Is the Corning Museum of Glass Worth It?
YES! 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!
Corning Glass Museum Renovations
Did you know that the Corning Museum of Glass just completed a vast and stunning new wing? As an architecture lover, 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!
Glass Art by Chronology of Oldest to Modern
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.
Corning Glass Museum with Kids
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! But was it?
Child-Proof Gorilla Glass to the Rescue
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!
Artist Education at the Glass Museum
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.
Global Glass Art as Political Statement
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?!”)
Hidden Symbolism of Glass Art
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.
Largest Traditional Glass Paperweight in the World
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!
Brilliant Glass Innovation and Inspiration
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!
Things to Do Near Corning, NY, Finger Lakes
Now, as you browse more of the beauty the museum of glass has to offer, I will intersperse it with suggestions about great Finger Lakes attractions near Corning, New York!
Consider Staying in Elmira, NY
Corning, New York is a DELIGHTFUL town and I highly recommend basing your Finger Lakes exploration there. That said, if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option (with fascinating Mark Twain history to boot), consider a hotel in Elmira, NY. Click that article to see why we enjoyed staying in Elmira, ourselves.
Don’t Miss Watkins Glen State Park
While the Corning Museum of Glass has become one of my all-time favorite museums, the Finger Lakes have also gifted me my new favorite state park. Watkins Glen State Park is a MARVEL of canyons, waterfalls, and trails. It exceeds all expectations and is a can’t miss attraction in the region.
Finger Lakes Wineries for the Win
Hey, wine glasses are made of… glass, right? There’s a nice connection between the Corning glass museum and the fact that the Finger Lakes wineries are known far and wide for beverages, as well as the beauty of their vineyards. Pairing the Corning museum with a wine tour is highly recommended.
Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake Beauty
Driving a short distance beyond the Finger Lakes town of Corning, NY you come to a glorious set of, er, finger-shaped lakes. We LOVED the scenery and eateries of Keuka Lake and Seneca Lake and wished we’d had more time to do boating, swimming, and exploring around each.
Beyond Corning, NY: Other Recommended Museums
Since I have so many luscious Corning Museum of Glass photos to show you, I suddenly have some free space for words to recommend other fabulous museums around the United States. As you’re inspired by Corning, also take in these other family-friendly art and learning spots…
Related: Chihuly Glass Museum in Seattle, WA
No discussion of glass art is complete without a homage to Dale Chihuly — the famed glass artist who actually has several pieces in the Corning Museum of Glass. The Chihuly glass exhibit, Seattle in Washington state is one of my favorite art installations of all time — in no small part because I could live in rainbow-colored rooms forever!
Other Colorful Art Museums in America
In Western Massachusetts, MASS MoCA boasts giant art installations that need to be seen to be believed. You can spend an entire day there!
Portland, Maine has the delightful Portland Museum of Art which has a range of styles, from impressionists to modern art.
Additional Kid-Friendly Museums in the U.S.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA has a similar flavor to the Corning Museum of Glass in that it can be enjoyed on multiple levels by all ages of visitors.
Ok, this next exhibit no longer exists, but it was so fun that I need to include it because its vibrance reminds me of Corning glass: Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts displayed this massively colorful and moving historic retrospective of quilt patterns in America, and even our baby loved it!
An Artists’ Studio Connected to the Corning Museum
In Huntsville, Alabama, I encountered Lowe Mill: a brilliant complex of artist studios where you can wander, wondering at the creative skills abounding around, and even buy items that strike your fancy!
It was there that I met an artist who paints fictional maps on people’s skin! I wish I’d had more time to interact with the artists while at the Corning glass museum, but one gets a glimpse of their process and thoughts while gazing at their works in the exhibit halls.
Public Art in Other Cities as Vibrant as Corning
The whimsical nature of the Corning Museum of Glass connects in my noggin to the fish art installations of Fishtown, Philadelphia: a neighborhood of Philly which is decorated high and low with cut-outs and paintings of swimmy animals!
In Central Square of Cambridge, Massachusetts (near my home of Boston), the bright colors of the Corning museum are echoed in the ever-changing public art of Graffiti Alley: a set of walls between buildings which is constantly being re-decorated by street artists.
Though this is more in the architectural range, the Fallingwater house by Frank Lloyd Wright in Pennsylvania is similar to the concept of glass art in that both are functional first and beautiful second — but that function and beauty dance together, and WOW is the beauty strong.
Finally, the public art in Curacao, the Caribbean island I so enjoyed is similar to the Corning Museum of Glass in that it combines old and new elements to beautiful the surroundings, but also convey a message.
Thank you for taking that detour to explore artistic connections around the world. Now let’s return back to the Corning glass museum, itself!
Glassmaking Demonstrations and Streaming Online
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.
The Corning Glass Museum Gift Shop
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.
Make Your Own Glass at the Corning Museum
“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 (a.k.a. me making terrified faces as molten glass drips from a tool three inches from my hand) which you can see by clicking that link. Now, I hope you’ve seen why the Corning Museum of Glass has stolen my heart!
Want more? See my big list of other things to do in the Finger Lakes.
Enjoy this article? Trip planning? To save you time, I did the search already, so just click here for hotel deals near Corning, and here for beautiful Finger Lakes vacation rentals. These affiliates provide a small commission at no extra cost to you, so thanks in advance, and happy travels!
Want more glass art photos, ideas, and tips? Check out my giant list of fabulous decorative glass exhibits around the world!
We were guests of Corning Museum of Glass, but all opinions and desires to eat glass like candy are mine.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!