Visits to Museums

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NSG Visit May 26, 2001

Enjoying the Glory of Glass

at the Corning Museum of Glass


Donovan A. Shilling

On May 26, 2001, New Society of the Genesee members assembled in the entrance lobby of the huge, recently remodeled Corning Museum of Glass. Among the members present were Barbara and Wayne Mahood from Geneseo and our newest members, Prudence and Roland Bentley from Painted Post. We were met by Frank Starr, Educational Coordinator for the museum, who during his brief orientation pointed out some of the major changes in the museum including raising the ceiling 19 feet so visitors can better view the "200 inch eye," long a focal point and major attraction of the museum. This display is the first massive block of glass cast to form a 200 inch diameter mirror for the Hale Telescope at California's Palomar Observatory. It was imperfect but a second casting was successful. Then months of painstaking grinding and polishing were done on the 17-ton blank to shape it for the telescope mirror before it was ready to be shipped west. As a measure of its fame, my dad said that Fairport school was let out to enable students to watch as a train slowly pulled a special car holding the colossal glass mirror along the rails crossing the village's main street.

The museum now holds more informational exhibits and contains more glass-filled showcases than can be assimilated in a single visit. There's the Glass Innovations Center, the Sculpture Gallery, the Art and History Gallery, the Modern Glass Gallery, the Nature of Glass Theatre and the Hot Glass Show. In the Glass Innovations Center, a variety of displays graphically illustrate the development of the technology needed to make window glass and bottles, and the manufacture of light bulbs and lenses. Here, too, is shown the history of borosilicate glass, synthetic fused silica, glass ceramics, glass fibers for insulation use, and optical fibers which make possible light-speed communication.

"35 Centuries of Glassmaking" is featured in five galleries through Roman, Islamic, Venetian, to European and Industrial Age glass. Roman glass pieces from the 3rd and 4th centuries held hunting, mythological and biblical scenes. Venetian glass-making is also well represented. Of special beauty were examples of 16th-century filigree glass from Murano. Termed "vetro a retoti," the pieces were internally striped with twisted fibers of white and colored glass.

We then entered a special exhibit area that held rare glass from the Islamic world—most of the glass in the exhibit was created in the areas of present day Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Syria. With the aid of security guard, Shafig Niaz, we learned more about this unusual collection. The highly decorated glass "Huqqa" (hooka) bases we saw were from 17th-century India, belonged to a royal family, and were part of communal smoking devices. In an adjoining case Shafig drew our attention to two ornately decorated "sprinklers" in the form of slender glass vases. These once held rose water, he explained. From the Cathedral of St. Stephens in Vienna, a Syrian "Pilgrim Flask" was displayed—the first time the holy object, dating to 1365, had ever been shown to the public. The gilded and enameled vessel was said to have once contained earth stained with the blood of the Innocents.

Nearby, some of our members discovered the museum's glass study center. Representational pieces formed a time-line of American glass development. Displayed were pressed glass (1825-1850), cut glass (1880-1920), as well as more recent glass from the depression era.

About this time, our survey of glass was suspended for a time as we arrived at a presentation given by Paul Stillman in the persona of Ben Franklin. Ben (Paul) was regaling a sizeable audience with his experiences with electricity, especially his encounter with a kite and lightning. We learned that he was the first to coin the terms terminal, positive and negative.

The Windows Cafe, on the museum's lower level, was our luncheon destination. The cafeteria style service allowed groups such as ours to readily choose their selections and easily find tables together in its spacious dining area. Following lunch we moved on to the Hot Glass Show. This major component of the museum experience takes place in a small and really warm auditorium. We watched, entranced, as a master glass blower took a formless blob of molten glass from a volcano-like oven and through forty minutes of intense twirling, reheating and blowing, created a "handkerchief bowl," a highly attractive piece of art glass. The entire process was explained in detail by two presenters, one in English, the other in Japanese.

Our final destination was CMOG Shops. That's the huge Corning Museum Glass Shop area. Patrons can purchase innumerable glass objects ranging from a glass "Ghost Chair" for $4500 and glass-headed golf putters at $300 to books on glass, glass jewelry, glass housewares, glass toys and glass scientific instruments, to even the highly-prized and loftily-priced Steuben Glass. There is also a new gallery featuring the work of Frederick Carder. On May 24th, two days before our visit, the Corning Museum of Glass celebrated its 50th birthday with a free open house in the evening.

© 2001, Donovan A. Shilling
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