Thursday, August 5, 2021

Exploring Corning's Downtown Museums


A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take a trip to Corning, New York, to check out the Rockwell Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass. Corning is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York and is known as the Crystal City. We visited the area years ago and never quite made it to the Rockwell. I recall being impressed by the Richardsonian Romanesque building featuring a buffalo stampeeding its way out of an upper floor window and vowed to return to see what it was all about at a future date. 

The future date came later than I thought--14 years to be exact.

On this trip, I learned that Corning has made great strides promoting the downtown area, which is now known as the "gaffer district." For those unfamiliar with the term, a "gaffer" is a glass-blowing artist. The "gaffer district" is about six blocks long and home to approximately 250 businesses, where visitors can shop, dine and and stay.

Visiting the Rockwell

When most of us think of Rockwell, we envision the famous old artist puffing on a pipe and painting such iconic scenes as "Freedom from Want," where the matriarch of the family presents a turkey to a group of smiling faces gathering around a holiday table, but don't confuse the two.  Robert F. Rockwell, Jr., born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, is the man for whom the Corning museum is named. He moved to Corning in 1933 to run his grandfather's department store. Approximately 25 years later, he bought his first Western painting and was subsequently hooked, or perhaps I should say 'lassoed.' For the next 25 years, he amassed paintings, sculptures, drawings and Native American artifacts, showcasing them at his department store on Market Street in Corning.

When we visited, Marketing Manager Willa Rose Vogal explained to us that the museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate. "In 2015, the Rockwell Museum earned the prestigious designation and is now the only Upstate New York conduit to the Smithsonian and its many resources," she said. 

Guests who visit will first encounter a timeline detailing how Rockwell's pieces went from being a decorative backdrop in his department store, to being moved to the Baron Steuben Hotel in 1976, thanks to his friendship with Frederick Carder, founder of Steuben Glass Warks. The collection was moved one last time to Corning's former City Hall (now the Rockwell Museum), thanks to Corning Glass Works, which funded the interior and exterior renovation costs of the old building, which dates back to 1893.

A Remington adds a dramatic backdrop to the jewelry department at the department store on Market Street, which the Rockwells owned.

The collection spans three floors, with a mix of nineteenth-century American paintings, historic bronzes, Native American artifacts, contemporary native art, art by twentieth-century modernists, illustration art and contemporary photography. 

Bronze, by Cyrus Edwin Dallin, titled, 'On the Warpath,' dates back to 1914

The striking painting below evokes the fury and power of the hunters and the hunted. The oil on canvas is titled "Buffalo Hunt," painted by William Robinson Leigh and dates back to 1947.

Buffalo Hunt, by William Robinson Leigh.

Rockwell was particularly fond of Remingtons. The one pictured below is titled, "The Rattlesnake." Take note of the small rattlesnake in the statue and the subsequent tumult that ensues. (Those who are Remington fans may want to take note that there is another impressive collection of Remingtons located in Sharon, Pennsylvania at a country inn called Tara.)

The Rattlesnake, by Frederic Remington

The Rockwell also is home to more contemporary exhibits like the one below called, "Blanket Stories, by Marie Watt, 2017. Watt's blanket column series explores the universal human connection to textiles and each one has a story. To read their stories, visit this link.

Every blanket has a story. 

Among the native American collection is this interesting and aged, yet well preserved, cradleboard on which infants were swaddled. This one dates back to 1865.

1865 Cradleboard.
The Rockwell Museum is also active in the community. Children can visit activity stations in the nearby Kids Rockwell Art Lab which makes art collection accessible to kids and is meant to inspire an appreciation for art at a young age. A lovely terrace with an attractive view is also available for public events.

The terrace of The Rockwell Museum.

The Rockwell is also participating in the Alley Art Project, an educational mural program established in 2008 to connect local high school students to The Rockwell and the community at large. Students create murals for credits and community service hours towards their high school diploma. They are supervised by Rockwell educators and artists as they learn about art, history and design. Visitors of the museum can pick up an "Alley Art Project Scavenger Hunt" brochure to learn where to find the art, while, at the same time, learning a little more about the Corning area.

