The Beauty in the Telling

My father was a businessman who was required, on occasion, to visit the manufacturing headquarters for the products that he sold. As a child, I sometimes tagged along. One trip always stands out in my mind. We made a visit to Corning, New York, to the site of what is now the well-known Corning Museum of Glass.

Most striking to me about this visit was the presentation of not only the remarkable, centuries-old artwork in glass, but also the exceptional effort made by the museum to demonstrate the craft of glassmaking. The exhibits were carefully constructed to amaze and to educate about the processes, techniques, and, yes, the science of glassmaking.

Today, there are many museums around the world with exhibits that feature beauty, from the majesty of the natural world to the handiwork of humankind. The simple display of this splendor is sufficient for some of these institutions to become cultural icons in their communities.

Science centers and museums have, however, taken on the charge both to amaze and to educate about the principles and the processes that create much of the beauty in the everyday world. We do not simply display; we explain. We do not simply excite; we educate and inspire. In this way, we occupy a unique position within the broader museum community, and it is a high standard that we set for ourselves.

Our successes are due in large measure to the extraordinary efforts of our many talented exhibit designers. Their task, above all, is to avoid diminishing the wonder of our universe and the beauty of human craftsmanship in their efforts to describe and explain how these feats and phenomena are possible. They are the storytellers. Whether in the smallest presentations or the largest exhibitions, they draw us in and take us on an enjoyable journey to greater understanding. With the help of exhibit designers in science museums everywhere, we are able to peek behind the curtain. After all, who watches a magician without wondering just how the magic is done? Who marvels at a new technology without some degree of fascination about how it can be possible? In short, there is something beautiful about the logic of science in our universe and something artistic about its application.

To this day, I am fascinated by the historic creation of delicate glass masterpieces. And I know, from my educational and entertaining early visit to a museum in Corning, New York, that these treasures are products of geology, chemistry, optics, and craftsmanship of the highest order.