Author: Parker Stafford


The Soul Of Glass

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I wanted to start talking about glass, to explain what interests me as an artist, and why I have stuck with it for so long.  What is it about glass that makes it so seductive?  In a series of posts, I am going to explain the art of glass to you, not too laden  with technical jargon, but just enough to give you a feel for the stuff.  Maybe a few videos thrown in, and a lot of work.  Perhaps in there somewhere, what I do will begin to make a little sense to you if it hasn’t already.  For some folks, glass is still a bit of a mystery.  We, artists from all walks  of life, are involved in changing that, and bringing this material forward as an expressive medium.

Consider this….glass can be cut and polished at room temperature in order to shape it.  It can be put in a kiln and gently draped over a mold, or in a mold, or poured HOT into molds.  It can be blown, it can be shaped  solid. It can be rolled.  It can be ground up fine and packed into molds for a real nice effect called Pate De Verre. There are now dichroics, thanks to the space age and the lunar rover (this stuff was designed for the camera on board that craft) It can probably be other things we haven’t even dreamed of yet. We are working on that part.  And I am here telling you about it.

Its ancient technology resting on the edge of cutting edge tech.  Some tools have remained unchanged for thousands of years.  Some change yearly.  Perhaps its the same with other things, other media.  Perhaps I am biased; glass always seemed like a miracle to me.  That it was even discovered is a miracle in and of itself.  And its story is an interesting one since glass was not taken up as a breakthrough that covered the globe.  No, it was discovered in ONE place by ONE people and then spread from there (in highly secretive fashion lest anyone uncover the secret to making glass from the raw ingredients!).  But that is a story that I will save for another post, a little later.

There’s no doubt about it.  Glass is a terribly seductive material.  Having worked in a variety of media, I can say unequivocably that there is no other material quite like it.  Glass must be kept molten in order to work it, so it “exists” as a plastic material only in those higher ranges. This means the studio is an engine of heat.  Furnaces blast using specially designed equipment capable of achieving, and then maintaining about twenty-five hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

When I first began blowing glass, I was a grad student at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  I was there studying sculpture and had just completed my first semester when I discovered that there was a glass program there.  The guy who was hoping to find a replacement for his job at the University Museum told me about the job as well as the class.  I wound up taking his job at the Museum so he could move to teaching glass.  And that is how I started blowing glass first at Carbondale under Marshal Hyde, and then Prof. Bill Boysen.  I wound up falling in love with it.  It was instantaneous.  From the moment the bubble emerged from the blow pipe, I was hooked.  It was that simple.  I continued my studies in sculpture and completed my M.F.A in sculpture, but when I left Carbondale, I was also a glassblower.  Impatient with getting a job in academia, I chose to go full bore in the studio biz and did, designing and building all my own equipment in a bare little space of a studio which I turned into a humming world of molten lava until I moved to SW Va and to a very different studio space (you gotta promise to come visit the gallery and the studio–its a great sandbox!).

In order to work glass with any degree of speed or facility, you have to keep the material within a fairly narrow temperature range.  If you work the glass too cool, it takes forever to get a piece done since its plasticity is limited.  If you work too hot, you could lose the piece as it careen out of control by becoming TOO plastic.  Everything with glass happens within a pretty narrow window, and as a glass worker, you are able to gauge what this window is both by look as well as feel.  I can remember working alone and realizing I could gauge temperature strictly by how the glass resisted my turning it on the pipe.  When glass is hot, it will “lag” behind the turning of the pipe.  This is because it is semi-fluid.  its like getting a small pool of water to turn in one direction using your hands.  It doesn’t all start the same way a solid object would start to turn; it is more like getting MOST of it to turn and then the really hot soft stuff that is “lagging” catches up through sheer peer pressure.  Well okay, not peer pressure. Its just not an exact thing.  Its a coaxing thing, a cajoling thing.  This is what makes glass so hard to master.  It seems to have a life and a mind of its own.  It is what also makes glass frustratingly difficult.  And rewarding when you get it.  Its a miracle that the material can even be shaped, or kept that hot, let alone transformed into objects of great beauty.

Each time I blow at the bench I think about this small miracle.  It keeps everything fresh for me as I refuse to stay entrenched in what I think the material is capable of.  Its capable of more than I can even conceive.  I just have to learn how to tease those new secrets out of it!  And so you get an idea of what I go through when making my stuff.  Or new stuff.  New stuff is interesting for how, even now, I go partly by instinct and partly by something that is entirely mysterious to me and I am sorry that its like this, but that is what it is.  This is the miracle side of the thing.  Its how I come up with the coolest ideas.  They can even seem or appear as accidental. Some are flat out accidents.  You heard me.  I discover the most when I relinquish the greatest control.  Then the glass shows me, and I follow.  Its accidental like that.  I know it probably sounds like mumbo jumbo, but its very significant mumbo jumbo and that’s just how it is.  Its a mystery,  And you and I have to deal with that while we sit back and enjoy the fruits of the days’ labors.  Don’t get me wrong; I couldn’t do any of this if I didn’t know how to blow glass.  The blowing part I have down.  Its what allows me to do what I do with minimal effort, the part that frees my mind and spirit to soar.  You can’t always do that if your mind is burdened or you are still working on getting technique or form.  It actually has to be set free.   I haven’t figured out a way to do this while constantly having to figure out if I am doing the technique right or if I am having trouble keeping everything centered.  Its why artists create.  Its a touchstone to something still larger.  And deeply rewarding.

