Glass: Deception and Perception

Any mention of the glass being half-full or half-empty never explores what happens when the glass shatters. From one solid piece to many, shattered glass can refract light in many ways, twisting (refracting?) the wavelengths to cause illusions. Its beauty is not without danger though. When you first walk into the Corning Museum of Glass, there is a bit of fear that surrounds the brightly-colored beauty of the glass and glass paraphernalia. Glass brings a bit of awe – fragile, yet strong, beautiful and sharp.

The Corning Museum of Glass is the largest collection in the world of contemporary art and design in glass. It was established in 1951 by the Corning Glass Works company which has been a home for technological innovation since the 1880s. Amory Houghton started the company in 1851 in Somerville, Massachusetts (#proudformerresident) and later his son, Amory Houghton, Jr. moved the company to Corning, NY where it took its current name. This tiny corner of upstate NY has been a beacon of innovation for almost 150 years. In 1880, Corning developed a bulb-shaped glass encasement for Thomas Edison’s new incandescent lamp and by 2004, Dr. George Beall, a scientist who had worked at Corning for more than four decades received his 100th patent, becoming the first Corning scientist to do this. Along the way, Corning has played a critical role in history – providing glass for the mirror of the Hubble Telescope and developing heat-resistnat windows for the Mercury spacecraft in the 1961.

The Corning Museum of Glass takes you through historical and contemporary glass-making. 35 centuries of glass-making starting with the Mesopotamia region and traveling across the world changing shape, form, technique.

The fascinating thing about glass is that it is so versatile. Many of the objects didn’t even seem like glass. Acid-etching can take the sheen off of glass, changing its appearance, and different chemicals and compositions can change its texture. And that is only the surface.

Often, when I go to museums, I spend plenty of time reading descriptions and trying to understand the author’s perspective, what they want from the piece, how it fits in the timeline. Like more and more museums nowadays, the Corning Museum of Glass used video to help articulate the artist’s process and perspective. It really made some pieces come to life like the mile-long rope piece. This was created by X who had lived in the KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa for eight years and created this piece to spur employment in the area and highlight the significance and need to work together in community with others. As the artist mentions, this isn’t a piece that could ever have been completed by oneself. The video shows the building process which really showed how complex and detail-oriented this process was and gave a face to many of the women who were involved in the process.

Another video also showed how the artist shaped the final piece through a series of trial and error. It definitely heightens the appreciation of the piece as well and makes you feel more connected to the process.

The museum also had a short glass-blowing demonstration every 45 minutes. The demonstration started with molten cullet (made of soda ash, silica, and limestone) that they shaped into a vase through reheating, a mechanical blower, and shaping. What was most interesting is that it seemed to be a rounded vase at first and then they took it out and spun it and it became a ridged open bowl. It was crazy! Did not expect it, but it was super cool.

Funny enough, this trip to the museum was incredibly spontaneous. I had planned to go on a hike but when I stepped out of the house, it was raining slightly. I’d been in the house all day, so I was pretty determined to get out. The Corning Glass Museum has been on my list for a while, so I went ahead and reserved a ticket. I naively thought it was only 30 minutes away, until I googled and saw it was twice that distance. But it was well- worth the drive.

The pandemic has kept me back from one of my favorite past times: museums and art galleries. Today, I remembered how much joy and excitement museums give me. For a few hours, you are transported to a special and specific world. Themed museums are my favorite. So much history, detail, skill, and story-telling for one niche topic. They often change my view of the world (i.e. that disability museum in Prague) and remind me of the beauty of life and the talent of humans throughout history. I always love to think about the expertise and creativity that has to go into creating these pieces.

In one video, a conservator describes his process of conserving pieces. He can take them from 100s of fragments back to a solid piece through painstaking analysis, solid technique, and special slow-drying glue. My first thought is who trains you to do that? What is the process to get there? How many others are there like you? Do you all know each other? Are you training the next generation? What type of incredible skill and vision must you have to reconstruct these fragments?

What I loved most about this museum was the detail embedded in every piece. The hand-engraved lines and the glass beads for sure! The glass beads are incredible in their size and how they’re used to create pieces as well as the detail and dexterity required.

But I was too scared to really buy any souvenirs. I know my life is too chaotic to manage glass in any way.

All in all, a day well-spent and my appreciation of human talent and creativity only grows.

Small photo dump

Theme met: Curiosity

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