The Rockwell Museum is located at 111 Cedar Street, Corning, NY. Tickets are currently $11.50 for adults, $10.50 for AAA, Military and 62 and older and $5.50 for students. Teens 17 and under can visit for free.

The Corning Museum of Glass

Not far from the Rockwell Museum is the Corning Museum of Glass and visitors can ride a shuttle between the two. A combined ticket to both museums is also available at a discount. 

The Corning Museum of Glass was founded in 1951 by Corning Glass works as a gift to the nation on the company's 100th anniversary. By 1978, the museum had outgrown its space. This occurred again in the 1990s and by 1996 plans were underway to complete a $65 million renovation to include a new visitors' center, a Contemporary Glass Gallery, a Hot Glass Show demonstration stage and a hands-on Innovation Center, along with an 18,000-square-foot Glassmarket, noted for being the largest museum shop in the country.

Since we visited in 2007, the museum has expanded yet one more time. In the beginning of 2012, it was announced that the museum would undergo yet another expansion project, this time for $64 million.
One of the first halls visitors encounter after checking in.

The Corning Museum prides itself on showcasing 35 centuries of glass artistry, with pieces by Dale Chihuly, Klaus Moje, Karen LaMonte and more, with galleries representing Near Eastern, Asian, European and American glass making, from antiquity to the present day.

I'll be sharing the odd, the interesting and the beautiful here, like this piece that caught my eye first. Created by Vanessa German in 1976, this is called, "The Walker: for how to honor the price of compassion--how not to die of lies." That's quite a title. The sculpture is made of found wood, cloth, doll parts, a tattered quilt, blown glass and many other things that the artist found useful in her journey to showcase her talents in what she describes as "a power and a healing."
The Walker, 1976

Not far from "The Walker," was a wall of humble drinking glasses, which turned into a copse of trees when viewed from a short distance.

Fruit is always a favorite subject of artists, so it stands to reason that the Corning Museum would have what is seen below in its collection. I remember enjoying this 14 years ago, so it bears mention that patrons who visit more than once, with a few years in between, may encounter the same pieces years later, although I think the museum keeps the most popular on display and rotates the rest. This was made by Flora Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick in Seattle, Washington in the year 2000 and is called 'Still Life with Two Plums.'

Still Life with Two Plums, 2000
There's a reason why a group of crows is called a "murder," and the striking piece shown below suggests that. It is aptly named 'Carrion' and was created by Javier Perez in 2011 in a place known for its glass--Murano, Italy. The crows in the display were taxidermied

Carrion, 2011
I came across this contemporary piece and was immediately reminded of graffiti. I was intrigued to learn that it's a pot pipe, made by David Colton of Massachusetts in 2018. I would have been interested in seeing someone demonstrate it.

Untitled, David Colton, 2018

The piece below, which is reminiscent of Mr. Potatohead, reveals the artists' sense of humor with his title: "Self-Portrait (Clown).
Self-portrait (clown), 2018

The unique display below is called 'Meditation in Saffron' and was created by artist David Chatt, who, when strolling through his Seattle neighborhood, was irked by the detritus left behind and decided to weave glass beads over the objects. Among items seen here are a pacifier, a syringe, a parakeet bell and a Tootsie Roll wrapper.

Meditations in Saffron, 2006

The oversized coffee pot shown below was created in Belgium in 2011 by Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel and is simply called 'Coffeepot, from the Containers II Series.'

Visitors, if not careful, may miss beautiful light fixtures, like the ones below, by failing to look up. 

Another Chihuly can be seen near the check-in area of the Museum.

The piece below was also made by the internationally known artist Dale Chihuly. This one is part of the Macchia Seaform Group and was created in 1982. Chihuly's Seaforms are characterized by their soft colors and open forms that are the result of shaping the glass without heat, gravity and using minimal tooling.

The interesting items shown below were displayed at the Museum when we visited 14 years ago and are still there, likely due to their popularity. Pieces like this were crafted for Indian Palaces between 1860 and 1920 after appearing at world's fairs and attracting customers from India.
Furniture made for Indian palaces.

