July 10, 2015

People Who Live Near Glass Houses...

Having just returned from a wonderful and soul-renewing canoe trip in Algonquin Park, I wanted to give myself as little time as possible to relish the experience, and so I booked us in for a mini-break in in Brooklyn at a friend's apartment.  Richard and the children protested loudly, but I told them that I didn't care and away we went.

Since I was already being exceedingly selfish, I thought that we should definitely stop in Corning, NY to visit the marvelous Corning Museum of Glass.  I have wanted to visit this museum for many years.  My parents used to reside in New Jersey and whenever we sped along the I-86, the billboards for the museum would catch my eye, and I would wonder about the treasures inside.

I also recalled having read somewhere that Rand McNally had billed Corning as "the most fun small town in America"; it was a no-brainer, we had to go.

And so with tired children and cranky husband in tow, I exited the highway after a 4hr and 30min drive (made more pleasant by fresh cherries from a country roadside stand, and delicious coconut-chocolate-almond ice cream).  

Are we there yet?


For many years, Corning has meant one thing and one thing only to me - Pyrex glassware.  

My mother is quite into her Pyrex, and my sister-in-law Jeannette also collects it.  It must run in the family.  
As an adult, I have such an appreciation for this useful product.  It's colourful, cheerful, and invaluable to any cook.  How can you not adore this?

And this?

And this?

Because who doesn't want a bunny in a bowl?

2 1/2 times as strong as ordinary bowls!  Makes a great gift!

People, if you don't own a piece of Pyrex, march yourself down to the nearest Goodwill and pick up a mixing bowl, covered glass dish or casserole for a few bucks.  Or if you don't appreciate vintage glassware (gasp!), you can purchase a new piece in any good kitchen shop.  

While I expected to see oodles of Pyrex when we visited the museum, which obviously would have killed Richard and the children, we did not.  The funny thing is that the museum has much less to do with Pyrex than I originally thought; I didn't realize the size and scope of the Museum's collection until I visited.  Don't get me wrong, there is Pyrex there, but it pales next to the bulk of the Museum's vast collection of all manner of glass:  
The Corning Museum of Glass (located in Corning, NY and founded in 1951) displays the world’s best collection of art and historical glass. Corning is home to the headquarters for Corning Incorporated, formerly known as Corning Glass Works.  At the museum, you’ll see 35 centuries of glass artistry, live glass-making and flame-working demonstrations, and learn all about the science of glass...
The exterior of the building is quite handsome, a work of art in itself, so if you are into architecture, you will enjoy this aspect of the visit in addition to the glass.


The children are so gangsta.  I did not tell them to adopt this stance.  

Here are a couple of shots of the magnificent lobby.  I was enthralled by this glass sculpture - Dale Chihuly's Fern Green Tower (15.5 feet high).  
A glass confection!

The first item on our agenda, after checking out the day's events, was to attend a glassmaking demo in the recently renovated glassmaking studio.  The studio / large theatre offers much to look at and experience:  blisteringly hot ovens and kilns (you can literally feel the heat), glassmaking equipment, and four gigantic television screens to provide live close-ups of the glassmaker's delicate and painstaking work.  At the forefront of the photo below are examples of the glass that the glassmaker produces during a 25-minute show.

The theatre has the feel of a television studio.  
We were very excited as we waited for the 6pm show to begin.  As the lights dimmed, the crowd quieted, eager to see the magic of the "Hot Shop".  Watching the glassmaker manipulate the glass was completely mesmerizing.  We were astonished as he twisted, turned, stretched and coerced the glass into various shapes.  Glassmaking demands bravery, strength, finesse and attention to fine detail:

from The Constant Rambler
sticky, molten glass being removed from the oven so that it can be manipulated

My favourite line from the show?

"What's the difference between a vaze and a vozz?"
"About a thousand dollars!" (nyuk, nyuk).

