The Corning Museum of Glass is a museum in Corning, New York dedicated to the art, history and science of glass. It was founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works and currently has a collection of more than 50,000 glass objects, some over 3,500 years old.
Founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) as a gift to the nation for the company’s 100th anniversary, the Corning Museum of Glass is a not-for-profit museum dedicated to telling the story of a single material: glass. Thomas S. Buechner, who would later become director of the Brooklyn Museum, was the founding director of the glass museum, serving in the post from 1951 to 1960 and again from 1973 to 1980.
Growth and renovations
The original Museum and library were housed in a low, glass-walled building designed by Harrison & Abramovitz in 1951. By 1978, the Museum had outgrown its space. Gunnar Birkerts designed a new addition, creating a flowing series of galleries with the library at their core, linked to the old building via light-filled, windowed ramps. With memories of the 1972 hurricane still fresh (see Flood Damage), the new galleries were raised high above the flood line on concrete pillars. The new Museum opened to the public on May 28, 1980, exactly 29 years after its first opening.
By the early 1990s, the Corning Museum of Glass was once more overflowing its exhibition space, and increasing visitation put a strain on guest facilities. In 1996, the Museum embarked upon the first phase of a planned five-year, $65 million transformation. Under the directorship of Dr. David Whitehouse, the first element to be added was The Studio. This state-of-the-art teaching facility for glassblowing and coldworking opened for classes in 1996.
Architects Smith-Miller + Hawkinson designed an addition to the main Museum building, using glass wherever possible to convey the beauty and elegance of the art form in the building itself. The Museum’s renovation was completed in 2001, and included a new visitors’ center, Sculpture Gallery, (now the Contemporary Glass Gallery), Hot Glass Show demonstration stage and a hands-on Innovation Center with exhibitions designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates. A redesigned 18,000-square-foot (1,700 m2) GlassMarket, one of the largest Museum shops in the country, filled the entire first floor of the museum. The Rakow Library was relocated to new quarters across the Museum campus.
Over the past decade, the Museum’s collection, programs, and global impact have grown significantly. At the beginning of 2012, the Museum announced a $64 million expansion project, designed by Thomas Phifer, to expand contemporary gallery and Hot Glass Show space. The new contemporary wing is slated to open in March 2015.
In June 1972, disaster struck as Hurricane Agnes emptied a week’s worth of rain into the surrounding Chemung River Valley. On June 23, the Chemung River overflowed its banks and poured five feet four inches of floodwater into the Museum. When the waters receded, staff members found glass objects tumbled in their cases and crusted with mud, the library’s books swollen with water. The case holding 600 rare books tipped over, and the books were covered by mud and shards of glass panes. Half of the entire Library collection was damaged in the flood. According to Martin and Edwards, 528 of the Museum’s 13,000 objects had sustained damage (1977, 11) At the time, Buechner described the flood as “possibly the greatest single catastrophe borne by an American museum.” Conservation was an immediate concern and staff moved quickly to freeze the flooded materials. Museum staff members, under the directorship of Robert H. Brill were faced with the tremendous task of restoration: every glass object had to be meticulously cleaned and restored, while the library’s contents had to be cleaned and dried page by page, slide by slide, even before being assessed for rebinding, restoration, or replacement.
During the extensive recovery efforts, the Library occupied an abandoned Acme grocery store across the street from the Museum. Altogether, staff and volunteers dried, cleaned, and restored over 7,000 water-logged, frozen books over the next 2 years. The rare books were sent to Carolyn Horton, a leading restoration expert, who disassembled, washed, deacidified and rebound them. On August 1, 1972, the Museum reopened with restoration work still underway.
The Glass Collection
The Museum’s Glass Collection showcases more than 35 centuries of glass artistry. See a glass portrait of an Egyptian pharaoh, examples of the finest Renaissance Venetian glass, works by today’s contemporary artists – and everything in between. In our hands-on Glass Innovation Center, you can explore world-changing discoveries in glass and learn about the inventors who made these discoveries possible.
