There are museums of art, museums of history, museums of technology, museums of science, museums for children: And then there are museums like the Corning Museum of Glass, which focuses on one seemingly commonplace material that touches on all of those categories.
In the process, it's one of the most visually-stunning museums I've ever seen.
The museum is located, by no coincidence, adjacent to a campus of Corning, Inc. office buildings, was created by what was then Corning Glass Works in 1951 as a gift to the public on its 100th anniversary. Over the years, it's added wings and galleries and collections that keep on growing.
Libyan Desert Glass, a natural glass found only in remote areas of the Sahara
Egyptian glass pieces, about 800 BC
The story it tells stretches over 35 centuries to specimens of some of the earliest known glass and forward into science and technology products being worked on now in Corning's laboratories, as well as such familiar items as Pyrex and Corelle.
Pyrex started out as labware, but once it got to the kitchen, there were sets for children, too.
As it turns out, almost none of those products we think of when we think Corning are made by the company any more.
Corning says that at the height of its popularity in the 1980s, 35% of America ate dinner on Corelle plates; the numbers for Pyrex use must be even higher.
But all the older products are still part of the history and of the museum, and they're all for sale in the museum's gift shop, which is said to be one of the largest museum shops anywhere.
Over the past thirty years, Corning has shed its consumer products and concentrated more and more on advanced technology, pushing frontiers in fiber optics, scientific instruments, and yes, the Gorilla Glass that keeps your phone from breaking. Mostly. I mean, my kids proved that Corelle wasn't shatterproof, either!
A periodic table, constructed in glass vessels
In the technology areas, there area also live exhibits of working in hot glass (the glass-blowing demonstrations are now done outdoors), with an opportunity not only to watch the incredible artistry and craftsmanship, but to ask questions and get answers from the demonstrators, as in the video below.
There's even an exhibit (almost unnoticed overhead) for car freaks: Corning makes windshields for many auto companies and was one of the developers of safety glass. Nearby, there's a key allowing you to check your guess about that windshield or the other... Below that, how glass disks used to be made by twirling hot glass!
On the art side, there is so much beautiful glass in the building that I can only touch on it here; there will be blogs later on the museum's collections of ancient glass, and its stunning exhibits of modern glass artistry. Part of the endowment allows the museum to commission new works to display.
Some art glass is functional, such as the lanterns and light fixtures above, and some is purely decorative, such as the two pieces below.
And a lot more fits both categories. When I started trying to make everything fit in some ordered scheme, I realized that glass defeats the concept—even the simplest and most 'useful' pieces are beautiful, although some may occasionally seem a bit 'over the top,' like this lamp from the Tiffany studio.
There's plenty to see; a half-day is not too much for the museum. There's even a whole wall devoted to several showcases of glass paperweights from all over the world!
And some more of my favorite pieces...