Classy Glass

There is an interesting daytrip for you in the Finger Lakes, whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person. Ready yourself to get behind the wheel, put on your sunglasses and take in the view from your windshield as you head to Corning to learn about a simple but amazing material.

Glass.

In 1868, Amory Houghton Sr. moved The Brooklyn Flint Glass Company to Corning, changed the name to Corning Glass Works and made the city of Corning synonymous with glass. That he wouldn’t recognize how far his company has come in more than 140 years is an understatement.

It’s why even Houghton would benefit from a tour through the Corning Museum of Glass. For $12.50, with deals for students, residents and seniors, an adult can tour the museum all day. Children and teenagers get in free, which makes the museum very family friendly. Tours begin at 9 a.m. and we suggest you set aside three to five hours to get the most of the museum. (It closes at 5 p.m., but remains open until 8 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day.)

We take glass for granted today, not surprising considering how many times in our day-to-day lives we come into contact with this amazing product made from silica, the most abundant mineral on earth (predominantly in the form of sand or quartz). We drink from it, eat off it and look through it. It surrounds our light sources, transmits our information and more.

A glass showcase
Recognized as the preeminent museum of glass in the world, Corning Museum of Glass chronicles more than 3,500 years of glassmaking craft and art. The sculpted portrait of the Egyptian king Amenhotep II, dated 1450 to 1400 B.C., is displayed not far away from a piece from 2000 A.D. Both are in the company of pieces that span the centuries between them.

It’s easy to illustrate such a long time span when you have nearly 43,000 glass objects from which to choose. They come from Achaemenia (Iran) all the way through the alphabet of countries and historical regions to “Western Provinces.” From the simple shape of a 1200 B.C. bead, to the utilitarian but beautiful form of a vase or bowl, to the sublime expression of an artist who molded the glass into the form he needed to bring out from his imagination, the Corning Museum of glass has it all.

Then there are the kids, or better yet, the kid in all of us, and the fun to be had there at many levels.

Throughout the day, at 45-minute intervals, you can watch glassblowers, called gaffers, create vases and other items during the Hot Glass Show. At the Innovation Center, flame workers are featured up close as they mix glass rods and heat to create “fanciful shapes” during shows that run every 30 minutes.

The Vessel Gallery is a fanciful display of everyday glass items, bottles, bowls, and laboratory vessels of all sizes and shapes. The Optics Gallery has as its showpiece a 200-inch disk cast in the mid-1930s for the Hale telescope at California’s Palomar Observatory.

The Innovation Center is interactive and traces the inventors who made newer products possible either from direct research ideas or from accidents that took them in a different direction. The lowly window has its own gallery illustrating how window glass went from the bubble-filled versions seen in old houses to the clarity of today.

It must be transparent to you by now that glass has many more facets to it than you might have first thought. One may continue to take glass for granted after touring the Corning Museum of Glass, but perhaps you may come away with a bit more appreciation for this simple material’s potential.

Cowboy art and more
Still in the Market Street Historic District but about one block south, on Cedar Street, is the Rockwell Museum of Western Art. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours until 8 p.m. from Memorial to Labor Days. Admission is $6.50 for adults, $5.50 for students and folks over 55, and free to children and teens. For a really economical deal, the Rockwell Museum and the Corning Museum offer a combined same-day adult price of $16.50, with respective senior/student discounts.

The building that houses the Rockwell Museum speaks for itself, historically. Built as the City Hall in 1893, it was fully renovated in 2000/2001 to properly permit the space to display the extensive collection of Western art and artifacts originally collected by local business owners Bob and Hertha Rockwell.

Wrought Iron Red and Mad Bug Lager
You would be forgiven if you stopped for an ice cream cone to assuage your hunger, but we suggest you hold off on this snack until your hunger is in need of serious attention.

One suggestion to replace the calories your full day’s walk has rid you of is the Market Street Brewing Co. & Restaurant at 68 West Market Street. Founded in 1997 by Theresa and Pelham McClellan, the two have help running the place from their son John-Paul Burris, 25, a culinary-schooled chef.

Before you enter, you can’t help but notice the two stainless steel tanks that dominate the front windows. Burris said they have been brewing their own beer since 1997, and only serve their six brews there, added to by seasonal beers. Once inside, your eyes are drawn to the exquisite beauty of the back bar, put together by Mark Cherry, owner of the Architectural Antique Exchange in Philadelphia. To Corning, Cherry brought several restored bar pieces from Philadelphia and columns from an antebellum home in Atlanta. His crew traveled here to assemble it. There’s a bar in front, too, rescued from a local watering hole that was being demolished.

Wrought Iron Red and Mad Bug Lager were two exceptional tasting beers and well worth waiting for. The popularity of the brews may have something to do with the hundred or so 20-ounce beer mugs that hang above the bar. If you join the Mug Club, you get a monogrammed mug that is filled for the price of a 16-ounce mug. But wait, there’s more. For the $40 price you also get a 64-ounce growler of beer every three months to take home. Price of the growler not included.

But hunger was the reason for coming in and on that note the menu has something for everyone. There are appetizers aplenty, including Eggplant Napoleon, Coconut Shrimp and Sushi Nachos. Prices range from $5.99 to $9.99.

Sandwiches, burgers and wraps are tantalizingly named as well, including beef, barbecued pork, Ahi tuna and chicken in interesting sauces and garnishes. Prices range from $6.99 to $10.99. Entrees came colorfully in the form of Pork Osso Bucco, fresh rainbow trout, jerked chicken, scallops and shrimp, and a sirloin steak choice. All of them make you salivate just by reading about how they are prepared. Prices range from $11.99 to $19.99 with the promise of a “dock special” at market prices.

To ensure that no one is left out, there is a kid’s menu and a dessert menu. Specialty coffees are available.

Burris uses all the local seasonal ingredients he can find, and dining in nicer weather takes place at the street level beer garden tables or on the upstairs deck that seats 40.

So from how glass is made, to looking through glass to window shop, to enjoying a fine glass of beer, a day in Corning is clearly one to look into. For more details, visit www.cmog.org, www.rockwellmuseum.org and www.936-beer.com.
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Hiking Trails
Great Eastern Trail
A new 45-mile “wilderness footpath experience” is being constructed in the Corning area as part of the Great Eastern Trail which will run, eventually, from New York to the Florida/Alabama border. Made up of footpaths that wander over hills, across fields, through valleys and state forests and also onto privately owned land, this new trail section begins in Pennsylvania and runs up through Addison. The trail will eventually make its way through the Erwin Hollow State Forest to Painted Post and across Steuben County until it connects with the main Finger Lakes Trail. Visit www.greateasterntrail.net for more information.

Outdoor Activities
Spencer Crest Nature Center
Featuring 250 acres and 7 miles of trails with two ponds, a stream and a museum of natural systems which includes changing displays, an apiary and an environmentally sensitive design, Spencer Crest Nature Center is located on 250 acres of land in Corning. The center is pet friendly and features trails for people with disabilities. www.spencercrest.org.


by Eric Smith and D.J. Smith
Freelance writer D.J. Smith recently returned to the Finger Lakes after spending two years in Arkansas where he was a reporter for the North Little Rock Times. He was also cofounder, chief reporter and editor of the online-only news source, Dogtownwire. Chef Eric K. Smith is currently with the New York Wine & Culinary Center.