The Museum’s Glass Collection showcases more than 35 centuries of glass artistry. The Museum’s collection of contemporary artworks includes pieces by significant artists such as Klaus Moje, Karen LaMonte, Bruno Pedrosa, Dale Chihuly, Libenský / Brychtová and Josiah McElheny. The Glass Collection Galleries show the most comprehensive and celebrated glass collection in the world. The galleries explore Near Eastern, Asian, European, and American glass and glassmaking from antiquity through present day. They tell the story of glass creation, from a full-scale model of an Egyptian furnace, to the grand factories of Europe, to the small-scale furnaces that fueled the Studio Glass movement that began in America in 1962. The galleries contain objects representing every country and historical period in which glassmaking has been practiced. The galleries include: Glass in Nature, Origins of Glassmaking, Glass of the Romans, Glass in the Islamic World, Early Northern European Glass, The Rise of Venetian Glassmaking, Glass in 17th-19th Century Europe, 19th Century European Glass, Asian Glass, Glass in America, Corning: From Farm Town to “Crystal City,” Paperweights of the World and Modern Glass.
In addition to these galleries, there is the Jerome and Lucille Strauss Study Gallery, Frederick Carder Gallery and Ben W. Heineman Sr. Gallery of Contemporary Glass. The Study Gallery is filled with a wide range of objects from all periods. The gallery is named after Museum benefactors Jerome and Lucille Strauss, who, by gift and bequest, provided the Museum with an unparalleled collection of 2,400 drinking glasses dating from ancient to modern times. The Frederick Carder Gallery features an extensive collection of glass designed by Frederick Carder (1863–1963), a gifted English designer who managed Steuben Glass Works from its founding in 1903 until 1932. During this time, the production of Steuben changed from various types of colored glass to colorless glass.
The Museum’s gallery of contemporary glass focuses on vessels, objects, sculptures, and installations made by international artists over the last 25 years. The purpose of the gallery is to show the different ways in which glass is used as a medium for contemporary art. The gallery is named for the Ben W. Heineman Sr. family, who donated a major collection of contemporary glass to the Museum in 2005.
35 Centuries of Glass Galleries
The 35 Centuries of Glass Galleries show the most comprehensive and celebrated glass collection in the world. The galleries explore Near Eastern, Asian, European, and American glass and glassmaking from antiquity through present day. They tell the story of glass creation, from a full-scale model of an Egyptian furnace to the grand factories of Europe, and, then America, and finally, to the small-scale furnaces that fueled the Studio Glass movement that began in America in 1962. The galleries contain objects representing every country and historical period in which glassmaking has been practiced.
The story of glass began more than 3,500 years ago and the galleries document the triumphs of glassmaking history. Several galleries feature a tableau that further illustrates how the objects were found, created, or sold.
Contemporary Glass Gallery
The 26,000-square-foot contemporary gallery is part of the Contemporary Art + Design Wing, designed by architect Thomas Phifer and Partners, and opened in 2015. The contemporary galleries in the new wing are the world’s largest space dedicated to the display of contemporary art and design in glass. The gallery features a sophisticated light-filtering system using diffusing roof skylights, which provide most of the lighting required to view the art.
The contemporary gallery features more than 70 works from the Museum’s permanent collection, including recent acquisitions and large-scale works that have never before been on view.
Thematically curated galleries highlight objects that refer to nature, the body, history, and material. Artists represented by large-scale works include Nancy Bowen, Nicole Chesney, Tony Cragg, Alessandro Diaz de Santillana, Ann Gardner, Katherine Gray, Jun Kaneko, Marian Karel, Marta Klonowska, Karen LaMonte, Silvia Levenson, Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová, Beth Lipman, Liza Lou, Flora Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick, Ivan Mareš, Josiah McElheny, Klaus Moje, Debora Moore, Stacey Neff, Javier Pérez, Susan Plum, Anne and Patrick Poirier, Michael Rogers, Michael Scheiner, Lino Tagliapietra, Ann Wolff, and Cerith Wyn Evans.
The Contemporary Design Gallery is devoted to international design from the past 25 years and features a range of functional glass vessels, furniture, lighting, and design art. Highlights include the Etruscan Chair by Danny Lane (1992), Coffee Pot (2011) by Studio Job and Triscosta Cabinet (2013) by Christophe Côme, as well as lighting that is both design and art by Tejo Remy and René Veenhuizen, Maria Grazia Rosin, and Dan Dailey.