This is what is called the glory hole.  It’s also called a reheating furnace. Some people snicker at the term which is now used for a very different meaning.  I could give you the history of where glory hole came from (gold rush actually) but I will just let you stare into the intense heat of the furnace for now.  Its so hot that the flame from the burner isn’t discernible.  Everything becomes incandescent at these elevated temperatures.  In just the right place within the glory lies a swath of insulative material that isn’t just yellow, but white.  I aim for that spot, knowing by its color to be the hottest spot in the entire place.  Here is where the glass will quickly melt and become soft and pliable.

There is little more capable of capturing the sense of flow and liquid the way glass does.  Having said that, glass is also expert at turning into just about anything, and that includes things that don’t flow.  There is nothing contradictory in what I just said!  Right?

For me, I enjoy the fusion of hot with cool, the water and fire all at once.  I enjoy watching the material go through a transformation from hot to cool.  And truly, it transforms.  Colors change, some colors seem to radiate light while they become opaque and dark once cooled.  Sometimes it feels as though you are looking into the secret life of glass.  Like the hot side is its undercover identity, and few ever see it.  In this state, in this phase of its expression, things are VERY different.  And as quickly as it began, its over.  The piece is quickly broken off the punty and dispatched to the annealing oven so that it can go through a special heat treatment that is absolutely necessary.

I think annealing is like a big mystery to most people, a kind of invisible process that you can’t see or touch or taste or watch as it happens.  This all happens inside the safe confines of the kiln or oven.

The speed at which glass exits its plastic phase into its solid phase can result in considerable stress being built up in the body of the glass, a type of thermal stress that is never seen by the eye, yet is lurking there, ready to strike at any moment.  If the glass is taken through the liquid to solid phase and below to quickly the glass will register this stress invisibly, and it will also break if it continues its march much below 750° F in too rapid a fashion.  Instead, the oven or kiln is used to slow that descent so that everything cools just right.  Too fast, and stress can be reintroduced, and too slow and the glass could slump at the higher ranges (deform slightly from the high-end heat).  There are ways to calculate all of this and in general a note is made of what is the thickest piece in the kiln because that batch’s annealing cycle will be determined by the thickest cross-section of glass in the kiln.  the thicker it is, the longer it takes for the annealing cycle to work.  Glass is, you see, a very poor conductor of heat, so it takes time to get heat INTO the ware or work, and it is slow to take it out of the pieces.  Again, this is why if you cool too fast, you can actually cause work to break (everybody make a sad face now).

Inside of glass is a world where nothing is real, where light bends, where solids register as etherial sprites.  Nothing is as it should be and yet, it all feels perfect.  Looking through glass is somehow like looking through a womb, a world made of water and muffled sounds.  There is nothing about it that suggest cold hard reality, although I am sure there are people who are whipping their glass into such submissions of shape and form.  But not me….at least not now…

The expressive potential of glass is huge.  It can be made to be soft edged and water.  It can be turned into angular rock-like forms and made to fool the eye.  it flows and yet it is solid.  May describe the medium as a super cooled liquid, and to this I would agree, but absent the thought that the material keeps moving (that is an old romantic tale that some seek to back up with various inaccurate “evidence” which just isn’t so, sadly, but I wont go into here….maybe later…if you are interested…)

Most often, my work with glass is in letting the material speak its own language of molten fluidity. I add my own contrasts to highlight my own preferences and turn of mind, but homage is given in my work each moment to the amazing fluidity of this material.  I have only begun to scratch the surface of the potential this material has…

When glass exits the furnace where it is “gathered” or twirled onto the end of a blowpipe, the molten shapeless gob of glass (yes, “gob” is actually a technical term in the glass forming industry; so appropriate!) is allowed to cool and be shaped.  A bubble is inserted through the long blow pipe in order for the glass to be inflated and have a hollow inner core.  If this is going to be sculpture that isn’t hollow, the glass isn’t blown in the traditional way, but is instead “solid formed” which means that no air is blown into the center of the molten material.  Instead of blowing up like a balloon, its more like dipping hand dipped candles; layer and layer, the wax or glass builds up on the outer-most layers until the achieved size is realized.  Through a series of as many as fifty different moves, a relatively modest vessel can be formed, such as the perfumer to the left.  For larger more elaborate objects, the number of steps can treble and the need for assistance from others in on the team effort can sometimes be required.

All blown glass, or hollow vessel forms always begin the same way on the blow pipe.  They are blown and then the vessel has to be cracked off the pipe and a new tool, called a punty, a solid rod with a dab of glass on its end is used to temporarily stick to the bottom of the vessel so that the broken ends can be heated, trimmed, and then heated until it is either spun out (for a bowl) or it gains enough plasticity so that it s top section can be formed into a long graceful neck for a vase or some similar kind of form, depending on what the artist has in mind.

Glass has remarkable expressive potential.  It can be blown, it can be formed in a kiln (fused glass) it can be worked on the end of a small metal rod in the making of beads, and the glass can be ladled molten into molds while hot for cast glass.  It’s an amazingly versatile material that makes glass containers, windows, windshields, beakers for chemistry experiments, platters of Pyrex for cooking the roast beef, and beautiful objects of art adorning the home the same way jewelry would adorn a woman’s body, helping to add that special visual accent or looks that helps to make the dress, or evening.  This is how we adorn our lives through intelligent designs that help shift how we look and how we respond to a space.  We can add any number of looks or sense of taste to a space depending on what we choose.  Good design matters, and handmade matters most!  Okay, so now  its the next big thing….is it history?  or do I delve into the forms themselves?  Good museums for glass to go to?  Other artists?   A blog on the renovations going on at the studio?  A few videos?  Hmmm….there is a lot to consider.

(All images are my own, and if you would like to use them, you have to ask permission)

©Parker Stafford, Stafford Art Glass


Designing Control

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Update – 3/4/2014 In light of the Snowden revelations, this old post becomes remarkably prescient.

