Virtual Journeys into the Collection: Through a Social Media Eye

This recurring blog series will feature virtual gallery walks with staff members from The Corning Museum of Glass. Everyone at our Museum interacts with the collection in different ways depending on the job they do and the perspective they bring. Hear from fascinating people and learn about their favorite objects as they provide a virtual peek at some of the treasures in our collection—and make plans to come see them in person when we reopen! This next comes from Amanda Sterling, our social media and photography specialist.

Amanda Sterling

Museums can be an incredible place of respite and peace, even for museum workers. At The Corning Museum of Glass, I am notorious for my daily walks through the collections. Even though my job is digitally based, I am constantly inspired by the works just upstairs from my office. Nothing is better than hearing my footsteps resonate through the cavernous Contemporary Art + Design Galleries during an early morning walk and having time alone to study the objects. Or to catch snippets of a discussion between visitors as they discuss a piece on a busy day. Every time I walk through the galleries, I learn something new! I frequently take pictures of details of objects or labels, walk back to my office, and start drafting new social media posts. It’s always delightful to share the cool things I learn with the world on our social media channels.

Here are some of my most favorite pieces at the Museum.

  • 5 Obsidian Tools, Ras Shamra (Ugarit), Syria, probably 3000-1000 BC. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Dessel (73.1.12)

These pieces of obsidian are the earliest pieces of glass in our collection that were shaped by human hands. It’s amazing to think that thousands of years ago our ancestors used stones to chip away at the obsidian until the edges were sharpened into blades. Plus, as a ‘Game of Thrones’ fan, I love seeing real-life dragonglass!

5 Obsidian Tools, Ras Shamra (Ugarit)
  • Box in Glass Furnace Form, probably Germany, 1675-1725. Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr. (87.7.18)
Box in Glass Furnace Form

One day a couple of years ago, I was walking through the European galleries and a glint of gold caught my eye, which is surprising to see in a glass museum. These perfume bottles are incredibly tiny, only an inch or two tall. The best part is the gold case that depicts a glass furnace in action. These pieces are among my favorites because it reminds me that connections to glass can be found in the most unexpected places, even in perfume bottles!

2 Glass Window Blinds, Elias B. Hungerford
  • 2 Glass Window Blinds, Elias B. Hungerford (patenter), possibly Brooklyn Flint Glass Company or Corning Glass Works, possibly Brooklyn or Corning, New York, 1866-1870 (69.4.271)

For me, these unassuming glass window blinds help explain why there’s a world-class glass museum in Corning, New York! In 1866, Corning resident Elias B. Hungerford received a patent to produce these window blinds. They were produced by Amory Houghton’s Brooklyn Flint Glass Works, which moved to Corning and became Corning Glass Works. While the blinds were not a commercial success, the glass blanks the firm also produced were cut by local firms and glassmaking was forever associated with Corning. Without these blinds, Corning would have never become the “Crystal City” we know and love!

Karel’s Black Cube
  • Black Cube, Marian Karel, Prague, Czech Republic, 2002 (2013.3.3)

This piece used to fill me with a sense of unease and I would scurry past it as quickly as I could on my walks. But I went on a tour with Susie J. Silbert, curator of Postwar and contemporary glass, once and she completely changed my mind about it! The very subtle curvature of the cube is a technological feat and really makes you believe that there’s some unknown force inside the cube pushing the shape outward. One of the best things about revisiting the collections, again and again, is the opportunity to approach the objects with new perspectives!

  • Fiberglass Tie, Libbey Glass Company (maker), United States, 1893. Gift of William Vetter (80.4.191)

Until I started working at the Museum, I thought fiberglass was only used for tables or insulation, but you can even wear fiberglass! Since fiberglass can be as thin as a human hair, it can be woven into fabrics, though fiberglass would be incredibly itchy and uncomfortable to wear. Libbey Glass had this tie as a souvenir from their display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

Fiberglass Tie, Libbey Glass Company
  • James Friant research collection (CMGL 101045)

I have a special place in my heart for the Rakow Research Library and picking a favorite piece there is like trying to pick your favorite child! The first time I toured the stacks in the archives, the archivist pulled out this box and revealed a lump of iron slag, an iron smelting by-product, that shed rust everywhere. What on earth was iron doing in a glass library? It was part of James Friant’s collection, a researcher looking into the origins of glassmaking. One popular theory is that the first human-made glasses were by-products of the iron smelting process. Though it’s unusual, this piece of iron slag always reminds me of the gems you can find if you research at the Rakow Library.

Constance Stuart Larrabee’s photo of Jack Hultzman.
  • [Jack Hultzman inspects Ships’ Decanter before barrel marked “no good”], Constance Stuart Larrabee, Steuben Glass, 1958 (CMGL 170188)

Working in social media requires a certain appreciation for memes and nothing is more memeable than this photo in the Constance Stuart Larrabee collection at the Rakow Library! In 1958, photojournalist Constance Stuart Larrabee came to Corning to document glassmaking at Steuben Glass. My favorite shot is this one of Jack Hultzman inspecting a Ship’s Decanter. Steuben’s standard of excellence is so stringent that if Jack found a single flaw in the piece, into the “No Good” barrel it would go!

I could easily go on and on about my favorite pieces at the Museum! I’m looking forward to reuniting with these objects and more, once the Museum is able to reopen. Until then, we’ll keep sharing the collection on our social media channels for everyone to enjoy.

Click here to read the previous post in this series by the Museum’s graphic designer, Stephanie Carr.

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