Studios at factories and museums let you watch as sand becomes a work of art.
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Many years ago we stumbled upon our first glass museum. By chance it happened to be one of the best in the world — the one in Corning, New York. Fascinated by the many artistic uses of glass, from kitchen items to sculptures to paperweights, and by the various techniques artists have developed over many thousands of years (glassmaking can be traced back to 3500 B.C. in Mesopotamia), we seldom skip a glass exhibit. From glassblowing and flame work to bead making and stained glass, you can find many studios to visit in your motorhome travels.
1. Corning Museum Of Glass, Corning, New York. Watch master glassmakers use a long pipe to turn gobs of glowing, molten glass into vases, bowls, or glass sculptures. A narrator explains the processes, and there’s even a camera showing the inside of the 2,300-degree furnace. Nearby you can watch flame workers use a torch to melt rods and tubes of glass into sculptures or containers. This museum even demonstrates glass breaking to show the differences between car windows, house windows, and bulletproof glass (800-732-6845, 607-937-5371, www.cmog.org).
2. Crystal Traditions Of Tiffin, Tiffin, Ohio. The manufacturing facility at Crystal Traditions allows you to see both glassblowing and crystal cutting. Crystal Traditions uses glassmaking equipment and molds from the original Tiffin Glass Factory, which opened in 1889 and was reported to produce up to 500,000 pieces per week. You can take the free tour and check out the company store, which includes outlet items. Although the Tiffin Glass plant was closed in 1984, you can still see many of the beautiful pieces created there at the Tiffin Glass Museum, also in Tiffin (Crystal Traditions: 888-298-7236, www.crystaltraditions.com; Tiffin Glass Museum: 419-448-0200, www.tiffinglass.org).
3. Glassworks, Louisville, Kentucky. Glassworks is made up of three working glass studios: glassblowers, flame workers, and architectural glass. In addition to glassblowing and flame work, you can see how glass is used to create everything from entry doors to 5,000-pound suspended sculptures. An on-site gallery offers collectibles, and you can join a workshop to design and create your own art glass. A small fee is charged for self-guided (Monday through Friday) and guided (Saturday) tours (502-584-4510, www.louisvilleglassworks.com).
4. Kokomo Opalescent Glass, Kokomo, Indiana. Listed as America’s oldest art glass company, Kokomo Opalescent Glass has both a hot glass studio where you can see glassblowers at work and a sheet glass factory where hand-mixed sheet glass is produced in more than 22,000 color variations. The tour fee of $5 includes a gift. The company has been in continuous operation in its current location since 1888 and at one time supplied art glass to Tiffany (765-457-8136, www.kog.com).
5. Simon Pearce, Maryland And Vermont. Don’t confuse the retail shops with the company’s locations in Mountain Lake Park, Maryland, and in Quechee and Windsor, Vermont, where you can watch glassblowers create original designs. Simon Pearce himself, from Ireland, moved his glassmaking business to Quechee in 1981. Employees work in teams of two to create each piece. The final step in the process involves annealing — placing the hot sculpture or glassware in a 950-degree oven and then cooling it slowly (800-774-5277, www.simonpearce.com).
6. Susquehanna Glass Factory, Columbia, Pennsylvania. At Susquehanna Glass, you do not see glass being made — you see it being decorated. Craftsmen cut glass by hand, personalizing pieces with names, monograms, and so forth as workers there have done for the past 100 years. They personalize the pieces using silk screening, engraving, laser designs, and deep sandblast etching. One of their specialties is ornaments decorated with a name and date, for example, and hand painted with 14-karat gold accents. Tour hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. (717-684-2155, www.susquehannaglass.com).
7. Museum Of American Glass, Millville, New Jersey. In addition to daily glassblowing demonstrations and a flame-working studio, the WheatonArts and Cultural Center (formerly Wheaton Village) contains the Museum of American Glass, which houses 12,000 items ranging from Early American bottles and flasks to Mason jars, paperweights, and contemporary studio work. It is considered the most comprehensive exhibit of American glass in the world (800-998-4552, www.wheatonarts.org).
8. Museum Of Glass, Tacoma, Washington. The main working area at the Museum of Glass is called the Hot Shop, located in a 90-foot stainless-steel cone. Here you can watch the Hot Shop Team (or visiting artists) work on creative projects as they happen, with an interpreter available to explain what is going on. Of special interest is the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a 500-foot-long pedestrian overpass that links the museum to downtown Tacoma. All three separate sections of the bridge are filled with glass forms and sculptures: the Seaform Pavilion, with a ceiling made of 2,364 objects; the glowing Crystal Towers section, rising 40 feet above the bridge deck and illuminated from below; and the Venetian Wall, an 80-foot installation displaying 109 sculptures (866-468-7386, 253-284-4750, www.museumofglass.org).
9. Mosser Glass, Cambridge, Ohio. Cambridge glass is legendary among collectors, and the founder of Mosser Glass once worked at the local Cambridge Glass Company. His family now runs Mosser Glass, which makes decorative glassware using cast-iron molds. The raw materials, such as soda ash and silica sand, are heated to the melting point of approximately 2,500 degrees. The molds are warmed to 1,000 degrees, and the molten glass is pressed into the pattern. In just a few minutes the mold is opened to reveal the newly formed glassware. The piece is air-cooled, then polished by melting off the outer layer, which leaves a smoother, shinier finish. Then the annealing process gradually cools the glass to prevent shattering or breaking. Mosser Glass has tours weekdays to show visitors the entire process (740-439-1827, www.mosserglass.com).
10. Pairpoint Glass, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Pairpoint Glass is America’s oldest glassworks, originally founded in 1837 in South Boston, Massachusetts, but now located on Cape Cod. It features hand-blown glassware created in the factory and is one of the few remaining factories producing cranberry glass. A small gift shop is located on-site, and the legendary Sandwich Glass Museum is nearby. You can watch the Pairpoint glassblowers Monday through Friday, and a 1½-hour guided tour of the facility is offered on Tuesday and Friday (800-899-0953, www.pairpoint.com).
11. Glass Pavilion, Toledo Museum Of Art, Toledo, Ohio. The Glass Pavilion features a collection of more than 5,000 objects spanning centuries. They are housed in a 74,000-square-foot building that received a 2007 Travel & Leisure Design Award for Best Museum. And, of course, there are free daily demonstrations of glassmaking as well as an informative free lecture about processes and techniques (419-255-8000; www.toledomuseum.org/glass-pavilion).
12. Redlands Historical Glass Museum, Redlands, California. This is the only museum west of the Mississippi River limited to displaying glassware made by American glassmakers and artists. As its name implies, antique glass is highlighted in eight rooms, be it in the form of an auto bud vase or milk glass, cut glass, and more. Items are displayed in a 1905 Victorian-style home. The museum is open only on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, with group tours available weekdays by appointment (909-793-3333, www.rth.org).
13. Glass Flower Collection, Harvard Museum Of Natural History, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Most glass displays feature vases, glasses, or sculptures, but this collection is made up of life-size models of 847 species of flowers. They were created from 1887 to 1936 by a German father-and-son team named Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, who were hired to do the job by Harvard’s botany department. Many of the flowers were shaped by softening glass with heat, while others were blown. Colored glass was often used, while others were “cold painted” with a wash of colored ground glass or metal oxide, and then fused by heating (617-495-3045, www.hmnh.harvard.edu).