Update  –  6/27/2013     Note:  with the recent “discoveries” of how the government  is spying on the U.S. public using communication companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Google, Yahoo, Apple and others, this post becomes even more important for people to read and consider.  Today I am adding new information to help you understand the issue which will show up at the end of this post.  I tend to feel that truth is often found in unusual places.  I teach my students in college about how cognitive bias serves to narrow our vision and helps to cement a false belief system that is not based on anything real necessarily.  Being able to see beyond our own biases and consider new ideas without necessarily buying into them immediately just because they appeal to us personally, is an important trait in being able to get to the truth I have found. the preposterous idea one day can become mainstream truth the next.  So please read through to the end for the newly added material!

Disclosure:  this article was written first to investigate what was happening with surveillance in the USA and secondly to see if there was a presidential candidate who was addressing issues related to right to privacy as granted in the Constitution.  This was written during a presidential campaign and part of the article points to a candidate who did address these issues. However, the information herein is timely and as recent events have shown with the issue of Snowden releasing information on how the govt has been spying on all Americans has made this piece written a year ago interestingly prescient. 


Everything that is made is designed.  Design makes an object useful, perhaps more purposeful.  Normally we think of design as something that is for products like chairs and airplanes, shoes, guns, shirts, houses, communities, and computer systems.  Things that help us live more fulfilled lives.  But what about a surveillance state, a system for control or surveillance?  This is a different kind of animal and I think that when it comes to these things our minds tend to switch into a mode of thinking that ceases being critical and questioning a lot of the time.  It’s up to those in power to figure that out.  They deal with secret information and after all, loose lips sinks ships, right?  But all of these notions are themselves fed into us.  We do not come out of the womb believing that we ought not question how a system for surveiling the public ought not be questioned.  But this IS something that is designed.  With purpose.  For certain results.  What exactly would go into a surveillance state, and why would anyone want to infringe on someone’s right to privacy in the United States? And really, to what end?  It might help to understand what forms of surveillance there are and how information is supposed to be gathered.  Its gone from people listening in over phone networks to much more sophisticated methods as well as means that you might not have even considered is part of the eavesdropping game in these United States.  But first, a little history.

The History of Surveillance

It used to be the eyes on the ground was the neighborhood policeman who walked a beat.  Police were still used to direct traffic, and things were simpler then. The world of electronics was just beginning to come into use.  As with all technology, things were very expensive and bulky at first, which meant that having this form of technology around us was limited to things like computers, some radios, and specialty equipment.  But fueled by an explosion in technology, the types of devices that could communicate wirelessly and increasingly higher wavelengths began to proliferate.  The C.I.A. is created after the second world war and the N.S.A. was created in May of 1949  under the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support intelligence efforts (1)

Since then, along with parallel developments in signal technology and the development of a digital method for encoding and reading information over a broad range of electronic equipment, the technology used for surveillance has broadened. In the mid 80’s the rise of the internet served to be yet another platform for surveillance. By this time, though, much of the  “listening” had become automated with keywords being picked through the vast chaff of signal communications via phone, internet, and even fax transmissions (via image recognition). The world of surveillance has become incredibly sophisticated, costly, and invasive.  It’s an example of something that has been allowed to grow way beyond any reasonable bounds.  Many ignore it since it’s just out of their notice while others are deeply concerned how this infrastructure is going to affect our rights to privacy.  Fed by a wholesale liquidation of many privacy rights and standard procedures such as warrants for wiretapping as well as gathering records on suspects, the surveillance state in the U.S. has grown based on one event that happened on September eleventh in the year two thousand.

Currently the surveillance state in the United States costs about 75 billion dollars a year.  This figure is expected to grow as our government continues to  upgrade emergency medical response equipment, install surveillance cameras, set up sophisticated radio networks, and outfit  airport screeners to detect an evolving list of mobile explosives.  Currently the security industry is a growth sector of our economy, and states have benefited from a sudden influx of revenue resulting from business being created in this sector of the economy.  After Columbine, some 10 billion was spent just to outfit schools with security cameras (2).  The business of watching is expensive, and for some a financial boon.  It involves makers, installers and monitors for the equipment or technology being used.  A long list of benefits occur as a result of a security system being put into place in a courthouse, for example, benefits that involve people monitoring equipment, people employed to install as well as manufacture the equipment.  The benefit to a cash strapped local government is that it results in much-needed revenue.  All of that and we have not yet touched on the technology our government (the NSA in particular) is most likely using to tap into video cameras mounted on traffic lights as well as in businesses where they are tied to the internet. Many security cameras now have this as a standard feature, along with motion detection to alert you, from, say, your home, whether anything is moving around your business location or second home, for example.  If it goes over the phone lines, the government can eaves drop on it!  Sound paranoid?  You should read on….

The L.A. Times explains the situation as it stands right now very well in its article about the rise of surveillance and domestic monitoring of its citizenry:

Thanks to new laws and technologies, authorities track and eavesdrop on Americans as they never could before, hauling in billions of bank records, travel receipts and other information. In several cases, they have wiretapped conversations between lawyers and defendants, challenging the legal principle that attorney-client communication is inviolate.

Advocates say the expanded surveillance has helped eliminate vulnerabilities identified after the Sept. 11 attacks. Some critics, unconvinced, say the snooping undermines privacy and civil liberties and leads inevitably to abuse. They argue that the new systems have weakened security by burying investigators in irrelevant information.

“We are caught in the middle of a perfect storm in which every thought we communicate, every step we take, every transaction we enter into is captured in digital data and is subject to government collection,” said Fred H. Cate, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who has written extensively on privacy and security.

A robust debate on the intelligence gathering has been impossible, for the simple reason that most of the activity is officially secret. In lawsuits alleging improper eavesdropping, the Justice Department has invoked state secrecy to prevent disclosure of classified information and systems.

