I have a new favorite museum, and it’s not a traditional one. The Corning Museum of Glass in the Finger Lakes region of New York is the largest display of glass art in the world, smacking you in the face with over 3,500 years of pieces you never thought possible from such a taken-for-granted material. Come with me as we explore the treasures this building holds!
Did you know that the Corning Museum of Glass just completed a vast and stunning new wing? As an architecture adorer, I nearly swooned upon entering the fresh addition. Its entire design was created to bring in the light: a luxury that traditional museums cannot have, since sunlight fades paintings and textiles… but makes glass glow!
Each section of the museum has a different theme, with big, contemporary pieces up front, then slightly older modern pieces, then historic works dating back to one of the world’s oldest known pieces of glass art: the portrait of an Egyptian pharaoh from around 1500 B.C.E.
I toured the museum with my dear parents-in-law, husband, and traveling toddler, Devi. Part of the reason we had so many adults with us was it seemed a terrible idea to bring a mischievous and energetic 1.5-year-old into a glass museum! I needn’t have been worried, though. Rock-hard “Gorilla Glass” protects all the pieces from a little guy’s destructive punches, and there’s even an entire wing devoted to hands-on play and learning for children!
Something I found fascinating is that many of the works of art were created by artists who had never worked with glass before. The Corning Museum of Glass prides itself on being an institute of learning as well as a museum, so many artists come in order to collaborate with and learn from master glassblowers so they can translate their ideas into this miraculous medium.
Many of the pieces have political and activist meanings. See the smashed ruby red glass chandelier below? It’s a commentary on how much “Venetian Glass” is now actually counterfeit, thus “shattering” the purity of the art! (Interestingly, when I posted a photo of this piece on my @WorldLillie Instagram account, a reader commented that she’d seen it exhibited several months before in another city. My immediate thought was: “How does one safely transport a giant, shattered glass sculpture?!”)
The piece pictured below has a brilliant message. From far away, it looks like three trees, but upon closer inspection, the trees are made out of hundreds of colored glass cups that the artist found in secondhand stores. Her message is that glassmaking can take a horrible toll on the environment that few people are aware of, so we should reuse and recycle rather than pouring so many resources into polluting industry.
Politics aside, many of the thousands of pieces in the museum exist for art and beauty. There is an entire wall dedicated to displaying glass paperweights and how to make them. At the end of the row sat a hulking orb that I was told is the largest traditionally-made paperweight in the world, measuring over a foot high. Here’s the coolest part: The artist’s wife is an astronaut, so the piece’s theme is outer space!
Other pieces are just genius. In the one below, the artist sliced up a “perfect rock” he found in Japan and painted each slice on individual glass sheets. This means that if you look at it from the side, all you see is air, but from the front or diagonal, you can see the rock seeming to float in front of you!
I’ll pause my typing for a moment to let you browse more of the beauty the museum has to offer. Enjoy!
Not only is the museum itself great, but the Corning Museum of Glass website is second to none. For example, if you can’t make it out to the Finger Lakes, you can use the website to watch live streaming videos of glassmaking (!) and browse every art installation in the new wing, replete with films about how they were made.
Back to the actual building. Be warned that the giant gift shop is downright dangerous. It’s a museum of gorgeous pieces in itself, but the twist is that you can buy any of the objects! Take a gander at this lovely peacock lamp, below.
“Wait!” you may be hollering, “What about these ‘Make Your Own Glass‘ lessons I’ve been hearing about in the museum? You didn’t talk about them here!” Never fear, chums, there’s a whole article dedicated to just that coming out soon (a.k.a. me making terrified faces as molten glass drips from a tool three inches from my hand). In the meantime, I hope you’ve seen why the Corning Museum of Glass has stolen my heart!
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We were guests of Corning Museum of Glass, but all opinions and desires to eat glass like candy are mine.