The Porch, the display area around the themed galleries which overlooks the Museum’s one-acre green, displays a selection of large-scale artworks, including Soma (2008) by Richard Whiteley and Circular Object One (2003), by Daniel Clayman, which reference light, and The White Necklace (2007), a strand of gigantic beads by Jean-Michel Othoniel. From the Porch, access the galleries at several points, or rest and connect with the outdoors through the 150 foot-long window that opens onto the Museum’s green and view of one of the original buildings of the Corning Incorporated complex that was built in 1951 and designed by New York architects Harrison & Abramowitz.
Frederick Carder Gallery
Adjacent to The Studio, the Frederick Carder Gallery features an extensive collection of glass designed by Frederick Carder (1863–1963), a gifted English designer and craftsman. Steuben’s evolution as a luxury brand began in 1903, when the company was founded by Thomas G. Hawkes, owner of the most preeminent glass cutting firm in Corning, New York. For the firm’s first 30 years, Frederick Carder directed the artistic and technical innovations, introducing hundreds of colors—including the lustrous Aurenes, bubbling Cintra, and rare Rouge Flambé—and supplying blanks for Corning-area cutting firms.
Steuben, which was acquired by Corning Glass Works in 1918, underwent a dramatic reorganization in 1933. Production shifted entirely to a highly refractive optical glass designed by a wide range of international artists and made in the Corning factory. For much of the 20th century, Steuben glass was the gift of choice for weddings, retirements, and state visits. This glass was displayed at the company’s New York City flagship store, and Steuben pioneered innovative marketing strategies that still define luxury branding today.
The Carder Gallery highlights Frederick Carder’s distinguished career in glassmaking from 1880 to the 1950s. The Gallery displays his early pieces made at the English firm of Stevens & Williams, many of the objects he designed, as well as individual pieces he created in his retirement from Steuben.
Some of the pieces in the Carder Gallery belong to The Corning Museum of Glass, but the majority are on loan to the Museum from the nearby Rockwell Museum. Robert Rockwell, a Corning businessman and the founder of the Rockwell Museum, was a friend of Carder’s and a dedicated collector of all types of Carder’s Steuben glass. The gallery includes thousands of objects, and it shows every type of Steuben glass that Carder created.
The Study Gallery is filled with a wide range of objects representing 3,500 years of glassmaking. The gallery is named after Museum benefactors Jerome and Lucille Strauss, who, by gift and bequest, provided the Museum with an unparalleled collection of 2,400 drinking glasses dating from ancient to modern times. The Study Gallery serves two purposes: It houses many of the objects for which there is no room in the principal galleries, and it serves as an open storage area. It is designed so that students and collectors can examine many examples of the types of glass in which they are interested. More than 6,000 objects are arranged by subject area—ancient, American, European, Asian, and modern—and by place of origin. Additional cases feature stories of glass conservation, including climate-controlled cases dedicated to our most unstable glasses.
Heineman gallery of contemporary glass
The Museum’s Heineman gallery of contemporary glass focuses on vessels, objects, and sculptures made by international artists from 1975 to 2000, a period of 25 years that changed glass. The purpose of the gallery is to show the different ways in which glass is used in art, craft, and design. The gallery is named for the Heineman family, who donated a major collection of contemporary studio glass to the Museum in 2005, which has been integrated into the Museum’s holdings.
In this gallery, larger-scale sculpture is complemented by small-scale objects and functional and nonfunctional vessels in a variety of glassworking techniques, including blowing, casting, kiln forming, flameworking, laminating, stained glass, beading, and assemblage. The gallery features unique objects, rather than limited-edition or mass-produced products. All of the artists and designers represented in the gallery have advanced new glassmaking techniques, have developed new concepts for the material, or have somehow changed how we understand glass.
