Corning Museum's GlassBarge Retraces Company's Journey Across New York

Jun 22, 2018

The Corning Museum of Glass based in Corning, New York is taking its show on the road —  or water.

“And just like that we’ve got a beautiful vase! What do you think?”

A crowd of curious spectators clapped Thursday as a team of gaffers twirled a blown-glass vase into shape.

Visitors can catch demonstrations by staff from the Corning Museum of Glass across the state this summer on the museum’s unique GlassBarge.

The GlassBarge is equipped with its own grandstand and hotshop, complete with kilns and furnaces.

“As we enter the hotshop, please be careful because everything is hot.”

Gaffer G. Brian, after placing a vase into the slow-cooling oven, gives a quick overview of the glassblowing process. It all starts with a hot, glowing glob of molten glass that has the consistency of honey.

“We start by gathering molten glass from the furnace, we use our breath to inflate it, we use different tools to shape it, and we can make a vase or a bowl in about 20 minutes’ time with 20 years of experience,” said G. Brian.

The glass is blown with the aid of a long pipe. Workers spin the pipe; otherwise the material would drip onto the floor.

It’s an interesting show. And it may be coming to a community near you this summer.

The barge is traveling from Brooklyn back to Corning, in the Southern Tier. The journey retraces the steps of the move of the Brooklyn Flint Glassworks across New York in 1868.

Jeff Mack, Hot Glass Program Supervisor at the Corning Museum, said the company moved up the Hudson River to the Erie Canal, down the canal to the Finger Lakes, down to the former Chemung Feeder Canal to the Chemung River, before landing in Corning. The new location was both cheaper and closer to the coalfields of Pennsylvania.

“The idea is that we’re celebrating the 150th anniversary of glass coming to Corning, New York and also simultaneously celebrating the New York waterways and the Erie Canal system, which is 200 years old this year,” said Mack.

Construction on the Erie Canal began July 4th, 1817. 2018 marks the 100th Anniversary of the completion of the New York State Barge Canal.

The GlassBarge’s journey is sponsored by the New York State Canal Corporation.

Canal Corporation President Bryan Stratton said before the Corning Museum approached him with their idea for a barge tour, he hadn’t known about the Erie Canal’s impact on the company.

“I had no idea that Corning, which is now a worldwide-known company and makes everything from the screens on our iPhones to General Electric lightbulbs, really was this company that was transformed by the availability by the Erie Canal,” said Stratton.

About $450,000 from New York’s Regional Economic Development Councils is supporting the GlassBarge through the Canal Corporation, the Market New York Program and I Love NY, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

The GlassBarge will remain anchored in Troy Friday until it is tugged up the Hudson and into the Erie Canal to Waterford this weekend. There, Stratton says, it will be joined by another historically significant vessel, the Lois McLure, a full-scale replica of an 1862-class sailing canal boat from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

“The Lois McClure is probably not too far off from the kind of barges that were used when Corning moved its operations from Brooklyn to Corning, New York,” said Stratton.

And boaters can explore the Erie Canal for free this summer, as the Canal Corporation continues its bicentennial celebration of the Erie Canal.

For more information: https://www.cmog.org/glassmaking/demos/hot-glass-demos/glassbarge