Even though our family has visited a ton of museums over the years, you might be surprised to know I’m not always a huge fan of them. Although I love learning about science, history, and art, information-heavy museums tend to overwhelm me and I suffer from MEGO (my eyes glaze over) syndrome.
But every so often we come across a truly exceptional place that leaves me completely fascinated–and that was our experience this month at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y.
Located in the small but bustling town of Corning, N.Y., the Corning Museum of Glass is a unique combination of history, science, and art all in one museum. The site expanded its state-of-the-art facilities in 2015 and now boasts one of the world’s largest spaces for glassblowing shows. Families will love that kids and teens get in free. Adult admission is $19.50, but tickets offer admission for two consecutive days. And this is one place you may want to spread your visit out over two days because there’s a lot to see and do, from art galleries and museum displays to live shows and hands-on experiences.
The history portion of the museum showcases 35 Centuries of Glass Galleries, starting with the advent of glass making 3,500 years ago and chronicling it through present day. The galleries offer glass examples from various periods and cultures. You could easily spend several hours in this area, reading every placard and admiring the many examples of beautiful glass. But with children it’s more likely you will read a sampling of the placards and hit the high points, which is what we did as the kids worked to complete a scavenger hunt booklet that the museum provides at the entrance to the gallery.
The Innovation Center was our family’s favorite spot while visiting Corning. From interactive displays to live demos that highlight the science behind glass making, this is where the action is! Kids will love the Glass Breaking Demo (see my insider tips below) as well as the opportunity to watch a glassmaker create glass sculptures over a flaming torch. And our whole family loved watching live demonstrations of glass making and blowing in the Innovation Hot Shop as well as the Amphitheater Hot Shop.
At Corning you will find two main art galleries displaying a wide variety of glass-related art: the Heineman Gallery and the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing. I wasn’t sure what our kiddos would think of the art gallery, but they were fascinated with the wide variety of sculptures and other creations.
Be a designer
Behind the admission counter is the “You Design It” studio. Here children and adults can draw a picture of something they’d like to see made into a glass sculpture and then turn the pictures in at the admission counter. Glassmakers at the Hot Glass Demo and Flameworking Demo will review all of the pictures and pick ones to make during their special “You Design It, We Make It” sessions. The museum will try to notify you before the session so you can be on hand to watch it being made. And then after the glass is properly annealed (or cooled) you can either pick it up or pay to have it shipped to you. Our son’s tiger design was picked and we were excited to be on hand to watch the designer make it. It was such a cool experience for our kids!
The two weekdays we visited the museum, we arrived at 9 a.m. when the doors first opened. We found that the first hour of the day was pretty quiet since bus groups hadn’t yet arrived, which made it easier to have front-row seats to the demonstrations. This also meant that our kids were the only ones on hand for the Glass Breaking Demo, so they were prime candidates to get picked as helpers. At the end of the demo, the helper receives a glass figure that was made at the Flameworking Demo booth.
Go to The Story of the Crystal City show
This show is different from the Hot Glass Demos in that it focuses on the history of the glass industry and how a little town in New York became known as the Crystal City. Although it might be less entertaining for young ones, older children and adults will enjoy watching glassmakers model how things like light bulbs and early molded glass were made before innovations in manufacturing changed the industry.
You might walk away a winner
At the Hot Glass Demo shows we attended, the designers ended the presentation by giving away at least one if not two pieces of glass sculpture that were created during a previous show. It’s a random selection, but you’ll increase your odds if you attend one of the lesser attended shows, such as the early morning or the late afternoon ones.
Do the “Make Your Own Glass”
For many people a visit to the Corning Museum of Glass wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the gift shop to bring home a beautiful glass souvenir. But the items created by local Corning glass artists come with a hefty price tag–they are original works of art after all. Which is why attending the Make Your Own Glass is really a cost-effective alternative. For between $13 and $32 per person, you can help make a special glass keepsake through either hot glassworking, flameworking, fusing, or sandblasting.
Children must be at least 4 years of age to participate, and some of the projects have additional age restrictions. These sessions also book up during busy seasons, so plan ahead to reserve your spot. To learn more, visit the Make Your Own Glass webpage.
Use your membership
The Corning Museum of Glass offers reciprocal benefits for members of Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Travel Passport Program, North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association, and the Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM). If you have a participating museum membership, be sure to see if it offers reciprocity at Corning.