Opening Pandora’s Box at the Corning Museum of Glass

I’m father of a teen and almost-teen girls; so yes, I’ve fallen prey to stumbling into a Pandora jewelry store.  “Please Dad, I just want to look! I’ll save up my own money and pay you back if you buy me a bracelet!”  When did a simple glass bead charm bracelet become so expensive?  Recently, the Corning Museum of Glass opened a new exhibit called Life on a String: 35 Centuries of the Glass Bead, and invited our family down to take a look.  So if my 12 & 15 year old girls enjoy browsing the cases inside the Pandora shop, then surely they’ll enjoy a museum exhibit on glass beads, right?  Right?  Yeah, that’s what I thought too – fortunately, the Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) is so much more than a stuffy museum filled with glass objects in cases – they also offer a variety of hands-on-workshops where you can make your own glass.  So was I opening Pandora’s Box when I signed my girls up to make their own glass beads?  Continue reading to find out.

Corning Museum of Glass

Make Your Own Glass Workshop

Here’s a family-travel tip from years of experience as a traveling child and parent – kids don’t like standing still and being quiet in museums.  Gasp!  Shocker!  It’s true, but CMOG has plenty of make your own glass workshops, none very expensive and available for all ages.  If you’re interested in working in the studio, reserve ahead because they can sell out.  We registered the girls to make their own beads, and thus “hooked” them to going to the museum.

Corning Museum of Glass

During their bead workshop, a glassmaker assisted them with the molten glass and 5000 degree torch (not a typo).  Our daughters (ages 12 and 15) heated a mandrel, added colored glass, and made their own bead design.  The entire process was very hands-on, and only took 30 minutes for both of them to create their beads.

Corning Museum of GlassCorning Museum of Glass

Once completed, the glass cooled overnight, and CMOG mailed the pieces to us at no additional charge – you might want to prep your kids ahead of time that they cannot take their glasswork home the same day.  Our girls had been through this before, knew the routine, and couldn’t wait for their finished work to arrive.

Corning Museum of Glass

The whole process was quick, efficient, and the girls loved it.  The assistants were very helpful and supportive, and made the process safe and enjoyable.

Life on a String Exhibit

After making their own glass beads, the entire family was primed to learn more about these miniature works of art at the Life on a String: 35 Centuries of the Glass Bead exhibit.  The temporary exhibit opened on May 18, and runs through January 5, 2014, and showcases nearly 200 different objects including ancient beads from Venice, Rome, Egypt, China, as well as elaborate beaded clothing items – traditional Native American and West African ceremonial wear mixed in with contemporary 1920’s Flapper dresses.

Corning Museum of GlassCorning Museum of Glass

The exhibit is a compact, manageable size, making it extremely family-friendly.  The four cases contained examples that illustrated how glass beads have been used for hundreds of years in ritual; ornamentation; displays of wealth and power; and facilitating trade and commerce.

Corning Museum of GlassCorning Museum of GlassCorning Museum of Glass

Since the girls had just created their own miniature masterpieces, they were intrigued to listen to the docent explain how some of the early Venetian chevron and millefiori beads displayed were produced.  The hands-on-workshop gave Maggie & Evie a deeper appreciation of how their own beads connected to the centuries old art in front of them.

Corning Museum of Glass

Live Beadmaking Demos

Throughout the day, are numerous demonstrations take place throughout CMOG including beadmaking flameworking demos.  A trained expert sets up in a studio booth, while an assistant explains the different types of beads from around the world (many of which we just saw in the Life on a String exhibit upstairs).

Corning Museum of GlassCorning Museum of Glass

In the 15 presentation, the artist heats up her mandrel (just like Maggie & Evie did earlier in the day) and melts and twirls colorful glass rods into the final bead form.  Everyone stood in rapt attention watching a master at work, and seeing the creation come to life before our eyes.

Corning Museum of Glass

Shopping

Like any good museum (or theme park attraction) no visit is complete without exiting through the gift shop.  CMOG has an amazing gift shop.  Of course, there’s a companion book to the exhibit Glass Beads: Selections from The Corning Museum of Glass, but you can also find handmade glass beads as well.  In addition, there is jewelry, ornaments, houseware pieces, and high end art glass pieces from well-known glassmakers like Dale Chihuly.  Our family will often drive down from Rochester during the holidays just to shop at the museum store for gifts (no joke, they have an incredible after-Christmas sale).  CMOG’s museum store is absolutely fantastic – in fact, our host for the day mentioned she cannot even walk through the store on her way to her office because she spends way too much money.

Corning Museum of Glass

Hot Glass Show

Finally, while this post focused on glass bead making and the Life on a String exhibit at CMOG, we would never visit the museum without seeing one of their signature “Hot Glass Shows.”  In the summertime, the museum is open later, and we were advised to stick around for the final Hot Glass Show of the day.  The “Late Show” is a little longer and can create bigger and more elaborate pieces.  The gaffer team on stage executed an exquisite dance producing the largest piece of glass we had ever seen right in front of our eyes.  We’re always mesmerized by the Hot Glass Show, every performance is different, you never know what will be created, and (because everyone in the audience gets a raffle ticket) you may even get to take a piece from one of the previous shows home with you.

Corning Museum of Glass

At the end of the day, we were able to create beads, learn about beads, shop for glass, and watch some extraordinary glass get made.  A fantastic day was spent at CMOG, and, while I’ve heard the girls ask about going back to CMOG to make more beads, I haven’t heard them ask to go to the Pandora Store.

DISCLOSURE: Our family was hosted by the Corning Museum of Glass and received complimentary admission and registration for the bead making workshop.  However, all opinions expressed are those of the author.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.