glass

Corning, NY: The Corning Museum of Glass

Long time readers are probably familiar with the awful family vacations I used to have to go on whilst growing up, because I complain about them a lot. I suppose I should be grateful we got to go anywhere at all, as I had some friends whose families never travelled, not even to other parts of Ohio, but honestly, most of the time I would have much rather stayed home with a good book. Memorable (for the wrong reasons) trips include the year we drove all the way to North Carolina to go to a really big furniture factory outlet, and my parents didn’t even buy anything; the trip to Washington where the only museum we were allowed to visit was the Air and Space Smithsonian (the one I had the least interest in), the trip to Vegas when I was 16 and had to spend the whole time hanging out in the hotel’s crappy arcade with my then 9 year old brother, whilst getting hit on by the unattractive nerd that worked there; and of course, the trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York (known for its wineries, because 15 year olds love nothing more than going to wineries where they can’t legally drink, just like 16 year olds love nothing more than going to Vegas where they can’t legally do anything) where we stopped at the Corning Museum of Glass, but couldn’t actually go in because my father was too cheap to pay the admission fee (my policy is if you’re not willing to pay to do anything when you’re on holiday, you’re probably better off not going anywhere at all). Well, on my recent visit home, my brother and I decided to take a road trip together, minus the ‘rents, and since he travels to upstate New York a lot for work and knows the area well, we thought we’d give ourselves a redo of that Finger Lakes trip, only this time, we would go to the glass museum, and plenty of other places besides. And not a single winery!

 

Corning was our first stop, and having gotten an early start, we arrived around noon. We first headed into the quaint (albeit small) downtown for some tasty pizza by the slice and seriously one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had (if you find yourself in Corning, you must go to the hilariously named Dippity Do Dahs. Get the Butternut Toffee in one of their homemade cones, which comes with the option of hot fudge in the bottom, which of course only a fool would refuse. Don’t be a fool), and then to the museum in time for our glass blowing session. Yes, glass blowing. Having been denied the joys of the Corning Museum of Glass the first time around, this time we were taking advantage of everything they had to offer, including glass blowing! Admission to the museum is $20 (which is admittedly on the steep side, though I’m quite sure it wasn’t nearly so much nearly 20 years ago), and the glass blowing classes were another $32 per person on top of that – we booked ours in advance to be sure of a place.

There are various things you can choose to make, including ornaments and jewellery, but since we were visiting during glass pumpkin season, the choice was obvious! There are some more intensive classes where you actually learn how to shape the glass yourself, but in the class we chose, the instructor shaped the pumpkin for us – all we did was the actual blowing (ha) and we got to choose the colours we wanted to use. Although I would like to take a proper glass blowing class one day, this is a good choice if you just want a quick taster, and honestly, not that expensive considering pumpkins in the museum’s shop were at least $32, and at least this way we got to customise them. My brother and I were thrilled that we got chosen to go first so we didn’t have to hang around watching everyone else make theirs (you can’t collect the pumpkins until the next day, as they obviously need to cool down in a controlled environment, but they do offer shipping within the US if you’re not going to hang around that long). My blowing technique was semi-ridiculous, but it seemed to work fine, and I’m super happy with my purple and blue pumpkin (which survived the trip back to the UK intact!).

 

And then it was time to explore the museum, which was huge! I think there are six main galleries, with a couple extra in the outbuilding where we did the glass blowing. Some of the galleries have scavenger hunts that you can access via the Glass App available on the museum’s website – these were fun, but the museum’s wifi kept cutting out without my noticing, so I ended up accidentally using quite a bit of my expensive overseas data, which is a bit annoying.

 

Coincidentally, not long before visiting here, Marcus and I had watched the Netflix series Blown Away (which I like to call Blow Master), which is a glass blowing competition that is strangely compelling. I super hated the woman that won because she seemed ultra-pretentious and kept referring to everyone else’s pieces as “pedestrian,” and since the grand prize was a year’s artist in residency at the Museum of Glass, I was really hoping there’d be some of her work here so I could stand in front of it and call it pedestrian. To be honest, I quite liked her sausage chandelier (meant to be some kind of metaphor about the patriarchy), but I called it pedestrian anyway out of spite. Unfortunately, we were a week too early to see an exhibition of work from the show (I would have planned the trip differently if I’d known), but I was glad I at least got to see one thing.

In addition to the modern glass art, the museum also had a huge gallery of glass throughout history (entitled, rather overwhelmingly, “35 Centuries of Glass”), with pieces dating back to the Ancient Romans. This was a bit too large to take in properly all in one go, but they had a paper version of a scavenger hunt in here, which was definitely intended for children, but my brother and I of course still did one, and at least it gave our visit some sort of focus. I loved the crazy intricate miniature glass tableaux, which were mostly religious in nature. I forgot to grab a picture of the captions, and can’t find them on the museum’s website, so I can’t tell you more about them other than that they were early modern European, but they were definitely my favourite things in here, and the museum had at least ten of them.

 

There was also a gallery on the science of glass blowing, and that was where all the fun interactive stuff was hiding. This included a lot of different mirrors, science experiment things where you could see the different ways glass refracts and reflects light, and even a thermal camera so you could see how double glazing helps to hold heat in (I’m always more interested to see how cold my body is compared to other people’s – my nose and hands are always freezing!). This was also the area where they gave science demonstrations, so we hung around to watch one on glass breaking (demonstrations are free and offered throughout the day) – my brother and I took strongly against the obnoxious kid who was picked to assist, and cracked up when the woman worked there kept referring to him as “Garius” instead of “Darius”, which was actually his name. We now call all obnoxious children “Garius”.

The shop, which was all we were allowed to see of the museum on our first attempt to visit all those years ago, is also really big (seriously all the glass pumpkins and gourds), though as we had already made our own glass pumpkins, we didn’t feel the need to buy anything. Since Corning is where Corningware comes from (hence the glass museum being located here), they had a whole separate section in the shop just for that. $20 is definitely a lot for a museum visit, but we spent three hours in the museum, and could easily have spent more if we had been bothered to read all the information in “35 Centuries of Glass” (it was so much information though), so I think it was a worthwhile splurge, and of course I love my pumpkin! 4/5, and I’m glad we got to remedy this failure to visit at last! I also liked that our hotel was within walking distance of the museum, as was the downtown area, so it was that rare American city where you didn’t actually have to use a car. Bonus points for that and the amazing ice cream.