It’s a good rule of thumb that when my mom says that a trip is going to be “educational”, she means “boring.” Another rule of thumb is that, if one of the six kids in my family actually enjoys the experience, the other five won’t. So, as you can imagine, it was with much trepidation that we crawled into our van on a rainy August morning for our expedition to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. After all, we all know how exciting glass can be: wake me when it’s over.
Although the weather improved by the time we arrived, our dispositions had not. While my mom purchased the tickets (a plus for big families like mine: kids and teens are free), my dad directed us toward the “You design it, we make it” drawing area. If your design is selected to be made by one of the museum’s expert glassmakers, or gaffers, you, too, may be going home with a lovely, free souvenir. If you want to participate, come to the museum as early as possible to be eligible for multiple competitions. This opportunity was enough to win over my little brother. Traitor.
Off we ran to our first hot glass show. Several times during the day, gaffers blow glass from materials that have been placed in a 2300º furnace. Okay, even I couldn’t resist the allure of lava-hot molten glass. At each show, a gaffer makes a different object, so going to multiple shows is worthwhile. My favorite was “The Late Show,” which was held outside on what turned out to be a beautiful summer evening. At this longer show, the gaffers have the opportunity to demonstrate their amazing artistry. During the daytime shows, they use clear glass and break the objects at the end of the show in order to recycle the glass; during the evening show, they use colored glass to make heirloom-quality works of art. These pieces are raffled off at “The Late Show” the next day.
Don’t spend all of your time at the hot glass shows. The museum has more to offer, from exhibits on the history of glassmaking, to demonstrations on fiber optics, to displays of art glass (the mini-mosaics are mind-boggling: they had almost as high of a “resolution” as a video screen on a cell phone). However, my favorite part of the museum were the classes (yes, classes). For a reasonable price, you can blow glass, making an ornament or a glass sculpture. You can also “pull” hot glass or do glass fusing or flameworking. Even a child who is just capable of placing stickers on a piece of glass can make a work of art through sandblasting. Two things to note: the classes fill up quickly, so you may wish to reserve a space online before you visit; also, anything made with hot glass needs to anneal, or cool slowly, overnight in order to increase its durability. These pieces can either be picked up after noon the next day or be shipped for an additional charge.
If you have extra time, go to the GlassMarket, which carries everything from pricey Steuben glass to allowance-friendly marbles and jewelry. Just be prepared for potential hunger pangs if you stay at the museum all day as we did: the cafeteria is pricey.
Was it educational? Yes, I even got an idea for this year’s science fair project. And, believe it or not, we all had fun. It turns out that there are exceptions to every rule. My mom will never let me live it down.
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