New York – Days 1-2: Uncle Sam and Glass Blowing

My first day in new York was pretty chill. How could it not be after a three day staycation in Massachusetts to recharge from my first month of traveling? Upon suggestion, I stopped in Troy, NY on my way to Albany. I’m glad I did.

Troy is a cute little town. I found Prospect Park and went swinging. It was a little chilly, so I didn’t stay long. When I finished swinging I noticed what looked like an overlook spot a little ways away, so I wandered over to check it out. It had a pretty nice view of Troy.

Prospect Park Overlook, Troy, NY.

Prospect Park Overlook, Troy, NY.

Near the overlook was a memorial of some sort, so I went to see what that was about as well. Turns out it was for Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam Memorial for Sam Wilson, Prospect Park, Troy, NY.

Uncle Sam Memorial for Sam Wilson, Prospect Park, Troy, NY.

I didn’t even know Uncle Sam was a real person. I thought he was sort of like Rosie the Riveter, a composite of a few people, symbol of America. Unfortunately, the plaque I’m assuming explains how/why Uncle Sam came to be Uncle Sam was missing.

Presumably super cool and informative sign someone stole about Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam Memorial, Prospect Park, Troy, NY.

Presumably super cool and informative sign someone stole about Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam Memorial, Prospect Park, Troy, NY.

Bummer. A quick Google search later told me that it is doubtful Sam Wilson was actually the original inspiration for Uncle Sam, nonetheless, he is attributed the persona. Wilson lived for many years in Troy and had a meatpacking business that supplied rations for soldiers during the War of 1812. From my quick research it was not entirely clear how/why Sam Wilson became associated with Uncle Sam.

Next I was off to Albany. I was still in a pretty chill, relaxing kind of mood, so I decided to start Albany at another park. This time it was Washington Park. I parked next to Washington Park Lake and decided it was small enough that I could totally make it all the way around before sunset. There was something going on just after the bridge in the direction I had started walking so I decided to figure-eight across the bridge and come up from the other direction hoping whatever it was would be done by the time I got around. As it happens, it was a photography shoot and it was not done when I looped back from the other direction. It looked like engagement photos. I awkwardly walked right through the shoot and they had to stop and wait for me while I did. Sorry, not sorry.

Washington Park Lake and original 1875 iron bridge, Washington Park, Albany, NY.

Washington Park Lake and original 1875 iron bridge, Washington Park, Albany, NY.

On the bottom section of my figure-eight loop around the lake I found a nice sunny spot on the bank so I sat and read my book until the sun fell below the trees. Then it was too cold to continue to sit there so I moved along to finish my walk. On the way I came across the Park Playhouse amphitheater. The seating went up a hill which was still very much in the sun. So I climbed to the top and hunkered down to finish my chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It was so nice in the sun.

Once I had finished reading I decided to go explore some more of Albany. As soon as I got in the car and started driving though, I wasn’t really in the mood for any more exploring and my Google search of things to do hadn’t yielded much of interest to me anyway. I was almost museum-ed out and the capitol didn’t look nearly as cool as Connecticut’s. Instead I just drove around for a bit. The brownstones reminded me of NYC so I didn’t feel like I was missing too much by not exploring on foot. Eventually, I found a Walmart to park in and sat and updated my journal and read some more before meeting up with my host for the evening.

My second day in New York I woke up to find it cold and rainy. So much for my day of hiking and being outside… I also had a museum on my list and while I was still sort of museum-ed out I didn’t really have any other options, so I set out for Corning, NY and the Corning Museum of Glass. It rained sporadically on the drive there. A few times all the clouds disappeared and the sun came out and just as I was about to reroute myself to go hiking the rain would come out of nowhere again.

Corning is an adorable town. I passed the museum and went to the downtown area to see if there was anything cool worth seeing. I parked at one end of Market Street and walked up one side and back down the other. It was so nice out in Corning! I arrived wearing a maxi skirt with leggings and two sweatshirts. By the end of my walk I stripped off my leggings and both sweatshirts. It was sunny and almost seventy degrees. Gorgeous!

If only the leaves hadn't all fallen yet...Market Street, Corning, NY.

If only the leaves hadn’t all fallen yet…Market Street, Corning, NY.

On Market Street I found a Verizon store and made a pit stop to see about my bill. Yeah, it’s still $212 versus my normal $79 for the one hour that I used the MiFi wireless hotspot thing. Ridiculous. I should probably call and figure out how to fix that. The guy I talked to did end up getting me a $15/month discount though, so that’s something.

Since it was so nice out I really wanted to go for a hike now, but I figured I’d at least stop by the museum and see how much it cost. It was $15.30 with a discount, which was way too steep and I still wasn’t really feeling like another museum.

However, while standing in line I noticed they had glass blowing classes where you could make your own blown glass art for only $29. I thought about it for a few minutes and then was like, when am I ever going to get the chance to blow glass again?! So I went back to the desk and signed up for a glass blowing class that conveniently started as soon as I walked over to the building where it took place. While not entirely what I expected, it was still a super cool experience.