In May, two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said that Americans would be disturbed if they knew about some of the government’s data-gathering procedures. But Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said they were prohibited from revealing the facts.

“When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted” surveillance law, “they will be stunned and they will be angry,” Wyden said.

The National Security Agency, which eavesdrop on foreign targets, once had to get a court-approved warrant to monitor a U.S. citizen’s communications over wires that traverse the United States. Now the agency is free to vacuum up communications by Americans and foreigners alike, as long as the target of the surveillance is a foreigner. (3)

A Question of Finances

At a time when our nation is stretched to its limit fiscally, there is some question about all of these expenditures.  Some lawmakers don’t worry about WHERE the money comes from as long as their own districts get a piece of the pie, or pork.  The problem, though, is there is no free lunch, and the money comes from somewhere.  If its not being covered by a budget with actual tax revenues, its a form of spending that is called deficit spending and the effect this spending has is the same effect that someone with an unlimited credit card has in their own spending.  Eventually, debt can be raised so high that it erodes the economy and the value of the dollar being used as the vehicle for exchange.  Economists are pointing to this having happened in the face of uncontrolled spending both on the Iraq, Afghanistan, and now (it looks like)  Iranian conflicts.  The country, which has been through a major bursting of its economic bubble (in housing originally), now is slipping not just into recession but what many economists call a recession.  Spending continues, though, all in the name of keeping America safe.

When you look at a peeler in the store, you want to know how well designed it is, how effective its going to be, right?  Its one reason why we test drive cars, why we visit houses and why we try on clothes. We want to make sure that how their designed is for the use intended.  If something doesn’t fit, we don’t buy it.  In the case of government spending, there is a larger lobby going on. Imagine seven people standing outside your dressing room explaining to you WHY you should buy those jeans.  One person walks up to you and slips you a brochure that explains all of the benefits of the jeans you are looking at.  Someone else walks up and explains why buying those jeans isn’t a good idea.  This is the process for how things can be purchased at the government level.  Its all about influence and the art of the sell.  We have been sold on our need to be kept secure by technology.  The problem, however, is that what is meant to keep us secure is actually invading our privacy.

So what are the actual numbers on the National Security letters, which are those unconstitutional methods for getting information without a warrant?  There have been 192,500 National Security Letters issued between 2003 and 2006, according to an audit by the Justice Department inspector general. The numbers have dropped sharply since then, but the FBI issued 24,287 National Security Letters last year for data on 14,212 Americans. That’s up from a few thousand letters a year before 2001(4).

What is happening in the U.S. is the government now can get information about ordinary citizens from public sources such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other online sources.  Facebook simply provided the intelligence community carte blanch access to their network after getting tired of responding to thousands of requests a day to provide them with user logs and user input on their network.  Effectively, they gave them a backdoor access without ever telling anyone about it.  Your viewing habits on Netflix can be known with ease as these records are available to “third-party affiliates” which means in their disclosure agreement in their Terms of Use as meaning anyone who the company chooses to sell your information to.  Facebook, which uses a sophisticated form of biometric tracking can now recognize your face in all of the photos of you on their network where you are and are not tagged.  The government doesn’t NEED to spy on you since you have agreed to their “Terms of Use” and because this is considered public domain information.  This is one reason why Google requires that you upload a photograph of you.  Not an image of your home or the product you are selling or a cartoon character.  It’s because they are using biometrics, a means of turning your facial features into datapoints that make it possible to recognize you in other pictures in the future.  In a number of States this technology is being used for driver licenses.  Your data is out there!

In this new take on how privacy is being eroded as fast as you can imagine, our own government doesn’t NEED to keep extensive networks tracking people.  As more and more people grow  dependent on the internet, its easier to simply track people.  When you blog the software may ask you where you are.  On Facebook, there is the same option. While on the one hand this is to help companies get a sense of the habits of their public and what they want and need in an effort to anticipate future buying behavior, it is also a weird Big Brother activity that pushes technology way beyond anything that we are used to or even want.  I am asked what my phone number is when I buy lumber.  I get a club card at my local grocery which teams my buying up with who I am, my age, my sex and my address.  On the one hand it provides information to the company in exchange for specials to me, but it also is an intelligence gathering device that can be used by other entities such as the government.  Did you read a book on terrorism last month?  Did you watch the movie “Spare Change” which questions the official story of 9/11 or do you support a presidential candidate such as Ron Paul who is calling for dismantling all of these intrusions into our privacy?  For some, it doesn’t matter. for others, though, its seen as a gross misuse of the public funds for a spectrum of activity that has not caught a single terrorist seeking to board a plane to blow it up since 9/11.  in fact, it seems that the best our government can do is to encourage would-be terrorists to build bombs and then arrest them later for doing so (yes this has happened)

So is all of this surveillance paying off?  Are we safer as the rise of this surveillance state?  Now that its such big business, will we be able to wean ourselves off of it?  To read more about what’s happening, go here.

Have we stopped any planes?  Have we been able to stop domestic terror like Columbine, or Virginia Tech? If all of this technology is supposed to make us safer, could it be that we simply conceived the priorities all wrong?

If you think that the Obama administration is the champion of freedom, materially, nothing has changed from one administration to the next.

Bush gave the NSA the authority to eavesdrop on Americans communicating with foreigners abroad without first obtaining a FISA warrant, deeming the process too slow. As a U.S. senator, Obama condemned the so-called wireless wiretapping after the New York Times made it public in 2005. But when he ran for president in 2008, Obama voted for legislation that granted retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that had secretly helped the government eavesdrop.The law also retroactively legalized other forms of surveillance, former intelligence officials say, including “bulk” monitoring that allows the government to intercept all email traffic between America and a range of suspect email addresses in, say,Pakistan.