The shifting boundaries between contemporary craft, design, and art are reflected in the diverse works on display. While art and craft are rooted in the same source—the process of making—there are key differences. In the most general sense, craft emphasizes exemplary technique, function, and the individuality of the object, while design focuses on function, form, and reproducibility. Art is traditionally nonfunctional and expresses content or commentary that is meant to stimulate thought, present ideas, evoke memories, or inspire emotion.
Artists and designers represented may include the following. Because of ongoing gallery changes, works by these individuals may not always be on view.
The Corning Museum of Glass offers exhibitions year-round. Past exhibitions have included: Medieval Glass for Popes, Princes and Peasants, East Meets West: Cross-Cultural Influences in Glassmaking in the 18th and 19th Centuries and Mirror to Discovery: The 200-Inch Disk and the Hale Reflecting Telescope at Palomar. Several special exhibitions are offered at the Museum and the Rakow Research Library each year, from shows focused on specific artists to major exhibitions on important topics in glass and glass history.
In the Glass Innovation Center, visitors can meet the inventors whose ideas changed the world. At the Innovation Center guests have the opportunity to dabble with glass chemistry, experience the power of optical fiber and see themselves in the strange reflection of a flight simulator mirror. The Innovation Center galleries currently on display include the Optics Gallery, Vessels Gallery and Windows Gallery. A 300-foot bridge connects three floating pavilions.
The Rakow Commission
Inaugurated in 1986 by The Corning Museum of Glass, the Rakow Commission supports the development of new works of art in glass. This program, which provides $25,000 each year, is made possible through the generosity of the late Dr. and Mrs. Leonard S. Rakow, who were Museum Fellows, friends, and benefactors of the Museum. Each commissioned work is added to the Museum’s collection and is displayed publicly for the first time during the annual Seminar.
Guests can watch live glassmaking, or learn to make glass at the Museum. The live glassmaking demonstrations are major visitor attractions. Demonstrations happen live in Corning every day, as well as on three Celebrity cruise ships.
The Museum offers several live glassmaking demonstrations that allow visitors to get a better understanding of both the art and science of glassmaking.
Hot Glass Show
The Hot Glass Show is a demonstration where one of the museum’s glass blowers provides a live glass blowing demonstration, which is also narrated by another of the glass blowers. The Hot Glass Show is performed at the Museum, on the road, and at sea on three Celebrity Cruise ships.
At the Museum
At the Museum, the Hot Glass Show is offered all day, every day and is included in the cost of admission. At each demonstration, the glassmaker takes a glob of molten glass and shapes the globs into vases, bowls, or sculptures. Throughout the demonstration, a narrator describes the process, and cameras give viewers a close-up look into the furnaces where the glass is heated. The show gives viewers a look into an ancient Roman technique that is still used today for glass making. Each show lasts between 20–40 minutes.
Hot Glass Roadshow
The Museum takes the Hot Glass Show on the road, bringing the unique demonstration to the public, designers, and other museums. The Museum uses unique equipment in order to recreate the state-of-the-art studio environment. The Hot Glass Roadshow travels internationally.
The demonstration is also presented on Celebrity cruise ships, such as Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Equinox, and Celebrity Eclipse. Each cruise ship has a hotshop on the top deck where the Museum’s glassmakers present their live glassmaking demonstrations. The demos reach more than 300,000 people each year, and the ships visit ports around the world.
The demo is a live, 15-minute narrated demonstration of glassworking at a 5,000 degree Fahrenheit gas- and oxygen-powered torch. The show is also included in the cost of admission, and is offered throughout the day in the Museum’s Glass Innovation Center. During the show, the glassmaker melts rods and tubes of glass to shape them into a variety of shapes from animals, beads, ornaments, sculptures and vessels. The flameworking technique is an ancient glass making technique, which is demonstrated at the Museum.
Optical Fiber Demo
The Optical Fiber Demo explains how thin threads of glass can carry enormous amounts of digital information and power our high-speed information age. The demo lasts about 15 minutes, is offered every day, and is included in the cost of admission. The demonstration takes place in the museum’s Glass Innovation Center. Demonstrators show how light can be used for communication, how glass can accurately carry light signals, what glass composition will carry light signals most clearly, and how optical fiber provides us with the massive amounts of bandwidth necessary for today’s world. The presentation begins with a discussion of how man has been using light to communicate for centuries. It continues with a demonstration of total internal reflection – the basic principle behind optical fiber. In the mid-1800s, Daniel Colladon, a Swiss scientist, explained how total internal reflection allowed light to be directed along a very specific path with lively visible demonstrations that showed light following the path of a stream of falling water. Total internal reflection traps the light in the stream, and traps it the same way in a glass fiber.