Here’s how it worked: First, when we signed up we signed up to make one of the available project options. I chose the pumpkin because it looked cute and it’s almost Halloween and I liked that it was a stand alone sculpture. In the studio room, we walked up, showed them our tickets, and selected our colors. For my pumpkin I went traditional-ish: I chose orange and a multicolor red, orange, and yellow for my pumpkin and a dark green color for the stem.

When they were ready for me they gave me safety glasses and invited me behind the glass wall. Erin, my glass blowing instructor pulled the liquid glass out of the 2,000 degree furnace on a stainless steel hollow tube. She explained that they use stainless steel because the end with the glass can be super hot, but it’s a terrible conductor of heat so they can touch the tube a few feet from the end and not get burned. Neat.

Erin taking the glass out of the furnace, Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

Erin taking the glass out of the furnace, Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

The clear glass is so hot it looks orange when it first comes out of the furnace. The instructors have to continually spin the pipe the glass is on because if they stop spinning it the glass drips right off the end since it’s a liquid. As she spins the pipe, Erin takes the clear glass and rolls it in a pile of the colors I chose. The colors are small fragments of glass with different metals and sulfur? I think she said. She rolled my orange on the clear glass first, then held it back in the furnace for a few seconds then rolled the multi-color over the top, put it back in the furnace for a few seconds and then brought it over to me.

Fresh out of the furnace ready for the second coat of color, Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

Fresh out of the furnace ready for the second coat of color, Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

I was sitting on a box next to a metal bench with what looked like raised arm rests. In reality, the armrest looking things were for the pipe. Erin scooted in and sat on the bench closing herself in with the pipe like you would with a ride lap bar at a fair. She then used the arm rest looking things to allow her to roll the pipe back and forth so the glass didn’t drip off the end. As she did that, I sanitized the end I was going to blow into and put a cardboard tube over the end. Then she had to get up and stick it back in the furnace again because if the glass isn’t hot enough nothing happens when you blow (because it solidifies as it cools).

Both colors added, almost time to blow, Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

Shall we? Almost time to blow… Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

After its next turn in the furnace, Erin dipped the glass in a container that presumably had ridges in it to give the pumpkin the correct shape once I started blowing. Then she popped it in the furnace one more time and came and sat down and instructed me to blow steadily, with the force I would use to blow out a candle.

Look at me glass blowing! How cool is that?! Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY. (Photo Credit: Christine Hacker)

Look at me glass blowing! How cool is that?! Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY. (Photo Credit: Christine Hacker)

I did this for maybe about five or so seconds and then she told me to stop and went and stuck it in the furnace again. Then she had me blow really lightly for three or so seconds and then really hard for three or so seconds. At this point the pumpkin looked like this:

I blew all that air into that pumpkin. Nifty. Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

I blew all that air into that pumpkin. Nifty. Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

Then she waited a few seconds for the glass to harden, stood the pipe up vertically and then when she tapped at the top of the pumpkin with a pice of metal it cleanly broke off from the pipe. Next she got a new pipe and a smaller piece of glass from the furnace and then repeated the process of adding color with the dark green color. I didn’t have to blow the green glass because it was just for the stem. Instead, Erin plopped the gooey green glass on top of my pumpkin and then pulled the pipe away to give it a little length. Then she used a scissors-like tool to cut it and then a pliers like tool to twist and curl it. Again, she gave it a few seconds to harden and then was able to pick it up can come show me.

From what I remember, the black will be yellow, and the lighter color will be red and the stem will get darker... Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

From what I remember, the black will be yellow, and the lighter color will be red and the stem will get darker… Glass Blowing Class, Corning Glass Museum, Corning, NY.

The colors will look different when it cools, but if glass cools too fast it breaks. So they have to keep it in an oven overnight and gradually reduce the temperature. Unfortunately, my host for the evening was an hour and a half away and I didn’t think I’d want to spend three hours the next day driving back to get it, so I had it shipped to my aunt and uncle’s in Minnesota, which means I won’t actually get to see the final product for a while. Rest assured, when I do I will post a picture and share.

So, yeah. I definitely did not wake up thinking I was going to spend my day making a blown glass sculpture, but that’s what happened. I also met some awesome museum ladies who were in my class who told me about their free museums in New Jersey and Maryland, so I have a few more places to look into on my journey. They were the ones who took the pictures of me actually blowing glass, in case you were wondering.

All in all, glass blowing was really freaking cool and I highly recommend you try it at some point if you get a chance. While at first I was a little disappointed I wasn’t going to get to do more of the work with the glass, I soon realized how nervous it would’ve made me to be solely responsible for making sure the glass didn’t drip all over. However, it would’ve been super cool if I had been able to help more with the stem manipulation. Alas, maybe next time.

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