Corning museum sparkles for the holidays
CORNING--A family visit to the Corning Museum of Glass is always a glittering, colorful experience, but never more so than during the holiday season. The stage is set at the entry, where a 14-foot high tree constructed of 2,000 one-of-a-kind glass ornaments is lit inside and out. This is the ornament tree's seventh year--it began as a much smaller tree in 2008 when it was created from a mere 600 glass ornaments.
The wonder and sparkle of glass continues through its gallery spaces, like the newly-opened contemporary glass galleries which exponentially expanded the museum's exhibit space, allowing new work to be showcased in this large, light space without corners, a setting for new works to capture the imagination of the viewer.
For instance, "Carroña," by Javier Perez, features a smashed Venetian chandelier being scavenged by 10 crows, created to symbolically represent the disappearance of the traditional glass industry in Murano, Italy. But non-traditional glass is clearly alive and well elsewhere. Also in this gallery is an intact chandelier flashing poetry in Morse code, conveniently translated into English on the video monitor. There is a video component to most pieces in these galleries, often allowing the artist to speak directly to the viewer about the process and meaning of the piece.
Glass is about light, and the glass on display seems to change with the time of day and the weather. Because "glass loves light" as museum curators say, the museum can be a bright, light place. Unlike other works of art, glass remains undamaged by exposure to natural and electric light.
"The number one comment I hear from visitors is 'I had no idea!'" says Kimberly Thompson, public relations specialist at the museum. "It's why tickets are good for two days. There's so much to see." The museum often has a special exhibit of historical glass; scientific glass has its own gallery--both educational as well as entertaining.
Local visitors (at the entry, you're asked for your zip code) get a break on admission--during the winter school holiday (Dec. 22 to Jan. 2) admission is $9 per adult, with children and teens 17 and younger admitted free. Special programs are scheduled at this time, like the "You design it, we make it" challenge, where kids who draw a design chosen by museum glassmakers are invited to return to the museum later and watch their work in process. Designs chosen in the past include a volcano and a cheetah on roller skates. Like all projects in this category, the winning design is mailed home to the child who thought of it and drew it.
Visiting the museum can be a cosmopolitan experience, with about 40 percent of visitors arriving in groups on bus tours, so many from China the museum has two full-time Mandarin translators and one part-timer on staff.
There are hot glass demonstrations at least once an hour in a theatre setting, where glass professionals create art-glass pieces and the process is explained to the viewer. At the end of each demo, an audience member, chosen at random, wins one of the previously-created works.
In turn, that may easily inspire a child or adult to want to participate in the creation of a glass piece. The museum's adjacent Studio offers that experience, allowing visitors to help create such seasonally appropriate glassworks as a snowman, a holiday ornament, bead, pendant, sculpture, Christmas tree and other projects. The cost of most seasonal blown-glass projects is $29. On Tuesday, 9-year-old Thomas Brody-Martin from Milwaukee, Oregon, was part of the creation of a hand-blown ornament. "I thought I could do it," he explained, after having watched the hot glass show. "And I did. I did very well," he added jubilantly.
William Passmore, an older visitor from Burdett, had his first glass-blowing experience making a snowman. "It was fun!" he said afterwards, sounding slightly surprised.
The glass-blowing experience is carefully directed by experienced museum employees, who tell each participant when to blow, how hard to blow and when to stop. They are the ones to carry the gathers of glass to and from the furnace, skillfully shaping the glass, adding colored glass particles, called frit, to customize each piece as previously decided by the participant who could, for instance, choose to make a blue snowman with a yellow hat instead of a snow-colored one. They also finish the piece by adding and carefully shaping a top portion to close off the blow-hole and serve as a hanger. After a hot-glass piece is made, it needs to cure overnight in an annealing oven which keeps it hot for several hours, then slowly cools it to room temperature. The piece may be picked up the following day or one may arrange for an additional fee to have the piece packed and mailed.
Full disclosure--I also made a snowman and found the experience magical. Although it was one of 39 that would be made that day by a visitor with the assistance of a young woman whose name-tag read Kalli--and Kalli clearly does most of the work--she maintained the enthusiasm of someone discovering the process for the first time, as was the case with most of those she "helped." There are a few other projects, like a sandblasted drinking glass which can be custom designed by a kid, finished and taken home the same day.
For those who want a lunch or snack break during a museum visit, there's a large cafeteria. Shopping in the large glass emporium on the lower level is another important stop for most visitors, often with special deals on jewelry, ornaments, books and other items to add to the enticement. Posed outside the shopping area are several glass-mosaic polar bears with whom visitors are invited to have their picture taken.
The Corning Museum of Glass is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from November through March, from 6-8 p.m. the third Thursday of the month for their 2300° after-hours evenings featuring glass-making demonstrations, refreshments, live music--a party atmosphere and a special 23 percent discount at the gift shop. The next one is Dec. 17; admission is free.
Find more information online at CMOG.org; for those who prefer the phone, 800-732-6845 or 607-937-5371.