Privacy advocates say the government should acknowledge how many Americans have had their communications intercepted in recent years. But after Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee requested that information, the Obama administration responded in July that it was “not reasonably possible to identify the number.” (5)

The question is, is this new car in our drive way making life better for us, or is it infringing on our freedom, our right to privacy?  On new years’ day Obama signed the NDAA (the National Defense Authorization Act)  a piece of legislation providing our government the carte blanche it needs (and wants apparently) to call any citizen a terrorist, arrest them and execute them all without any observation of the writ of Habius Corpus, or due process.  Such individuals do not have a right to an attorney and can be held indefinitely.  The problem is that abuses will happen as individuals who are inconvenient to a political party are “rendered” in this unconstitutional way by those individuals who have the power to say so.  At this point it’s no longer up to a judge to serve a warrant for police to look in your apartment.  Abuse can and will happen as the past has shown.  It’s very much the very same thing that happened in Salem Massachusetts when someone called another a witch.  They were drowned for a perceived or feared evil (when all along it might just have been that one woman was jealous of another woman and how all the men take notice of her, for example).  Or, perhaps, in the same way that Senator Joseph McCarthy did back during his tenure in office, he sought to spread fear where there was no real reason for being fearful.  Perhaps what is happening is the same thing, a means to change and erode our freedoms on such a massive scale that its mind-boggling.  Most people do not seem to care or notice.  And its true, as long as it doesn’t affect them, or as long as they don’t notice, it just isn’t a big deal, right?  And yet, the problem is, it affects all of us.

Has there been abuse as a result of all of this?  There has. To read more about the problems go here. There have been huge abuses of the money spent.  One such instance involved over 500,000 dollars in funding going to a North Pole outfit for search and rescue equipment (a creative way to get much-needed equipment probably) as well as lapel pins and phone cards in the state legislature of West Virginia.  There are areas that are given equipment that they aren’t even sure they need.  There hasn’t even been a threat assessment done, just what appears to be a guess based on what some feel could be a threat. One state legislator describes the spending as being as random and out of control as his mother headed out the door with the charge card.  The ACLU has a good series of articles outlining their biggest concerns about the Patriot Act and how it should be reformed here.  Do you know where your Congressional leaders stand on the issue of the Patriot Act, the surveillance state and the flow of your information across networks without your knowledge or even consent?  There is only one presidential hopeful running today who even brings up the issue of privacy rights, and liberty.  It seems that for as much concern as there has been over this issue, there are precious few who are bucking the establishment trend and fighting for freedom from such intrusions.  I include some links to this candidate and some of what he says and is about.

Because all of this is public, we all bear responsibility to change something if we do not feel its working.  The purpose was to make us safe, and yet the numbers involved in this entire enterprise is specious at best.  In the March issue, 2011, Harper’s Index expressed the point this way: “Number of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year: 8 — Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning: 29.”  

As a final note, as mentioned in the article “The rise and cost of American Surveillance” the author includes these points to consider about abuse and how the Patriot Act has been used to abuse and rewrite the Bill of Rights:

  • The FBI admitted in a recent report to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board that it violated the law at least 800 times on national security letters, going well beyond even the loose safeguards in the original provision. According to the report the FBI “may have violated the law or government policy as many as 3,000 times” between 2003 and 2007, according to the Justice Department Inspector General, while collecting bank, phone and credit card records using NSLs.
  • As Adam Sewer of the American Prospect notes: “It’s no secret that the FBI’s use of NSLs – a surveillance tool that allows the FBI to gather reams of information on Americans from third-party entities (like your bank) without a warrant or without suspecting you of a crime – have resulted in widespread abuses. All that the FBI needs to demand your private information from a third-party entity is an assertion that such information is “relevant” to a national security investigation — and the NSLs come with an accompanying gag order that’s almost impossible to challenge in court.”
  • NSLs were used by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to demand that libraries turn over the names of books that people had checked out. In fact, there were at least 545 libraries that received such demands in the year following passage of the Patriot Act alone.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) uncovered “indications that the FBI may have committed upwards of 40,000 possible intelligence violations in the 9 years since 9/11.” It said it could find no records of whether anyone was disciplined for the infractions.
  • Under the Bush Administration, the FBI used the Patriot Act to target liberal groups, particularly anti-war, environment, and anti-globalization, during the years between 2001 and 2006 in particular.
  • According to a recent report by the ACLU, there have been 111 incidents of illegal domestic political surveillance since 9/11 in 33 states and the District of Columbia. The report shows that law enforcement and federal officials work closely to monitor the political activity of individuals deemed suspicious, an activity common during the Cold War – including protests, religious activities and other rights protected by the first amendment. The report also noted how the FBI monitors peaceful protest groups and in some cases attempted to prevent protest activities.
  • According to a July 2009 report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, only three of the 763 “sneak-and-peek” requests in fiscal year 2008 involved terrorism cases. Sixty-five percent were drug related.

We need things that make our lives better. Good design is about that.  This, however, is a gross waste of much-needed resources and also serves to destroy America as we know it.  The coup isn’t that someone flew planes into buildings, it’s that it allowed the powerful an entrée into our lives, all of our lives, in a wholesale erosion of basic rights that were fought for and paid for in the blood of Patriots (such as the Revolutionary War).

