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America's Museum of Glass
by
Bob Brooke

 

Glass is almost as ubiquitous as plastic, and it’s been around for thousands of years. One of the best places to get a good look at its long history is the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. The story of glass is a story about art, history, culture, technology, science, craft and design.



Established in 1951 by Corning Glass Works for the company’s 100th anniversary, The Corning Museum of Glass dedicates itself to exploring glass. Its campus is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of glass, the world’s foremost library on glass, and one of the top glassworking schools in the world.

The original Museum and library, housed in a low, glass-walled building designed by Harrison & Abramovitz, opened in 1951. By 1978, it had outgrown its space. Gunnar Birkerts designed a new addition, creating a flowing series of galleries with the library at their core, linked to the old building via light-filled, windowed ramps. The new Museum opened to the public on May 28, 1980, exactly 29 years after its first opening.

But by the early 1990s, the Museum was once more overflowing its exhibition space. The first to be added was The Studio, a state-of-the-art teaching facility for glassblowing and coldworking which opened for classes in 1996.

Even the modern glass architecture of the Museum’s buildings is unique. It’s buildings, spread over 10 acres, have been influenced by three generations of architects, all of whom shared the goal of creating a fluid space and incorporating glass wherever possible.



The Contemporary Art and Design Wing and Amphitheater Hot Shop is the most recent addition to the complex. Opened in March 2015, this 100,000-square-foot facility a 26,000-square-foot gallery and is the largest space in the country dedicated to the display of contemporary glass art.

The Glass Collection
The Museum’s collection includes over 50,000 objects representing more than 3,500 years of glass artistry, from the portrait of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh to contemporary sculpture.

It’s collection of contemporary artworks includes pieces by significant artists such as Klaus Moje, Karen LaMonte, Bruno Pedrosa, Dale Chihuly, Libenský / Brychtová and Josiah McElheny. The Glass Collection Galleries, exploring Near Eastern, Asian, European, and American glass and glassmaking from antiquity through the present day. showcase the most comprehensive and celebrated glass collection in the world. The galleries tell the story of glass creation, from a full-scale model of an Egyptian furnace, to the grand factories of Europe, to the small-scale furnaces that fueled the Studio Glass movement that began in America in 1962.

The galleries also display objects representing every country and historical period in which glassmaking has been practiced. They include: Glass in Nature, Origins of Glassmaking, Glass of the Romans, Glass in the Islamic World, Early Northern European Glass, The Rise of Venetian Glassmaking, Glass in 17th-19th Century Europe, 19th Century European Glass, Asian Glass, Glass in America, Corning: From Farm Town to “Crystal City,” Paperweights of the World and Modern Glass.



The Study Gallery is filled with a wide range of objects from all periods. The Frederick Carder Gallery features an extensive collection of glass designed by Frederick Carder, a gifted English designer who managed Steuben Glass Works from its founding in 1903 until 1932. During this time, the production of Steuben changed from various types of colored glass to colorless glass.

The Museum's Ben W. Heineman Sr. Gallery of Contemporary Glass focuses on vessels, objects, sculptures, and installations made by international artists from 1975 to 2010. The purpose of the gallery is to show the different ways in which glass has been used in art, craft, and design.

Besides its permanent collection, the Corning Museum of Glass mounts special exhibitions which have included: Medieval Glass for Popes, Princes and Peasants, East Meets West: Cross-Cultural Influences in Glassmaking in the 18th and 19th Centuries and Mirror to Discovery: The 200-Inch Disk and the Hale Reflecting Telescope at Palomar. It also features periodic shows focused on specific glass artists.

Glassmaking
But the Museum is more than a vast exhibition of historic glass. It brings glass to life through live, narrated glassworking demonstrations. Some of these daily demonstrations take place in a renovated historic glass factory building that contains one of the world’s largest facilities of its kind, with auditorium-style seating for 500. For visitors who wish to try their hand at making glass, the Museum offers Make Your Own Glass sessions for beginners.



Visitors can watch live daily glassmaking demonstrations or learn to make glass at the Museum. These demonstrations allow visitors to get a better understanding of both the art and science of glassmaking. In The Hot Glass Show, one of the museum's glass blowers provides a live glass blowing demonstration. At each demonstration, the glassmaker takes a glob of molten glass and shapes the globs into vases, bowls, or sculptures. Throughout the demonstration, a narrator describes the process, and cameras give viewers a close-up look into the furnaces where the glass is heated. The show gives viewers a look into an ancient Roman technique that is still used today for glass making. Each show lasts between 20 and 40 minutes.

There’s so much to see and do that it’s possible to spend an entire day at the Museum.

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