The next piece is a copy of the Liberty Bell and was made by the Fry company for display at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon in 1905. It remained in the Fry showroom until the company closed in 1934.

The following piece was also on display during our visit 14 years' ago and is one of my favorites. It's called "Table and Cut Glass Boat," made in 1889 and 1900 respectively by Compagnie des Verreries et Cristalleries de Baccarat in Baccarat, France.

Table and cut glass boat, 1889 and 1900, Baccarat, France

Another favorite of mine is the beautiful lamp below made by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The shade with the dragonflies is so vivid and beautiful that it's hard to believe that the piece dates back to 1899.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1899
Speaking of Tiffany, visitors will also see additional Tiffany works at the Museum. The one below is referred to as "Tiffany Window with Hudson River Landscape."
Tiffany Window with Hudson River Landscape

The Tiffany window picture next is estimated to have been created in 1901 and was part of a United Methodist Church Window in Waterville, New York. It's called, "The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory."
"The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory," Louis Comfort Tiffany

Frank Lloyd Wright also makes an appearance at the Museum.Wright was commissioned to create a "playhouse" for the children of a man named "Avery Conley." According to Wright, the windows were inspired by parades. You can view one of them below.
A window created by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

And what glass museum would be complete without a tribute to Harvey K. Littleton, one of the founders of the American Studio Glass Movement?  This is just one part of an eight-part series, called Eight Heads of Harvey Littleton. The series shows him as a gentleman, poet, teacher, a man of Frauenau (Germany) and a worker. 
Harvy Littleton, Germany, 1927
Guests of the museum will exit through the large gift shop, which takes up most of the first floor. There they will find glass Christmas ornaments, home decor, ladies accessories and more.

The largest museum gift shop in the United States is at the Corning Museum of Glass.

I ended up with these two items--earrings and a barrette.

I didn't take the time to create my own work of art, but I'd be remiss not to mention it. Right now visitors can make flowers, or cute pumpkins. Details on the specifics can be seen by following this link.

A young student watches the glass-making process.

The Corning Museum of Art is open 9 - 7 p.m. daily, Monday through Friday, May 28 through Labor Day and 9 to 5 p.m. daily Labor Day through Memorial Day. Advance ticket purchases are required. Learn more here.

Side Trips
The first side trip I'll recommend as part of a Corning excursion is a visit to Mark Twain's grave and study in Elmira, New York, located just 20 minutes away from the Corning Museum of Glass. When we visited his grave in the Woodlawn Cemetary, there were just a few others there checking it out like us.

We then continued on to the campus of Elmira College, which was a ghostown a few weeks ago since students were all on summer break. We were able to walk up to his study/writing cottage and peer inside.

As you can see, it's a cute little, enclosed gazebo-type structure, with plenty of windows, a fireplace, and a writing table inside. What more does a writer need? I did some research and discovered that he and his wife lived with the sister-in-law while summering in Elmira and the sister-in- law was not a fan of stogies he chain smoked, so this became a satisfactory accommodation. He subsequently penned Tom Sawyer and other novels here. I wish I could have captured a clearer picture through the windows.

The second side trip that I recommend is a visit to Watkin's Glen, which is a quaint little community that I may have enjoyed more if the Seneca Harbor Station restaurant would have allowed us to order a drink and enjoy the views of Seneca Lake, but they practically chased us off the property when we informed them that we weren't interested in ordering food. I recommend this side trip primarily for a beautiful waterfall tucked in a residentail neighborhood that we stumbled onto along the way in Montour. The waterfall is called SheQuaGa, the native American name for "tumbling waters" and is one block from the Montour town square.

As you can see, it's quite beautiful and the location in a residential area was quite the surprise. The falls are also known as Montour Falls. According to the historical marker, a sketch done in 1820 by  Louis Philippe, who later became the King of France, now hangs in the Louvre.

Well that's about it for the Corning Region. There's so much more to do, but if you have a two, or three day weekend set aside to see something new and different, the Corning area won't disappoint.