We are in an election year and as I look more closely at what the Democrats end Republicans are saying about the challenges we face with a debt crisis, multiple wars and a swiftly growing surveillance state, I do not see anyone who is championing this cause, except for one candidate.  I do note that this one candidate predicted the housing bubble, as well as our current debt crisis.  Increasingly popular, he has been ignored by most media except that he continues to show growing popularity in his run for the nomination.  I think given how he has been ignored by the mainstream, its worthwhile for people to have a more honest and clear-eyed view at a man who has had twelve terms  in Congress and whose record has been consistently on the side of the Constitution.  It just might be that we need more people who will respect the rule of the Constitution rather than eroding basic human rights and freedoms granted by our Constitution.  This is Congressman Ron Paul.  Here are a few links to him and what his philosophy is:

Video Of Ron Paul In Congress

Ron Paul Campaign Site

Myth VS Fact

On a personal note, I am all for freedom.  As an artist, freedom of speech and liberty is incredibly important to the most basic of activities.  I am not wanting to see my country reduced to a police state, which is actively happening right now.  As people are distracted and waving away any suggestion that there is anything untoward happening, I know that threats to our liberty can happen right here, at home.  The war on Terror has turned out to be a war on our rights and liberties as well as a reason to go into other countries to steal oil wealth (I presume) or line the pockets of the military industrial complex.  There is no one else in the field who is standing up against this wholesale sell off of our rights except Ron Paul, so yes, I support him, and yes, I think you should take a look at him aside from all the press that has sought to demonize and make him seem like a kook (lets admit it; its worked) and yet when I look at the facts on the ground, I do not find freedom kooky at all.  Gold standard?  That requires doing some research into monetary policy and how currencies tend to be destroyed through overspending (look at the you tube video Money Masters which explains the history of money as a form of exchange and why having a Central Bank may not be a good way to have the show run).  Sometimes we have to go looking for the facts absent others’ conflations or spin.  While I offer up a man in a brazen and obvious way, I am not telling you what to think.  Ultimately you must come to your own conclusions. We are all in this together!

6/27/2013 UPDATE:  included is some additional information to help readers have more information and make a more informed decision about how they participate in the datagathering efforts now underway by companies and governments.  Alex Jones is a real trip and I don’t buy into all of the fear that comes up on his site but he does have an important interview with the founders of Startpage, one of the few, perhaps only truly private search engine on the internet.  Getting past the fear mongering that Jones gets into, though, you can gain a clearer picture of what efforts there are out there in helping people maintain their privacy online.   Once you watch the interview I think you will come away with a better understanding of how your information can be used without your consent or knowledge for a host of purposes, some of which may be in “customizing” your internet experience (which the founders of Startpage have found may not be the case entirely, but also an effort at molding your own sense of what your choices really are….).  Watch the video and decide for yourself:

This is the link on youtube.  The link beneath it will open a new window for you to view the interview.  The meat of the interview  begins about 4 minutes into the program for those who would like to skip the introductory material.

Jones with Startpage Founders

©Parker Stafford



(2)  (see the article “Ten Years after Columbine” available as a pdf)




Art and Design

The Property Of Intellect

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Glass Design ©Parker Stafford

As artists and designers, our work is very visual.  A designer puts her work as a silk screen on T-shirts and sells them to make a living.  Someone comes out with a new shape to a shoe, a new configuration to a cabinet, a new look to a car, or a painting, rug, or sculpture.  Perhaps someone is making music and wants to protect their ideas.  How do we go about protecting what is rightfully ours?  In this age when images and products are either being appropriated outright or stolen quietly (something we call piracy), what safeguards are there for such new works that represent new thinking, new ideas, and the hard work of millions?

In the United States there are four main ways to protect your ideas and designs.

First, there are patents.  These fall into three broad categories:

  • Utility
  • Design
  • Plant Patents

Next are Trademarks  ® and Copyrights ©.  The final way to protect work is through trade secrets.  These will be discussed a little later in this blog entry.

Patents are registered with the U.S. patent office and are good for twenty years.  This allows the creator the time needed to profit from the idea before its being opened up to the broader market of makers and manufacturers and designers.  While it’s a protection, it is limited since the patent office’s other purpose is to help people retrieve information about expired patents so they may learn how to reproduce the idea.  One role the patent office serves is that of educator, helping to disseminate accurate information for those wishing to review older patent applications.

Utility patents are applied for to help protect useful processes, machines, manufactured articles, and compositions of matter. Some examples: medications, computer chips, and fiber optic cable.

Design patents guard the unauthorized use of new, original, and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture. How a shirt looks, the design of a piece of blown glass, pottery, furniture,  the design of a shoe, or even the characters in a children’s t.v. show can all be protected under a design patent.

Plant patents are the way we protect invented or discovered, asexually reproduced plant types. There has been an explosion of these lately with court rulings allowing companies to patent certain genes.  More traditional examples of this are Burpee seeds that are hybrids like the “Beefsteak” tomato.  All of these are protected under plant patents.

Trademarks are another form of intellectual property protection.  Examples of this type of protection would be the “swoosh” developed by Nike, and the shape of the Coke bottle.  These can be symbols, logos, words, or even sounds, that help to distinguish a company or its product in the public eye.  Unlike patents, trademarks can be renewed forever.

Copyrights protect works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed. The Library of Congress registers copyrights which last the life of the author plus 50 years. Movies, screen plays, and music are all examples of copyright protection.

Finally, there are trade secrets.  Some examples of these are the recipes for Coke and for Kentucky Fried Chicken.  These are not protections made by any government agency but by the business itself.

Since my area of interest is in art and design, I will be looking more closely at the Design Patent since it will in most cases be the one application that most artists and designers will be concerned with.

