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The Corning Museum at 50

The Corning Museum at 50: Preserving 3,500 years of sand, ash, lime and fire – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – July 2001

by Adam Halterman

They make glass. By day and night,
the fires burn on…and bid the
sand let in the light.

-Carl Sandburg, In Reckless Ecstasy, 1904

Sand, ash, lime and fire: the glassmakers recipe has remained unchanged for thousands of years. But the world of glass is ever changing. Its history is the history of art, of technology, of architecture, and of civilization. Glass has held both the face of the Pharoah and the glimmer of distant galaxies. Of all mediums, it is the most mysterious in its creation and manipulation, capturing the mind of the artist as well as the mind of the scientist and pushing both realms to wondrous and unexpected heights.

It is this sense of wonder that brings over 400,000 visitors to The Corning Museum of Glass each year. The glass expert and the vacationing family alike are drawn to the Museum’s 30,000 piece collection. From high art to TV tubes, it offers a whole universe of glass.

But The Corning Museum of Glass, nestled in the beautiful Finger Lake region of upstate New York, is not merely a repository for 3,500 years of history, but a key player as well in the story of glass. For over 100 years Corning has been the glass capitol of America. Many of the hallmarks of modern industry, from light bulbs to fiber optics, were born here. It is only fitting that now, as the Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary, Corning makes history once again by expanding its programs, facilities, and collections to offer visitors the ultimate glass experience.

Director David Whitehouse explains the Museum’s mission as simply “to make glass exciting to everyone and to be sure that, when our visitors leave the Museum, they have a new or richer experience of glass, its properties, and its place in history.”

This quest for mass intrigue is remarkably achieved through diverse collections and well-conceived exhibit areas. No matter what one’s interests may be, they will find something that grabs their attention.

The Art & History Galleries present 35 centuries of glassmaking, from Egyptian times through to the 19th century. Visitors will marvel at resonant beauty of Egyptian mosaics, Mesopotamian cast and cut vases and Hellenic bowls. The gallery also tells the story of the development of techniques, such as glassblowing in Roman times. The classic design of these Roman jars, cups and bowls provides the foundation upon which centuries of glassmaking and design will be built. In addition, the stunning glass of the Renaissance as well as Islamic, Asian, African and American pieces are displayed, providing a panoramic view of the global history of glass.
The Sculpture Gallery may be the place in the Museum that best conveys the enigma of glass. Housed here are over 90 works of glass sculpture, perfectly capturing the breadth and creativity of contemporary glass art. From Libensky’s monolithic Red Pyramid to Liskova’s confoundingly fragile Small Ikebana, this collection will surprise, intrigue and inspire.

The technological side of glass history is wonderfully captured at The Glass Innovation Center. It is an ultramodern, interactive, educational experience for all ages. Through dazzling demonstrations, it tells how the science and technology of glass, from the windows to the optical fiber, have transformed the world we live in. The Glass Innovation Center consists of the Optics, Windows, and Vessels galleries. You will look at your windshield in a whole new light!

The “Must See” programs offered to visitors are The Hot Glass Show and Flameworking Live. Michelangelo, on sculpting, once wrote of “freeing the figure trapped in the stone.” This same creative force comes to life in Corning’s live glass shows. It is here that the mysteries of glasswork are revealed. It is here that the visitors young and old watch transfixed as an expert craftsman brings a ball of hot glass to life, transforming it into a unique piece of art glass. These shows take place daily and are often the highlight of a visit.

To make the visit complete, the Museum also offers two restaurants and gift shops offering a diverse assortment of contemporary glass, traditional crystal, paperweights, and related books and collectibles.

The Corning Museum of Glass is constantly expanding its collections, maintaining its reputation as the world’s premier glass collection. And now, to celebrate this historic anniversary, the Museum unveils four new facilities that will greatly expand the visitor experience.

To begin with, the Museum will open SummerStage, an outdoor stage where visitors can watch live glassmaking demonstrations. SummerStage will also act as a mobile ambassador for the Museum, as it has the capacity to bring glassmaking demonstrations on the road.

The Museum has also doubled the space in its interactive glass studio. For the past five years this studio has been the residence of numerous top glass artists. Countless students have learned the art of glasswork here in this wonderful facility. Now the experience will be even richer since the Museum has greatly increased the size of the working and classroom spaces and added a wax room and an engraving room. Also new to the plans is a special drop-in studio where Museum visitors will be able to try various areas of glassworking.

The Frederick Carder Gallery, which opened in May to much applause, will honor design giant Frederick Carder (1863-1963). Comprising more than 2,000 pieces, the gallery showcases the world’s most comprehensive collection of Carder glass. These works of glass cover the seven decades of Carders contributions.

Another new permanent installment is a fiber optic exhibit entitled “Glass at the Speed of Light.” The exhibit will demonstrate how much information a single optical fiber can carry. A single optical fiber will run the length of the exhibit, encased in a transparent handrail. This fiber will transmit a signal originating form a camera pointing at visitors. This same fiber will occupy different parts of the exhibit – in one section winding around a spool for nearly 100 miles before having its signal amplified and refreshed. The slender fiber also snakes its way through the amount of copper wire needed to carry the same information – hundreds of cables, weighing thousands of pounds. Housed in the Glass Innovation Center, “Glass at the Speed of Light” adds the latest fiber technology to the Museum’s exhibits, allowing the center to represent the past, present and future of glass innovation.

In addition to these changes, two exciting exhibitions mark The Corning Museum’s anniversary celebration. “Objects of Fantasy” will reveal an elaborate display of antique paperweight-related glass. According to Dena K. Tarshis, who organized the show, “The arrangement of the extraordinary pieces of glass in this exhibition, by the predominant technique employed, has a two-fold purpose: Not only to highlight some of the finest examples of 19th century glass inclusions, but also to trace the evolution of each technique from its origin, usually in ancient times, to its modern expression. The collection, which includes highlights such as 19th century French Jokelson Vases and elaborate bottles and stoppers, is bound to capture the imagination of visitors.

The centerpiece of the Museum this summer is the “Glass of the Sultans” exhibit. It is being presented jointly with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The beauty and mystery of the Islamic world will be uncovered in this landmark exhibit. The stunning collection of more than 150 outstanding objects, spanning the ages from the seventh to nineteenth centuries, is, amazingly, the first Islamic glass exhibit.

Islamic glassmakers have always been on the forefront of the craft. They are the inventors of glass staining and key developers of relief cutting and enameling. The artistry is unparalleled and the variety of the collection is awe-inspiring.

“There are two reasons why people should come,” says Director David Whitehouse. “The glass is absolutely spectacular, and this is the first show of its kind.” Through September 3 visitors can experience these treasures as The Corning Museum makes history yet again.

Taken as a whole, The Corning Museum of Glass, through strong and consistent vision, offers the best glass experience in the world. Always true to its mission, the Museum educates and captivates like no other. In fact, word “museum” seems to fall short when describing The Corning Museum of Glass. What is this place? It is a school, a laboratory, a receptacle of knowledge and art, a protector of history, an inspiration. Much like the great library of Alexandria preserved the thought and literature of the western world, The Corning Museum preserves an ongoing dialogue in glass. For fifty years now it has connected the mind, hands, and work of 3,500 years of artists, craftsmen and innovators, recognizing that the history of glass is, truly, our own history.

The Corning Museum of Glass is located at One Museum Way in Corning, New York. The Museum is open 9-5 daily. For further information please call 1-800-732-6845 or visit them on the web at

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