Thursday, October 18, 2012

Corning, New York

We drove out of our way (as much as you can say that, on an 11,000 mile road trip) to see the Corning Museum of Glass, in Corning, NY, which I have wanted to see for years.  Neither of us were disappointed.  The town is fairly small, with a vibrant, revived old town area.  Corning, Inc. is still headquartered here, and the town reflects that with an interesting mix of engineers, factory technicians, and artists.  It reminded Lana and I a little of our respective hometowns, where HP and Kodak brought a large number of newcomers into rural farming towns.
We stayed overnight, and arrived at the Museum not long after they opened; we were just in time for the first hot glass demonstration of the day, where two glassworkers were making a pumpkin.
Above, the gathered glass has already been rolled in frit or ground up pieces of colored glass, which gives the pumpkin its nice flecked appearance.  Then it is shaped by pressing it into a ridged die and is placed back in the furnace briefly before a puff of air is added and captured, so that the hot glass heats it, expanding the air, and inflating the gather into a much rounder shape.
Another glassworker has impressed ridges on a smaller, solid gather of glass, and the first glassworker is joining them together; hot glass bonds better to cooler glass, which is why the stem is red-hot.  The stem will be a vivid green when cooled.
Working quickly, the stem is stretched out, and then wrapped around a form, to create the twisted appearance of the stem.  The form is removed, and the stem is curved, and touched to the cooler pumpkin body in a few places to bond it.
Finally, the stem is cut off with heavy snips.  It’s amazing to see glass blown, twisted, stretched and cut like it’s clay.  The two glassworkers are talking to us the entire time, describing what they’re doing, and why.  Once they snipped the stem off, they snapped the pumpkin off the steel blowing pipe, and placed the pumpkin in an annealing oven to cool down at a controlled rate until the next day.  Then they turned to us, and told us that they were going to raffle off the pumpkin they’d made the day before.  Lana had a feeling she was going to win the pumpkin, but the first ticket called was not hers.  However, they were also raffling off a beautiful blue vase, and the woman who’d just been called chose the vase.  Lana and I looked at each other, still hopeful.  The next number called was one of our tickets—both of them in Lana’s hands by now.  There was never even any question as to who would get it.  She looked like she’d just been called for the Price is Right:
We couldn’t have had a bad time at the museum, but we certainly got a good start!  We spent some time in the industrial section of the museum, where there were exhibits on Gorilla Glass, bullet proof glass, fiber optics, Pyrex cookware, etc., before moving into the artistic gallery sections.  The glass gown is life size.  The original positive casting was made around a live model, and you can still see her navel in the body-shaped hollow center of the final glass casting.Glass Gown
The galleries contained a wide variety of glass art—some technically impressive, if not to our tastes, but most  were quite beautiful.
Some were impressive and beautiful; these fruit were two to three feet tall, and each must have weighed hundreds of pounds.
The museum also has a staggering array of glass history on display, and it’s only a fraction of the collection they have accumulated.  This glass tabletop was fashioned in the 18th century from fragments of ancient Greek and Roman glass mosaic.
While fascinating, the historic section overwhelmed us eventually.  That’s when we stumbled across the Glass Lab exhibit, which was our favorite, and that’s saying something.
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The exhibit consisted of a variety of glass art pieces, designed by a variety of artists and designers, most of whom hadn’t worked with glass before, and created by several of the glass artisans from Corning (including one of the gentlemen in the demonstration we saw at the beginning of the day).  You can have an appreciation of the pieces much in the same way as the other pieces in the various other galleries, but this one had one further element which made us want to stay all day.  On a large white wall, they were projecting clips from each artists’ session with the artisans, so you could see what the artists conceived, and how the pieces were executed. It made for a very visceral, in-depth exhibit. You could watch a piece being made, and then go and find it in the gallery, get up close to it and examine the piece, now that you had the “backstory,” as it were.  They also had kiosks with touch screens where you could scroll through the entire set of artists, and watch on a small screen the clip of the creation of any particular piece by that artists.  We could have sat there for the rest of the day, watching clips and finding pieces.  
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The grouping of pieces you see above were conceived by a single artist and executed by several artisans over the course of a couple of days.  Intestines, kidneys, stomach, liver, heart, lungs and brain were made, as well as several large eyeballs of varying eye colors.  We thoroughly enjoyed this exhibit, and it was a great culmination of the museum, combining the the artistic aspect with the technical aspects of glass making.