When I first entered The Corning Museum of Glass, I was immersed in an experience that is unlike any other. The Museum’s extensive collection is hypnotic, drawing you in to admire each piece. Through the hustle and bustle of the crowds that often populate CMoG’s galleries, one can hear multiple whispers asking the same question: “How do they keep these pieces so clean?”
CMoG’s Collections and Exhibitions team is an all-seeing eye when it comes to maintaining the shine of the collection. The team, led by collections and exhibitions manager Warren Bunn, handles objects spanning 35 centuries. Many people assume that the team uses Windex, but the ammonia, dyes and perfume used in Windex could be harmful to such delicate works. “And it’s blue,” explains Bunn, “No cleaning products should ever be blue!” Instead, the team uses a solution of 90 percent deionized water and 10 percent denatured alcohol to clean the collections. Standard dusting wands (or Muppets, as the team likes to call them) are used to remove dirt and dust particles. About 80 percent of the team’s week consists of gallery maintenance, including changing light bulbs and checking display cases to see what works need to be tended to, cleaning cases and objects, and returning them to their specific locations.
“Anything with multiple pieces or that’s out in open air is a challenge,” Bunn said. “The Chihuly (Fern Green Tower) in the lobby is particularly challenging because there are lots of parts and pieces, nooks and crannies. Continuous Mile is challenging because it isn’t solid; it’s made up of thread with glass beads on it and then it’s woven together.”
When undertaking a full cleaning of Fern Green, the team used a lift to deconstruct the sculpture from the top down, laying out the more than 500 pieces of one of the Museum’s most signature objects. The process is time-consuming but necessary, as Fern Green often collects dust and dirt that is wafted in through the front entrance.
To clean another sculpture, Forest Glass by Katherine Gray, it took collections staff about a week, working roughly six hours a day. Composed of hundreds of drinking glasses, Forest Glass needs to be cleaned using a lift to reach the top of the installation. The lift is equipped with a cart that holds the team’s necessary tools, like the cleaning solution and dusters, and allows the numerous components to be lowered for cleaning in a safe way.
With more than 50,000 works in CMoG’s collection, the Collections and Exhibitions team works on a continual basis. “It’s like mowing a golf course,” Bunn said. “About every six months we start from one end of the Museum and move to the other end.”
Despite the fact that their work often goes unnoticed, Bunn and his team believe in working hard to ensure the Museum always looks its best for all of CMoG’s visitors.
Warren talked about how it’s like being at Disney when you drop something on the ground, and you turn around and it’s already gone. You never see the people who work behind the scenes to make the magic happen. He often remarks that it’s a lot like the Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to the people scrambling behind the curtain.”
“It’s our job to make sure visitors have this magical experience, so we take it seriously and work hard to make sure everything looks great,” he said. “If we do our job well, they have this wonderful experience, and it doesn’t even register that we’re doing our job.”