On my visit to the Finger Lakes, the tourist board invited me to do all sorts of incredible things: taste wine at the vineyards surrounding Keuka Lake, stay at a charming bed and breakfast called the Black Sheep Inn, go for a morning sail on Seneca Lake, and take a scenic flight. (My wife and I chickened out from the flight.) But I was also invited to visit the Corning Museum of Glass.
When I received the email, I walked into my kitchen and lifted my old Corning percolator. While that coffee pot is my most prized kitchen appliance, I was a little shocked that this would be a part of my itinerary. Then I looked at the amount of time that they wanted me to visit the museum. Three hours! For a museum of glass? What was I going to do for three hours in a museum dedicated to glass? How many different coffee pots and casserole dishes could I stand for three hours? Couldn’t we just extend the wine tasting? I mean, after all, I never go wine tasting and say “Would you just look at this wine glass! Oh… the wine? No, in fact, I’m more impressed with this here glass.” (I was pretty sure that the Corning Museum of Glass was not going to fill up any goblets for me, though I considered making the suggestion.)
But, as plot twists would have it, the Corning Museum of Glass blew me away. (All puns are intended.)
Corning Museum of Glass
Firstly, there were no Corning coffee pots on display. In fact, Corning has moved away from producing kitchenware and is probably the thing separating you from the electricity that made these words appear on your screen. (That’s right touch it. That’s most likely Corning glass.) The museum was actually Corning’s 100th anniversary present to the city that it called home, established to tell the world about glass. Inside, the museum showcases more than 3,500 years of glass, exposes you to the incredible scientific properties of the material, and introduces you to the art of glassmaking.
We began our visit dressing like fools. Marissa and I were going to make glass flowers and the uniforms were meant to prevent any injury from the ovens and the glass that had been melted at 2000 degrees. The real glassblowers, who dressed in t-shirts and shorts and had been trained not to touch really, really hot liquid glass, guided us through the process of making glass flowers. (If this fascinates you, you can extend your hands-on experience with multi-week workshops taught by some of the most regarded glassmakers in the world.)
While my flower was fairly simple to make, watching an expert make a glass vase at the Hot Glass show outside, left me in awe. I’m sure not one single reader will ever make this statement: “Wow, Noah Lederman really created a work of art by writing this piece about the Corning Museum of Glass.” But let’s get something straight: it took me about an hour and a half to write this piece, edit it, plug in all of these photographs, and then do fancy online magic so that Google would recognize this post if anyone typed “Corning Museum of Glass” into their search engine. Now, in one-third the time, this glassblower created an incredible water pitcher that could probably sell for hundreds of dollars. (This article you’re reading sells for zero dollars, while supplies last.)
Not only was it art to watch the show, but it also looked like a sport. This sweaty glassblower had to form the vase, while jumping up every few minutes so that the temperature of the piece would never fall below 900 degrees, or else it would shatter. Oh yeah, and she crafted a dolphin onto the side of the vase. (Sorry folks, no dolphins here. Uploading a picture of Flipper would have taken me another ten minutes.)
Now that I have a kid on the way, I’m always on the lookout for kid-friendly attractions that won’t bore me. (How many times can you really go to the zoo?) First of all, the Corning Museum of Glass is free for teens and kids. Kids can make art out of glass (though it’s less intense than my flower sculpting) and they are exposed to the science of glass. The glassy sciency stuff shocked me, too.
Marissa and I stood in something called a glass egg. We were about forty feet apart from one another and faced opposite ends of the egg. When we whispered toward the wall, our voices sounded as if we were talking into a microphone. It was incredible for two reasons: One, glass turned my whisper into a booming voice. Two, I realized how annoying it must be for someone who speaks another language to be told “say something” because when we were told to whisper to each other in a glass egg, you realize how little comes to mind.
Since glass is so powerful, I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking from here on out.
In this picture below, you can also see the actual power of glass. It takes this much copper wire to transmit the same amount that one little glass fiber optic cable can transmit. (There’s even copper wire behind the green circle.) Mind blowing.
One of the coolest parts of the museum was the modern art. Here were some of my favorite pieces.
This red pyramid weighs about a ton, but the edges are as fragile as a potato chip. Good luck trying to move that.
Here’s another piece you don’t want to be told by your boss that you’re responsible for shipping. It’s like a ball of aluminum foil, except instead of foil, all of the layers are glass.
These are little bits of glass pieced together to form this work of art.
With thirty five centuries of glass art on display, you’re sure to find your favorite pieces from various time periods. I loved the glass chess set. Jews vs. Christians. Now that’s a fragile topic.
When a scientist discovered a glass-related formula, next to the math, he wrote, “Whoopee.” And he was right.
Cooling Down After Hot Glass
Of course, no trip to Corning should end with the museum. Head a few blocks down to pretty little Market Street. Walk the strip, stop in for dinner, enjoy live music in the square, and get Dippitty Do Dahs homemade ice cream. I had ordered two scoops consisting of chocolate peanut butter and chocolate explosion. The barista shoveled out about fifteen scoops into my bowl. Besides being generous with their servings, they also dish up an ice cream pizza: one slice of cookie topped with ice cream. While mind blowing, the glass still wins.