Flameworking: Learning to Make Glass at The Studio

Flameworking!
Flameworking!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about what I’ve been up to for the last few months at The Corning Museum of Glass. I’ve been working hard, but I’ve allowed a bit of time for fun, too. Each Tuesday night for the past ten weeks, I’ve gone back to the museum after hours to learn how to manipulate this magic material.

The Studio at The Corning Museum of Glass is one of the foremost glass schools in the world, welcoming countless students and glass artists each year. It’s a place where tradition is celebrated and passed down. Glass is an art form that can’t be learned from a book or by watching someone’s YouTube channel. Knowledge must be shared—teacher to student.

My beads!

My beads!

Different types of classes are available at The Studio all year round—including 40-minute “Make Your Own Glass” experiences, which give the public a taste for glassmaking. During the spring and fall, 10-week classes are offered, allowing people—typically locals—to get an in-depth introduction to their chosen glassmaking technique. (Weekend workshops are offered for those who want to learn a technique but may not live nearby).

Make Your Own Glass

Make Your Own Glass

I fell in love with flameworking the first time I sat at a torch more than a decade ago. This is a technique that involves melting glass rods over a 4,000° torch to create beads, small animals, etc. I took a 10-week flameworking class during my senior year of high school, learning to manipulate clear borosilicate glass. I enjoyed it so much, I took it again the same year, but this time, I focused on making small beads.

I haven’t done much with it since, as any type of glassmaking requires a very special set of resources, but this year, I decided to take the 10-week beadmaking class offered at The Studio. I wanted to focus on learning to make glass jewelry.

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Anyone who knows me is keenly aware of my painful indecision. Each week, I go into the flame shop and grab just about every color imaginable from the drawers of glass. It doesn’t help that I consult my good friend Pinterest before most of the classes. I always have lofty ambitions—I’m going to make gorgeous beads using techniques I haven’t even learned yet—and I’m going to do it all within the 3-hour class. So far, that hasn’t really worked out, although I have made some pretty awesome basic beads!

Generally with these types of classes, the instructor does a few demos, either at the beginning or throughout the class. Those are the techniques you’ll focus on that evening. It can be dots, flowers, shaped beads, or decorating with stringer (very thin strings of glass). You could make round beads, character beads, or spacer beads. There are so many options! As my teacher says, I’m a bit ADD when it comes to beadmaking.

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I’m finding now at the end of ten weeks, I need to go back to the basics. The instructor started the class by saying she could teach an entire ten-week (30-hour) class just on making basic dot beads. With something like glassmaking, it’s important not to rush. You need to learn the basics before you can expect to whip out beautiful, Pinterest-inspired creations.

But flameworking is an incredibly relaxing form of glassmaking. There’s something almost mesmerizing about working with this gentle—yet completely powerful—flame, melting and bending glass to your will. I’m looking forward to taking more classes and learning what this material has yet to teach me.

What to know if you go

Whether you’re looking to learn a specific glassmaking technique, or just get your feet wet, you’ll be able to do it at The Studio of The Corning Museum of Glass. Find out how inspiring glass can be during a Make Your Own Glass experience, or dive in with a weekend workshop, or a more intense course. A wide range of classes are available at The Studio throughout the year.

Places

The Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass, Museum Way, Corning, NY, United States
800.732.6845

The Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass, Museum Way, Corning, NY, United States
800.732.6845
http://www.cmog.org

New Space, New Inspiration: The Contemporary Art + Design Wing at The Corning Museum of Glass

View from above the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing. Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan and The Corning Museum of Glass.
View from above the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing. Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan and The Corning Museum of Glass.

I’ve been a little absent around here for the past couple of months, so I’m here to explain. This is a travel blog, and like most travel bloggers, I feel compelled to tell you about my favorite far-flung destinations, and encourage you to book a trip there, too. But often, we overlook the gems that are right in our own backyards.

As some of you know, my day job is pretty awesome—I do the PR for this incredible place called The Corning Museum of Glass—and we’ve had just a few things going on lately. On March 20, we opened the new $64 million, 100,000-square-foot Contemporary Art + Design Wing, a space that essentially doubles the size of the museum, and allows people now—more than ever before—to see and experience glass in a new light.

