I had heard enough other bloggers talking about Corning Museum of Glass to know that it wasn’t a museum dedicated to Corning cookware. But I had no idea why a ticket to the museum would be valid for two days, or why it would be a good idea to take kids to a GLASS museum.
First of all, how interesting could glass be that it takes two days to see everything? Second, why would you take kids to a place filled with breakable objects, even if their ticket is free? So Hannah and I visited this summer when we were in the Finger Lakes region of New York to find out for ourselves if you should visit the Corning Museum of Glass with kids.
Wow, were we impressed. And yes, there is a lot to see and do. The visit started off with an “oooo” moment with a gorgeous Chiluly sculpture in the lobby. But the moment when I realized this wasn’t just a glass museum, but an art museum where the art is made of glass, is when we stepped into the Contemporary Art + Design wing.
Contemporary Art + Design Wing
The contemporary art gallery opened in 2015 and was inspired by the interior shape of a sculpture from the museum’s collection. The interior is all white with massive curvilinear concrete walls, bathed in a soft light from skylights and a wall of windows.
Each gallery is thematically organized around nature, body and abstraction, history and material, and contemporary design. And each installation was visually stunning and some were emotionally moving.
Throughout the gallery, you could utilize the museum’s mobile web app to learn more about each of the exhibits. One of my favorites was Continuous Mile by Liza Lou, which is composed of 4.5 million black glass beads that were woven together into a mile long rope that is coiled and stacked.
Another was Constellation by Kiki Smith, which features an entire room of 26 glass animal sculptures in star patterns on the floor. The most moving though was the one with glass knives hanging precipitously over a small village, representing the trauma that the artist survived growing up.
It was hard to move on from there, and even younger kids would be captivated by these large-scale, unique installations. But there was so much more to see and do.
Another highlight of the new Contemporary Art + Design wing is the 500-seat hot-glass live demonstration theater. They offer live demonstrations of glass blowing and sculpting throughout the day and you may just be lucky enough to win one of their creations at the end.
If you don’t catch a demo in the amphitheater, there are also hot glass demos in the Innovation Hot Shop and Courtyard Hot Shop during the busy season. It is fascinating to watch glass being blown, but even more fun to do it yourself.
At the Studio, you can participate in a number of glass-making projects. Some of the options include making a glass bead, ornament, flower, sculpture, frame, or paperweight. You need to be over 14 for some projects but options are available for kids four and up.
It is important to sign up for a time slot before your visit as they fill up early, especially if you have something special you want to make. You are given a 20-30 minute time slot and provided with all the safety equipment required (but closed-toe shoes would be recommended.) Projects range from $13 to $46 plus shipping. Since most of the projects need to cool overnight they can be picked up the next day or shipped straight to your home.
During the experience I think we were both so focused on following the instructions to work the glass that the session just flew by. The real wow moment came when we opened the box a few days later and got to boast about our hand-made creations. Pretty impressive for some novices I think. 🙂
Making glass isn’t the only way that the family can get hands on with glass. Kids will also love the glass breaking and flame working demos in the Innovation Center. This section of the museum is extremely hands on and more like a science museum then a glass museum…but then again, so much science goes into the development of glass.
Here you are introduced to the inventors that have brought us the innovations in glass technology and play around with some of those inventions. Kids can use a periscope, look through a glass floor, experiment with optical fiber, and be amazed by their own reflections in a flight simulator mirror.
Centuries of Glass
In contrast to the Contemporary Art + Design Wing, the original museum building houses Centuries of Glass. You can see the development of glass from ancient Egypt and Greece through modern times. It was fascinating how intricate and beautiful these ancient pieces of art are, considering what rudimentary technology was available at the time. To help make glass making techniques and history more accessible, the museum also staffs carts with volunteers to answer questions and host programs throughout the day.
There are also a series of changing exhibits. One of our favorites was of Blaschka marine invertebrates, created at the turn of the 20th century, by Leopold Blaschka and his son, Rudolf. They created these models of sea creatures to be studied and preserved. Crafted in Germany, these models were shipped to universities worldwide and Cornell University acquired its teaching collection in 1885. These tiny, delicate creatures are so intricate and lifelike that we can get a real sense for creatures that existed in our oceans over 100 years ago.
I’m not sure you need two full days to take in everything at the museum, but I would definitely dedicate the better part of a day, especially if you want to make something in the studio. And when you are done looking at all the beautiful glass on display, just step into the shops were you can find everything from $2.00 tiny glass animals to works of art worth thousands.
If you are visiting the Finger Lakes region of New York, the Corning Museum of Glass should be on your must-visit list. In fact, it gives a compelling reason to plan a getaway considering all the other things there are to do in the region.
- Where to eat: there are many places to shop and eat in downtown Corning, but two I’d highly recommend that are family friendly are:
- What to do nearby:
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Note: Our trip was hosted by Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes Tourism. We received free admission to the Corning Museum of Glass to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links, if you click and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission.