What’s That Noise?

Visitors to The Corning Museum of Glass are often greeted with a loud and mysterious noise. But it doesn’t take long to discover the source of all the strange clattering and chiming. At the entrance to The Shops as you approach from the Admissions Lobby, sits S’Marblous by local artist George Rhoads.

A 6 foot tall kinetic marble machine stands in the middle of the Museum shops. It has multiple tracks and obstacles that marbles roll along, interacting with instruments to make noises as they go.
The yellow features and loud sounds of S’Marblous are easy to see and hear from afar.

Standing 6 feet on all sides, S’Marblous is a large glass-sided cube with a very commanding presence. But as you get closer you begin to see exactly what’s going on inside. S’Marblous is a rolling ball sculpture, a form of kinetic art that involves one or more balls rolling along different tracks and through specially designed obstacles in an endless, gravity-powered loop. Our machine features large colored marbles that roll along three separate tracks. Two of the tracks run marbles continuously up and down, around and around, while the third is reserved for when a special marble is purchased and released from a spiral dispenser. Sounds are produced intermittently by features such as a Hammer Chime and glass bells that the marbles interact with along their route. And there are lots of interesting obstacles too, such as a Loop de Loop and Catch Basket, to entertain the eye. Each mechanism is designed to reveal the way it works, and all the mechanisms are spaced far enough apart so they’re easy to see, which is important when the marbles pick up speed.

A close up of the marble machine showing the makers signature and several marbles ascending a lift to the top of the machine.

George Rhoads began designing rolling ball sculptures in the 1970s and has created sculptures for public spaces and private collections around the world. According to George Rhoads’ website, “Nearly all of his sculptures are still in operation today and have been noted for their popularity with the public. In particular, the way his work is able to capture the attention and adoration of all ages.”

Rhoads has certainly captivated visitors to The Shops here at the Museum. Installed in 1999, S’Marblous has been a must-see for over 20 years and hasn’t lost any of its appeal. Visitors love that they can see everything that is happening in the machine and that they can get in on the action and purchase a token which releases a special marble with the Museum logo on it for them to take home—a simple way to remember their visit for years to come.

Close up of hundreds of small, colored marbles with the museum logo on, sitting in a spiral dispenser, waiting to be released.
Buy a token and take a marble home with you.

When asked what it is about the machine that’s so captivating, one visitor answered, “The marble machine is such a cool contraption. It’s exciting to follow the marbles as they venture over hills and around turns, hitting notes that sound like a melody. It’s always a delight to stop and watch it when visiting the museum.”

If you’re a fan of marbles, don’t forget, Marvelous Marble Day is only a week away. On February 16, 2020, the Museum will be hosting a full day of marble-related activities including games, tours through the galleries featuring marbles and other round objects in the collection, and marble making demonstrations by guest artist Miles Parker in the Amphitheatre Hot Shop.

Marvelous Marble Day invites visitors to see marbles in a new light. If you’re visiting next week, or any week, don’t forget to stop by and spend some time with S’Marblous and find out what all the noise is about.

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