2022: The International Year of Glass!

A Bordeaux Wine Glass by Riedel (83.3.222), featured in the 2021 exhibition Fire and Vine: The Story of Glass and Wine

It seems obvious to say it out loud, but we see glass everywhere these days. Funny, right?

For centuries we’ve thought about glass as something to be looked through but not seen. The cleaner the window, the clearer the uninterrupted view. Or glass is utilitarian to the point of invisibility. After all, it’s about the wine and not the vessel; it’s our reflection, not the quality of the mirror that is important. Often—if glass does its job correctly—it goes unnoticed, working not to draw attention to itself but to instead bring everything else into sharp focus.

But that’s not necessarily true anymore, and perhaps never was. Glass has long been changing the game. From early obsidian tools to revolutionary advancements in modern science and technology, from the Venetian masters to the American Studio Glass movement and beyond, glass has been a trusted tool and commodity, shaping cultures on almost every continent. Whenever the proverbial “lightbulb moment” happened, glass has transformed and illuminated the world we live in, right up to and including the COVID-19 pandemic, during which optical fiber was essential to keeping people connected virtually and Valor® glass vials have delivered life-saving vaccines to millions across the globe.

Valor® Glass vials used to store and distribute vaccines are a great example of the essential role glass plays in the 21st century. Photo courtesy of Corning Incorporated.
Exquisite colors used by Toots Zynsky to make this glass vessel, Maestrale (North wind), (2007.4.205)

Glass provokes us to look at it more and more—to take notice of the important work it’s doing. It enables so many critical aspects of our lives, and the awareness of the role it plays has never been greater. Glass makes our lives easier, safer, quicker, better; and it can make for a more colorful world, too. It’s becoming a hot commodity.

It’s fitting, then, that the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) has designated 2022 as the International Year of Glass.

Hip Hip Hooray!

Of course, at The Corning Museum of Glass, we’ve been celebrating glass for the past 70 years, so it comes as no surprise to us to see glass recognized as the incredible, versatile material it is. It’s an ancient material but continues to bring power and potential to the world we live in today. Glass and glassblowing are ways of connecting us to centuries of tradition and innovation, and also gateways to the future and to the endless possibilities that await.

So, let’s find out what this special honor means and how we got here.

Since 1959, the UN has been ‘designating’ years to acknowledge fields of international endeavor and the importance of their contributions to global society. Some other recent designations include 2021: The International Year of Peace and Trust; 2020: The International Year of the Nurse and Midwife; and 2019: The International Year of Moderation. Not every year receives a designation from the UN, but some years have received multiple; for example, 2009 had five designations, the highest in any one year.

A campaign to have glass recognized by the UN was first proposed by the International Commission on Glass in 2018, and soon thereafter picked up speed. When the idea was presented to The Corning Museum of Glass, it was fully embraced by Museum leadership and staff—and was championed by Steve Gibbs, retired senior manager, hot glass business/technology development, who was instrumental in advancing the endeavor within the international glass art community.

“This official designation by the United Nations of 2022 being the International Year of Glass provides a stage to celebrate one of the world’s most transformational and ancient materials made from humble sand. Glass has a transparent and durable personality with the ability to transmit light like no other material known to mankind. For millennia, glass has shaped and transformed our world from the invention of the bottle to the light bulb and has enabled the Information Age as we now communicate at the speed of light through glass. Join us in celebrating the International Year of Glass as the world enters our future in The Glass Age!”

Steve Gibbs

A global coalition of partners, comprising arts organizations, museums, research centers, artists, educators, manufacturers, and glass businesses formed to endorse and advance the resolution. Support eventually came from more than 75 countries around the world.

Glass is a fascinating and beautiful material to work with in all its forms.

Despite delays caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the UN General Assembly convened to ratify the resolution on May 18, 2021. The resolution recognizes that “glass has accompanied humankind for centuries, enriching the quality of life of millions, and that, as one of the most important, versatile and transformative materials of history, glass is an important component in many areas, including in aerospace and the automotive sector, architecture, the arts, information and communications technology, energy, health care,” and more. (A/RES/75/279)

This resolution is further indication of what The Corning Museum of Glass has known all along—that glass is truly unique and has been for thousands of years. It remains to be seen how the International Year of Glass will be celebrated, but we at the Museum are thrilled to be part of a global conversation around the importance of glass in our lives. With the UN’s spotlight on our favorite material, we look forward to encouraging more people than ever to see glass in an entirely new light.

We’ll continue to celebrate glass this year, next year, and every year. That’s something we can all raise a glass to! 

Guests visiting The Corning Museum of Glass. Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan.

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