I knew my first post after my absence had to be about this new space—and it had to convey the grandeur of it all. This is the world’s largest glass museum—a major attraction that annually welcomes 440,000 visitors from 30+ countries to a town of 11,000 people in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York. Pretty impressive! I wanted my post to tell you how we just opened two new spaces that are the largest of their kind anywhere in the world: the largest space for the display of contemporary art and design in glass, and the largest space in which to watch a live hot glass demonstration. I wanted to let you know how truly special this place is to the art world, and to me personally. I’ve been involved with the museum in some way for the last decade, and it is one of my favorite spots on earth. I’ve tried to write this post several times, but somehow, my PR need to extol every virtue has made it practically impossible to keep the word count under control. (I’m notoriously long-winded, but surely I should be able to wrap this up in less than five single-spaced pages, right?)

So, instead of listing the impressive facts and figures related to this museum, and particularly this new space, I’m going to let some of the work I’ve been involved in tell that story. The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, and any number of CMoG blogs I’ve written do that justice, as well as this awesome special show, for which I received a credit I never thought I’d have to my name: executive producer! A HUGE thank you goes to this incredible local news team. What a fun project to be part of!

Now, I want to focus on a few reasons why I love the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing:

Contemporary glass is truly inspiring. This may come as a shock to you, but I am not a museum person. I want to be so badly, but alas, I am not. I go to any and all I come across on my travels, and I always find something to appreciate in them—mainly pieces of glass—but spending hours on end looking at paintings on walls just isn’t my thing. And typically, I loathe contemporary art. I just don’t understand it. I’m fairly artistic, and if I feel like I can make it, I don’t understand why it’s in a museum.

But glass has always been the exception for me. It is absolutely captivating. I love the fact that contemporary artists from varied backgrounds are so fascinated by this material that they want to see what they can do with it. They work with glass artists to realize their visions, and in doing so, are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in glassmaking. The new works on display are some of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen at any museum around the world. I can’t believe how lucky I am to get to see them and be inspired by them every day.

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I have a newfound love for architecture. Aside from the incredible glass this new wing holds, the building itself is an absolutely astounding work of art. With stark-white curvilinear walls and an entirely glass ceiling made up of 900+ skylights, the architecture in the space is unlike anything you’ll likely ever encounter in another museum. I don’t pretend to know the first thing about architecture, but after hosting so many amazing architecture journalists in the past few months, and seeing their excitement over the building, I’ve realized what a big buzz this Upstate NY museum has created in the architecture world. It’s all been extremely fascinating, and has made me even more proud of the building, and of the incredible team of people at the museum who said “yes” to such an ambitious design.

I especially love the contrast between the bright white galleries, where every detail is hidden in the walls, and the new all-black, highly industrial Amphitheater Hot Shop, where every nut, bolt, and screw is exposed. I heard it best described as a “child’s drawing of how you hold up a building.” That space used to house the blowing room or “hot end” of the Steuben Glass factory, a luxury glass brand that closed in 2011. The idea was to turn that space into the finest hot shop in the world, while preserving the integrity of the building where such fine glass was produced for more than 60 years—and they certainly succeeded.

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The Amphitheater Hot Shop is a place where dreams are realized. This place is my new favorite hang-out. Watching a glassmaking demonstration is completely awe-inspiring. I’ve seen hundreds of them during my time at the museum, and I could happily watch hundreds more and never grow tired of them. Glassmaking is an art form that can’t be learned from a book or YouTube, which is rare in this day and age. It’s a tradition that’s passed down from teacher to student—from one generation to the next. I’ve heard it described as a family tree that goes back to the very first Roman glassblower, some 2,000 years ago. They’re all connected by their deep love of the craft and passion for this dazzling material. It’s hard not to appreciate what’s going on in front of you as you sit there and watch a blob of molten glass come to life.

This new hot shop is one of the most capable spaces for glassmaking in the entire world. Practically anything you can image in glass can be made in there. Just in the month it’s been open, I’ve had the privilege of watching the best living glassmaker create enormous works, giant ants and bombs take shape—that was cool!—and glass and metal bond successfully for the first time ever. Even more than that, I’ve enjoyed watching the gaffers who work for the museum showcase their talents. I can’t even imagine what’s in store for that space as time goes on, but it’s going to be incredible.