Glass Design ©Parker Stafford

The Design Patent Process.  There is a process for applying for a patent, and in order for the office to work with you certain basics have to be observed.  Before embarking on such an effort, it would be important to hire a patent attorney so that they may guide you in setting up the best protections built into your application.  While the patent office does not require legal representation, it’s always been advised that you do so.  The application begins with something called a “drawing disclosure” which is a set of drawings or photographs that describe in a complete manner all aspects of the design that are relevant.  A furniture designer would include all scale drawings for the manufacture of their drawers, pulls, how glass or panels are installed; essentially all aspects of he making of the object in order that these details can be plainly understood by the patent examiner to make sure that there is not a current patent that already exists that covers the same design. The patent office describes this part of the process in this way:

Of primary importance in a design patent application is the drawing disclosure, which illustrates the design being claimed. Unlike a utility application, where the “claim” describes the invention in a lengthy written explanation, the claim in a design patent application protects the overall visual appearance of the design, “described” in the drawings. It is essential that the applicant present a set of drawings (or photographs) of the highest quality which conform to the rules and standards which are reproduced in this guide. Changes to these drawings after the application has been filed, may introduce new matter which is not permitted by law (35 U.S.C. 132). It is in applicant’s best interest to ensure that the drawing disclosure is clear and complete prior to filing the application, since an incomplete or poorly prepared drawing may result in a fatally defective disclosure which cannot become a patent. It is recommended that applicant retain the services of a professional draftsperson who specializes in preparing design patent drawings. Examples of acceptable drawings and drawing disclosures are included in this Guide so that applicant will have some idea of what is required and can prepare the drawings accordingly.

In addition to the drawing disclosure, certain other information is necessary. While no specific format is required, it is strongly suggested that applicant follow the formats presented to ensure that the application is complete.

When a complete design patent application, along with the appropriate filing fee, is received by the Patent and Trademark Office, it is assigned an Application Number and a Filing Date. A “Filing Receipt” containing this information is sent to the applicant. The application is then assigned to an examiner. Applications are examined in order of their filing date.

The actual “examination” entails checking for compliance with formalities, ensuring completeness of the drawing disclosure, and a comparison of the claimed subject matter with the “prior art”. “Prior art” consists of issued patents and published materials. If the claimed subject matter is found to be patentable, the application will be “allowed” and instructions will be provided to applicant for completing the process to permit issuance as a patent.

There is an entire process for applications that are incomplete, or are denied or rejected for noncompliance to patent office standards.  Its a rather daunting task, but each step is there to make the process one where the patent officials can quickly and speedily process your application.

It’s important to know the requirements of a design patent over a utility patent.  The patent office distinguishes these two forms this way in their description of the two:

In general terms, a “utility patent” protects the way an article is used and works (35 U.S.C. 101), while a “design patent” protects the way an article looks (35 U.S.C. 171). Both design and utility patents may be obtained on an article if invention resides both in its utility and ornamental appearance. While utility and design patents afford legally separate protection, the utility and ornamentality of an article are not easily separable. Articles of manufacture may possess both functional and ornamental characteristics.

A design patent must be  comprised of those elements in the work (also called “The Art” in the application) that impact the appearance of the object or item being patented.  If the appearance of the object is secondary to its use or function, the application can be denied, so being able to differentiate how an object is used as opposed to those elements that serve to be of a decorative or artistic nature need to be well understood.  While a car may have an engine that has numerous patents applying to it, it is how the car looks that is served by its design patent. If a door handle on the car has a specific appearance that is not tied to its utility, then it can be  protected by a design patent.  The patent office also includes that anything that can be deemed offensive to any race, religion, sex, ethnic group or nationality, is not considered for design patents.  This provision certainly suggests a degree of interpretation, and this is where an experienced patent attorney can be of some assistance.

A design patent will contain the following elements as standard:

(1) Preamble, stating name of the applicant, title of the design, and a brief description of the nature and intended use of the article in which the design is embodied;
(2) Description of the figure(s) of the drawing;
(3) Feature description;
(4) A single claim;
(5) Drawings or photographs;
(6) Executed oath or declaration.

While it is beyond the scope of this blog to go into each of these elements, they are included in order that you can become familiar with those most basic portions of the process.  The fee for filing such an application depends on whether you or your company is of sufficient size to warrant a standard design application fee or the opportunity to have this fee reduced by half if you can prove that you are a small entity.  There is an application for this that has to be filed along with the application. At every step of the way, there are applications that must be made if you are going to, for example, include photographs as opposed to drawings.  These photographs have to be printed on the correct weight paper, and they each have to be identified in the proper way so they can be referenced accurately within the application!

For more information on the process and what is required you can go to the patent office website to find out more.  The link to the design patent location is here.

The fee schedule for all patent applications can be found here.  The cost for a patent search, which is just the portion of the application that makes sure there is no one else with the same kind of patent that is current is $60.00 for a small entity and double that for a larger entity.  The design patent examination itself currently costs $60.00 for a small entity, and again, is double that for a larger company.  There are other fees associated to the proper application for patent and it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with them and decide if patenting your idea is what you would like to do.

The single best way to keep fees down is to make sure that your application is completed with as few errors as possible.  If you have educated yourself and are willing to do the patent application on your own, taking the time to go through all of the requirements and making sure they all conform properly will save you headaches later on down the line.  It can also keep your patent application running smoothly through the patent office, cutting down on the time that it takes to process it.  Asking for a “rush” on your application, for example, will cost you in excess of $2,000.00.  Learning how to best prepare for a process such as this can save you later.  As a final word of caution, be careful about letting a company that helps people get patents.  It has been the experience of the patent office that while some are reputable, some are not.  Some may have a contract that serves to reduce, not enhance, your rights under the patent.  They might not take a fee, but instead have provisions that make them a defacto partner in the making and marketing of your design.  It’s always advisable to read the small print, and even then, better to hire a patent attorney who understands current law as it related to Intellectual Property (IP) issues.

