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A Floating Glass Art Studio’s Four-Month Journey Around New York State

The Corning Museum of Glass’s GlassBarge is traveling the New York waterways from Brooklyn to the Finger Lakes, offering free demonstrations of glassblowing.

A demonstration on the GlassBarge in Brooklyn Bridge Park (courtesy Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG))

For its launch this May in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) GlassBarge artists made vases the color of New York City sunsets, and sculptures of the mules that once towed barges on the Erie Canal. When the GlassBarge traveled up the Hudson River to Yonkers, its artists collaborated with the Science Barge to celebrate the return of the sturgeon and eel to the estuary, and invited artist Christine Hiebert, who has an exhibition at the nearby Hudson River Museum, to come onboard for a collaboration.

“The glass demonstrations are much more meaningful if they’re relating them to the context of where we are,” Rob Cassetti, senior director of creative strategy and audience engagement at CMoG and the coordinator of the GlassBarge project, told Hyperallergic. Over four months, the 30′ by 80′ floating glass studio will visit 29 of New York’s waterfront communities, offering free glassblowing demonstrations at each stop. Visitors will see a glass piece made from start to finish, as molten material is expertly shaped into vessels and art objects.

Route of the GlassBarge (courtesy Corning Museum of Glass)

The journey on the New York waterways is timed with the Bicentennial of the Erie Canal, which broke ground in 1817 and was completely operational by 1825, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. It also highlights the long connection between the waterways and culture and industry in the state. After navigating the Hudson River, the GlassBarge will go west along the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo, before ending its water tour in Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes. A last leg of the trip will be by land, and culminate with a September 22 celebration in Corning, home of the CMoG. (The canal section there is no longer accessible.)

“What we’re doing this summer is a culmination of the glass demonstrations in the museum, and our mobile glass demonstrations that we’ve been doing since 2001,” Cassetti explained. The CMoG hosts daily “Hot Glass” demonstrations for visitors, and the GlassBarge is a scaled down version of this programming, adapted to a maritime setting. The GlassBarge’s hotshop has no fire and is all electric — an innovation from CMoG’s cruise ship collaborations — and the audience sits in stadium-style seating that gives a view both to the glass creation and the surrounding water.

Corning Incorporated started in 1868 as the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company, located in today’s Brooklyn Heights (just a short walk from Brooklyn Bridge Park). When the company relocated to Corning, New York, to be closer to raw materials, it used the waterways to move. There it expanded its operations, innovating glass for Thomas Edison’s lightbulb, Pyrex lab and kitchenware, and glass for touchscreens. Accompanying the GlassBarge is the Lois McClure, a replica of an 1862-class sailing canal boat operated by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vermont. The ship is based on two shipwrecks discovered in Burlington Harbor, Vermont, and it is a historic gateway into this connection between glass and the waterways. A 1964 tugboat from the museum is also part of the flotilla.

On a recent afternoon in Brooklyn, two glass artists turned globs of molten glass into an elegant vessel, each step, from the careful attachment of a base, to the impression of texture on its exterior, revealing the incredible craft of glass. Although machines now produce much of the glass we encounter on a daily basis, encountering the art of glassblowing in-person reveals how the medium has such versatility, through heating and cooling the material. And it’s an art form that most people rarely get to witness firsthand.

“In many ways it’s a little bit of a magic trick,” Cassetti said. “To communicate it is to create that ‘aha moment’ for a deeper appreciation of glass.”

A demonstration on the GlassBarge in Brooklyn Bridge Park (courtesy Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG))
The GlassBarge docked in Brooklyn Bridge Park (photo by Allison C. Meier for Hyperallergic)

Corning Museum of Glass’s GlassBarge is traveling the New York waterways through September 22.

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