During the show, we watched the glassmaker and his assistants create a small vase (about 5 inches tall), then craft a larger one (18 inches tall), and then...?  He inserted the small vase INTO the larger one.  All in 25 minutes time!  He started out with a gob of glass, and produced a stunning work of art.  The pictures that I took suck, so you'll have to use your imagination (and go to the show yourself :-)

Earlier in the show, the emcee revealed that the glassmaker loved to hear the audience's appreciation, and that enthusiastic individuals "might be rewarded for their efforts".  Nathaniel and I exchanged a knowing glance.  We don't have to be told to yell twice.  

We whooped, cheered and stamped our feet every time the glassmaker did something amazing, which was basically the entire time.  

At the end of the show, the emcee said, "Who wants to win something?"  The crowd roared.  

A large spotlight appeared, and we followed it with our eyes as it whizzed crazily around the studio, illuminating the audience.  Nathaniel and I were hollering and stomping and clapping and laughing our heads off, enjoying the electric atmosphere immensely.  

Perhaps to improve his chances of winning, my child moved into the empty bench behind us, where in addition to his caterwauling, he fist-pumped and jumped up and down wildly as if he were on a pogo stick.  The spotlight continued to careen merrily, and suddenly, in the midst of the hysteria, the tv screens sprang into life and there was Nathaniel's giant face on the Corning Museum version of the Jumbotron.  I have never laughed so hard in my life.  We watched as Nathaniel realized that it was indeed his big face on all of the tv screens, and he screamed, "I won, I WON!"

Such genuine joy.  I loved it.  

I took this picture after the fact, as I was so flabbergasted when Nathaniel won the vase that I couldn't think straight, never mind snap a pic 
Yes, Nathaniel won the vase that the glassmaker had made that day, or rather, he won an identical one that the glassmaker had made another day (the glass needs to cure for twenty four hours before it's ready to be handled).  The vase is quite heavy; I wasn't prepared for that.  

To add insult to injury (Gwen was not impressed with her brother's win), Nathaniel was also asked to help out during another demo - the glass-breaking show - and he was presented with a beautiful glass fish for his efforts there.  Does this kid have a lucky horseshoe up his can or what?

I will leave you with some more pictures of the museum and its fantastic sights.  We enjoyed it so much, that we returned for a second day of sight-seeing, which is included in the price of your ticket. 

Here are those pics:

flameworking demo

Modern glass objets; I was particularly fascinated by the lamps and chairs

All of the galleries are painted white / pale grey to show off the beautiful colours.   Here, textured glass waves "float" in space

hard to see, but there is an ethereal collection of glass knives suspended above the tiny glass houses

a trio of glass trees comprised entirely of drinking vessels, the forest visible only from a distance

because who doesn't love a glass tire?

gorgeous ruby glass chandelier adorned with ravens.  a truly stunning piece, not so much in this picture

glass zodiac

glass, beautiful glass in the innovation centre

Roman glass. iridescent beauty.  Hard to believe its age and that it is still intact.  

The Blaschka collection.  Superb and unbelievable - 1887

a Blaschka squid - 1887.  Part of the Harvard collection.  So many Blaschka pieces.  You must see it!

a jack in the pulpit vase 
Stunning art glass, reminiscent of a sea creature.  It's very large, but I didn't include anything to show its scale, unfortunately

more objets in the contemporary wing

glass lynx.  a wonder to behold

Ostensibly, the pictures that I have shared here really do not give you any idea of the vast scope and size of the collection.  

I implore you to go; you will be awed.

Head there now!

Ticket information.  All tickets are good for a two-day visit.  We purchased ours online for $18 per adult, which let us enter after 4pm.  The regular price is $22.  Children are free.  We loved the museum so much, and found so much to do, that we visited again the following day.  Even the rotten children loved it.  


Optional Musical Pairing.  Billy Joel's Don't Ask Me Why from his album Glass Houses, natch

As a brief and hilarious aside, I feel compelled to say something about why I chose the Billy Joel song. Reason 1 is obvious, but Reason 2 has to do with our stay in the "most fun small town in America", or rather, how we tented it in a redneck campground the day after the 4th of July, and experienced an unruly mob (fomenting directly across from our campsite) between 11pm - 4am. We heard language that made even yours truly blush, and gasped in horror and disbelief as the fisticuffs, screaming, crying, begging and insanity ramped up and the police arrived.  We were glad to make it out alive.

But that is a story for another day.