A Visit to the Corning Museum of Glass

1905 Rochroane Castle Window
story and photos by Libby Cook

In the four years I’ve lived in Ithaca, I’ve gradually curated a mental bucket list of interesting places I’ve wanted to visit around the Finger Lakes Region. One particular place I’ve always wanted to go to is the Corning Museum of Glass. This weekend, I had an opportunity to finally visit, so my roommate Emily and I reserved our tickets and headed southwest to Corning.

In fifty years, the museum has become the site of the world’s largest glass collection. It contains over 50,000 objects. The museum’s three floors of galleries, libraries, demo spaces and retail space form a 117,400 square foot facility. My goal to see every last item in the museum seemed ambitious as we shuttled by the museum’s bus to the enormous, daunting main building that appeared to be made entirely of windows. We were wise to budget at least three hours to walk the entire museum.

Spilt Milk

We checked in and began our touring in the Contemporary Art and Design galleries. The white hallways and open rooms of the gallery were a clean backdrop for the larger, more modern pieces in the museum. There were massive chandeliers that plunged from the high ceilings above, life-size sculptures of human bodies, foods, animals and one of the largest pieces in the museum, which portrayed the world population through different-sized glass discs that hung over a world map.  

Contemporary gallery piece

The afternoon crowd began to file in quickly, so we took a break from browsing the galleries to watch a Hot Glass Demo. During the show, a glassblower called a “gaffer” tediously heated, shaped, cooled and reheated a small orb of glass in the studio’s special 2,100 degree-burning-furnaces. Though the gaffer would’ve typically blown air into the glass to help it expand, COVID-19 precautions allowed him to use a hand-operated, pressurized air tube instead. After a final cooldown of the object, the gaffer carefully and cleanly broke the piece away from the air tube and revealed a delicately shaped water pitcher to the applauding crowd. 

World Populations piece

After the show, Emily and I continued to the third floor Innovation Center where we explored the science behind the creation of glass products like windows and mirrors and the relationship between light and glass to create reflections. Nearby, another gaffer spoke to a crowd about flameworking and shaping smaller, more detailed art pieces.

We moved on to the Heineman and Gather galleries, which featured a colorful collection of vases and other glass vessels and the 35 Centuries of Glass gallery, which walked through over 3,500 years of glass history. It showcased everything about glass, from the origins of glassmaking in Mesopotamia to the modern art-deco glass work from around the world. 

After winding our way through the galleries, we went downstairs to the retail space to look for some student-budget-friendly souvenirs. We both bought some beautiful handmade dishes and jewelry boxes to bring home and commemorate our trip.

Libby Cook is an intern at Life in the Finger Lakes during the Spring 2021 semester. As a senior writing major at Ithaca College, Libby is very excited to be spending her final semester of school exploring and writing about the Finger Lakes Region. Originally from Maine, Libby loves to spend her free time at home hiking and relaxing at the lake with friends. Libby is always looking for interesting towns, trails, restaurants and other attractions to visit around the Finger Lakes during the school year.


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