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This Small Town Is the Glassblowing Hub of the United States

By Kathleen Rellihan

09.10.19

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The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) in central New York holds a comprehensive collection that consists of 50,000 glass pieces. 

Courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) in central New York holds a comprehensive collection that consists of 50,000 glass pieces. 

If Netflix’s new glassmaking competition series “Blown Away” left you feeling inspired, head to this surprising hot spot for glassblowing and learn how to make your own masterpiece.

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When Blown Away debuted its first season on Netflix this summer, the craft competition reality show brought the ancient art of glassblowing to the global stage. Think of it as the Project Runway of glassmaking; instead of creating fashions using sewing machines, the show’s contestants handle furnaces that heat up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit to transform molten sand into liquid glass.

The binge-worthy series spotlights 10 artists as they compete in glassblowing challenges for the chance to win a $60,000 prize and an esteemed artist’s residency at the Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG)—the world’s largest museum devoted to glass. Located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, the Corning institution holds a comprehensive glass collection that consists of 50,000 pieces spanning 3,500 years of the craft. It also houses one of the top glassmaking schools in the world.

The museum played an integral role in the Netflix show, acting as a consulting partner throughout the entire series from concept to fruition. Glassmakers from the museum’s Hot Glass Demo Team assisted show finalists with their ultimate installations, and CMoG’s senior manager of hot glass programs served as the guest judge on the finale. 

Glassmaking has long been central to the town of Corning’s cultural character, so if the show has inspired you to give glassblowing a try, head there and learn to make your own masterpiece.

The glass museum in Corning—located midway between New York City and Niagara Falls—is one of New York State’s top tourist attractions.

A deep connection to the art of glassmaking

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Corning holds a history of over 150 years of glassmakingDubbed “Crystal City,” this New York town is where fiber optics, Gorilla Glass, CorningWare, Pyrex, and other important glass innovations such as space shuttle windows were invented after Corning Glass Works (a technology company specializing in glass and ceramics production) relocated from its initial home in Brooklyn in 1868.

Corning’s historic Gaffer District is named in homage to a gaffer, or master glassblower. The downtown area is lined with glass art galleries, shops, and studios. (It’s also home to the Rockwell Museum: a Smithsonian-affiliate museum worth a peek for its three floors of American art, including a collection from glass artist Frederick Carder, the founder of the Steuben Glass Works.)

A 10-minute walk from the Gaffer District, the CMoG is one of the top attractions in all of New York State, with nearly 500,000 recorded visitors each year. Glass creations on display at the Corning museum include a solar-powered blue butterfly chandelier, a mile-long sculpture composed of over 4.5 million glass beads, and a nearly 10-foot-tall forest made from recycled drinking glasses.

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Through July 1, 2020, a special exhibit at the museum titled Blown Away: Glassblowing Comes to Netflix delves into CMoG’s involvement in the first-ever glassblowing competition series, displaying a collection of glass pieces made by each contestant on the show. Another exhibit titled New Glass Now explores how glass is used to create contemporary innovations through 100 objects made by global artists, designers, and architects. On display through January 5, 2020, the exhibition includes a glass artwork made by the winner of Blown Away.

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This fall, CMoG will host the first-ever Blown Away Residency,” which was part of the award granted to the Netflix show’s winning contestant after receiving the title of “Best in Blow.” From October 1 to 6, 2019, and October 14 to 18, 2019, the show’s last-standing contestant—Deborah Czeresko, a 30-year veteran glassmaker based in New York—will participate in live glassmaking demonstrations in CMoG’s Amphitheater Hot Shop. (The museum will also host a live stream of one demonstration on October 15 from 2 to 4 p.m. [EST] so people can watch from anywhere in the world.) You can see Czeresko’s Venetian glass taco holders, which the finalist described as “fit to sit on Beyoncé’s table” during an episode of the Netflix installment, on display in the museum’s exhibit dedicated to the competition series. A meat chandelier that Czeresko made from glass—a humorous but pointed nod to working in a male-dominated field—will also be on view as part of the New Glass Now exhibit through the start of next year.  

Show winner Deborah Czeresko—a 30-year veteran glassmaker based in New York—was awarded the “Blown Away Residency” at CMoG.

Make your own glass masterpiece

Whether you’re a budding glassblower or simply a newly Netflix-inspired glass enthusiast, you can do more than ogle the glass creations at CMoG—you can also learn to make your own masterpiece. (With no chance of being eliminated, at that.)

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The museum offers daily 20- to 40-minute “make your own glass” classes where participants can learn the necessary skills—from flameworking to fusing to sandblasting—to create their own glass pieces, no prior experience required. For more advanced techniques, CMoG’s Studio offers a range of glassmaking classes for all skill levels with expert-taught courses on glassblowing, flameworking, stained glass, and more. (There’s even a two-day workshop that melds glassblowing and yoga.) Courses span in length from one-day only to weekend, week, or 10-week recurring sessions. “Make your own glass” workshops range from $13 to $48, and the more advanced classes range from $140 to $850—but all of them tend to sell out quickly, so register online in advance.

A new life for an ancient artform

As a first-of-its-kind Netflix show, Blown Away allowed the age-old art of glassmaking to reach new audiences around the world, bringing not only an awareness but also an appreciation for a niche artform that’s been around since the Roman Empire. 

“[Glassblowing] is an intense practice: difficult, sometimes dramatic, and beautiful,” says Eric Meek, CMoG’s senior manager of hot glass programs and the final Blown Away guest judge, in regard to the craft he dedicates his life to.

Netflix’s competition show steers away from the manufactured drama that’s typically seen on reality TV, but Blown Away proves that glassmaking is inherently mesmerizing to watch: One minute the glass is piping lava-hot; the next it’s fragile and broken. Maybe the artform is not exactly mainstream, but if the show’s popularity with viewers is any indication, fascination surrounding the mastery behind glassblowing is catching on like fire. 

The Corning Museum of Glass is located in Corning, New York, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region—the midway point between New York City and Niagara Falls. The museum is open daily, year-round. Admission ranges from $10 to $20 for adults; no charge for children and teens, 17 and under.

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