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I could go on for days, detailing all the reasons I love this space. It’s been described as “transformational,” and I completely get that. I was one of the lucky few that got to see this space during construction and installation—which was inspiring in and of itself—but now seeing visitors enjoy it as much as I do is truly gratifying. Although I haven’t worked there long, and played a markedly small role in the project, I’ve never been part of anything that has inspired me more.

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If The Corning Museum of Glass wasn’t on your bucket list before, I hope it is now. Drop me a line if you’re ever in the area. I’d love to show you firsthand how amazing this place is!

What to know if you go

The Corning Museum of Glass is the world’s largest glass museum. There you can see glass, see glass being made, and make glass yourself. Browse 35 centuries of glassmaking history, be inspired by live glassmaking demonstrations, and then create your own piece of glass during a Make Your Own Glass experience. The museum is located in Finger Lakes Wine Country of Upstate New York, between 4 and 6 hours from many major cities in the Northeast, including NYC, Philadelphia, Boston, DC, Cleveland, and Toronto.

Places

The Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass, Museum Way, Corning, NY, United States
800.732.6845

The Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass, Museum Way, Corning, NY, United States
800.732.6845
www.cmog.org

Magical Gardens: Chihuly Garden and Glass

I have always had a special place in my heart for glass. I grew up in Corning—America’s Crystal City—and worked at The Corning Museum of Glass through high school and college (and coincidentally am now working there again!) Glass is a truly magical material. There’s so much beauty in its fragility. So much technique goes into the creation of every piece, yet so much happenstance went into the creation of glass itself. If you’ve ever seen someone blowing glass, you know how easy they make it look. If you’ve ever manipulated glass yourself, you know there’s nothing farther from the truth. That’s why I have a keen appreciation for glass, and am always thrilled to see a new exhibit.

Dale Chihuly is one of the greatest master glassblowers alive today. Even people outside the glass world have heard of him—or at least seen his work in the ceiling of Vegas’ Bellagio or on cruise ships. His work is easily identifiable; so whimsical in nature.

Kyle and I spent a few days in Seattle following our Alaskan cruise on our honeymoon, and I was beyond delighted to discover the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit situated conveniently beneath the Space Needle.

The Space Needle has been an integral part of Seattle’s skyline since the city played host to the World’s Fair in 1962. The structure is managed today by the Wright family, children of Howard S. Wright II who constructed it. Seattle Center needed to be reinvigorated, and the Wright family asked Northwest native Dale Chihuly to exhibit a collection of his work. Chihuly leapt at the opportunity, as he had always been a fan of the Space Needle. The exhibit opened in mid-2012, and consists of an exhibition hall, a garden installation, and a glasshouse.

We began our visit with a lunch stop at Collections Café, representing Chihuly’s other passion—amassing great collections of everything from accordions to old cameras.

We spent a great deal of time in the exhibition space. I was completely blown away by the bright colors and the shear enormity of some of the sculptures. I’d seen Chihuly’s work before, but never anything of that magnitude. One room was entirely filled with glass—it was like being in a mystical garden. Everywhere you looked, you could see small details you hadn’t noticed before. Seriously, you could spend all day in there and still be fascinated.

The adjacent room, however, was stark white—and completely empty. But the ceiling was filled with colorful objects, displacing the light so beautifully on the walls. That’s the thing I love about glass. It’s such a friend to light. Most museums are relatively dark—the light is very controlled so as not to harm the artwork. But glass and light share a kinship where one simply enhances the other. Seeing the way the colors danced on the walls was truly incredible—and it made you appreciate Chihuly’s genius even more.

Then it was on to the greenhouse, only this greenhouse was like none I’d ever seen. I’d heard about Chihuly’s glass gardens, but this—this was something truly incredible. So many fragile objects open to the elements, and all located beneath such an iconic structure in this great city. It was unbelievable to stare up through the glass sculpture on the ceiling of the greenhouse and see the Space Needle towering above us.

If you have any appreciation for glass—or even if you don’t—I highly recommend a visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass. I promise, you’ll never look at glass the same way again.

Here are some other amazing spaces in the exhibit:

What to know if you go

General admission: $21 for adults; Combo ticket with Space Needle: $39

Places

Chihuly Garden and Glass

305 Harrison St
Seattle, WA 98109
(206)753-4940

Chihuly Garden and Glass

305 Harrison St
Seattle, WA 98109
(206)753-4940
http://www.chihulygardenandglass.com
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