moments of stepping into the galleries I could see one day just wasn’t enough.
The galleries cover over 3,500 years of glass that also trace the history of civilization. While it’s amazing strolling through the rooms and appreciating the progression over time, I loved no area more than Contemporary Art + Design Wing, the museum’s newest addition.
The piece below was my favorite. Our lovely host Kim told me I wasn’t alone.
Though far too brief — our fault for not allotting more time! — I loved our time in the galleries. Visiting them after a morning of learning how intricate and complicated even the simplest steps in the most basic glass pieces was left us with a new appreciation for the complicated masterpieces we found within the museums.
I’m more determined than ever to return someday for a full weekend workshop or some other fantastic art program. Glass blowing blew my mind! Corning Museum of Glass, I’ll be back…
Have you tried glassblowing or taken another art class in your travels?
Let me know in the comments!
Many thanks to Corning Museum of Glass for hosting me. As always, you get my honest thoughts and opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. And big hugs and kisses to my big sis Margaret for being my travel buddy!