The demonstration is a 15-minute demo that explores how glass breaks and why. Demonstrators show how glass can become stronger or weaker depending on how it is heated or cooled; demonstrators explain how this phenomenon affects the way it breaks. The demonstration takes place in the Windows Gallery of the Museum’s Innovation Center and the demo is included in the cost of admission.
The Studio of The Corning Museum of Glass is an internationally renowned teaching facility offering a variety of classes and workshops for new and experienced glassworkers and artists. The Studio offers an Artist-in-Residence program that brings artists from around the world to Corning. Classes are held throughout the year and are taught by both American and international instructors. Methods taught include glassblowing, flameworking, kiln casting, hot sculpting, engraving, cold working, fusing, gilding, sandblasting and more. Students of The Studio benefit from using the immense resources of the world’s leading glass museum, and the Rakow Research Library. The Studio also offers half-hour Make Your Own Glass workshops for Museum visitors, as well as group glassmaking experiences. Both include activities appropriate for children as young as three years old.
GlassLab is the design program at the Corning Museum of Glass. GlassLab’s focus on material and process aims to help designers and artists realize new forms, functions and meanings for glass. The program is by invitation only and provides designers with rare access to explore concepts in glass. GlassLab designers come from various disciplines, such as product, graphic, and fashion design. In public “design performances” or private workshops, designers and glassmakers collaborate, rapidly prototyping design concepts and using the immediacy of hot glass as a catalyst for innovation.
The Corning Museum of Glass actively researches, publishes, and provides lectures about a broad range of glass topics. The museum hosts The Rakow Research Library, which houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of materials on the art and history of glass and glassmaking (and is open to the public).
Rakow Research Library
The Rakow Research Library, founded as part of The Corning Museum of Glass in 1951, is a public institution that houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of materials on the art and history of glass and glassmaking. The Library Collection ranges from medieval manuscripts to original works of art on paper to the latest information on techniques used by studio artists. More than 130 archives contain unique material from individual artists, galleries, companies, scholars, and organizations. The Library also presents exhibitions featuring rare items from its collection. In 1985, the Museum library was renamed the Leonard S. and Juliette K. Rakow Library in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Rakow, who gave generously to the library as well as bequeathing part of their glass collection to the Museum and endowing research grants and commissions. The collection does not circulate. However, the Library is a member of the Online Computer Library Center, Inc. (OCLC), an international bibliographic service, and microfiche copies of books on glass and photocopies of periodical articles can be borrowed through interlibrary loan.
Not only does the Museum have an extensive library, but the Museum provides online resources such as “All About Glass,” which provides full-text articles, virtual books and videos about glass.
Rakow Grant for Glass Research
The Corning Museum of Glass sponsors the Rakow Grant for Glass Research, which makes available one or more annual awards totaling up to $10,000. The program is made possible through the generosity of the late Dr. and Mrs. Leonard S. Rakow, who were fellows, friends, and benefactors of the Museum. The purpose of this grant is to foster scholarly research in the history of glass and glassmaking.
Since 1960, the Scientific Research Department of The Corning Museum of Glass has pioneered the application of numerous scientific techniques to the examination of historical glass artifacts and to the study of the history of glassmaking. Some of this research has focused on the Museum’s collections, but most of it has been conducted in collaboration with archaeologists and scientists from all over the world. The findings of this research have been shared in more than 190 publications on the archaeology, chemistry, and conservation of glass. Many of these publications are now out-of-print or originally appeared in sources that are no longer readily accessible.
The Museum’s searchable database brings this scholarship to the attention of scholars and scientists who might not otherwise be aware of it. Approximately one-quarter of the content is accessible in full-text format. Publications not available in full-text may be accessed through the Museum’s Rakow Research Library.