For an up to date listing of attorneys in your area who are currently able to present patent applications to the Patent Office, go here. As you will see, you can view by state or by zip code.  The zip code list is the most up to date (its updated daily).  I would suggest getting references for these attorneys so that you can decide which one is right for you.  Having someone familiar with the design application as opposed to a utility application could result in fewer hang ups or problems later on down the line.

As a final little zinger and reminder about how important it is for the customer to be educated and prepared…..a number of years ago I was involved in work with a CPA who was part of a prestigious firm in my area.  His services were used for a number of basic tax and accounting issues.  When the business entity shifted gears and we chose to keep him on without my looking deeper into his credentials, we later suffered a big upset when he interpreted the law in such a way that it doubled our tax burden!  He was a well intended professional, but he was out of his league on this one issue, and it caused a great deal of problems until it was corrected. I had assumed he knew the law because even I knew how the law was interpreted by the vast majority of accountants in this area of expertise.  While it is not always possible for you to know ahead of time WHAT the law is, having already familiarized yourself with the basics can help YOU in choosing the person who will be right for the job. If you go into this process not knowing the right questions to ask, you could easily miss an important question to ask the person who will be serving you.  While you can make an argument for the professional needing to know his or her area of expertise, the bottom line is not doing so and having it result in a hang up is still a hang up or unpassed hurdle.  By being somewhat prepared, you can go into this process with eyes more open.  I hope that I have included some resources for you that will help you to familiarize yourself with the design patent process in your journey towards protecting your designs!

Prior to having a patent in place, having very good forms of documentation of the existence of your work  as a copyrighted entity can also be of some help.  Doing this though means sending yourself images of your work via certified mail and then keeping this envelope unopened and on file should any need to take action arise. Other forms of this could be printed materials with your designs clearly printed on them along with a date of some kind, establishing when you were making these.  While not as good as a patent, it can provide some measure of protection especially if you have a patent application pending or the case is a clear one involving stealing your designs.  Sadly, with the advent of optical scanners, someone can take a sculpture, scan it, and actually reproduce it using rapid prototyping technology.  While still developing, the technology already is causing some concern over intellectual property rights.  When I look on web sites and see so many images of others’ work being appropriated for a personal web site’s content, I have to wonder how far adrift we have gotten where we do not think about an image possibly being the work of another person, or seeking to provide attribution.  When I was in school, I could be kicked out for plagiarizing another’s work by not providing proper attribution!  Awareness is key, and then having the reverence to understand the work that went into making that item and NOT copying it but instead getting the artist to whom it belongs to provide you with their OWN work!

©Parker Stafford

Art and Design

Where The Heart of Design Resides

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It’s not often that the little guy gets a big break.  Artists often struggle to get their work to stand out, to be seen, to get a chance to rise to the top, to be known for what and who they are.  They are, after all, very small businesses.    In rural Southwest Virginia, that is exactly what one foundation has sought to do.  No compromises, no shortcomings, no disappointments, no big stuffy boards that oversee a project and have their OWN ideas about how the arts are best served, all without really understanding what’s really needed.  Someone was able to bring a vision to full fruition.  Now that vision needs everyone’s support to help push it forward in its search for becoming self-sufficient, and is one reason why this blog entry fits in so well with the purpose of this blog overall, which is to highlight great design wherever, and whenever it happens.

Over the last five years or so, there has been an initiative on the part of Todd Christianson to develop a “family” of organizations that will help bring the artist and artisan to the attention of a wider public.  By being the driving force behind this effort, he was able to garner the state money and grants needed to get this lofty concept off the ground.  He also brought into being several organizations that all help to serve cultural tourism in the region of Southwestern Virginia. These organizations include The Crooked Road, and ‘Round The Mountain (home to Heartwood Artisan Center). The former organization promotes the roots of country music in the region of Southwest Virginia by developing and promoting trails that lead to some of the best kept secrets of the music industry, and also some heavy hitters, too.  Who knew that you could travel back into time and find fiddlers gathering on porches and in barns to perform like they did way back in the day, untroubled by the hype and commercialism of modern capitalist attitudes that so often destroy and wreck a good old thing?  Not so in our neck of the woods; The Crooked Road has been met with fabulous success and has helped to push forward his efforts for ‘Round the Mountain.  People sign on and travel its windy roads to reach the homes of musicians now rising in popularity. Ralph Stanley himself is associated with this wonderful piece of culture and history, along with a host of up and coming musicians now making names for themselves.

At the heart of all of this lies the jewel in the crown of Southwestern Virginia culture;  Heartwood Artisan Center, which is located in Abingdon, Virginia.  Part of an ambitious 17 million dollar project, the Center sits along interstate I-81 in a town known for other great cultural institutions such as the Barter Theater.  The artisan center is a 30,000 square foot structure with a cool and regional theme that is an eclectic blend of sensibilities:  the building looks like a barn split down its middle with a silo to help add to the effect.  Very simply, it’s a remarkable building to be in.  It blends a feeling of the barn with a feeling of some of the most up to date technology.  All around there are kiosks with video monitors showing images of artists at work, musicians in concert, and pictures of the sweeping panorama’s that this region offers.  The floors have wood planking that were made locally.  The stone for the building was quarried just miles away. The entire building is stocked with the work of artisans from the 19 county region that the organization ‘Round The Mountain serves.  From inexpensive jewelry to locally made produce, music cd’s and a rocking chair that fetched over $4,000.00 for its maker there, there is something for everyone.  All artisans who have juried and have been accepted into the individual artisan trails that are part of the overall vision of “Round The Mountain, are able to exhibit at Heartwood.  Think of it as the outlet for all the artisan trails that the organization helped foster and build.  It’s a testament to collaboration and community that this facility was able to get off the ground in the way that it did.

photo courtesy of SpectrumDesign
photo courtesy of SpectrumDesign

The building, designed by local SpectrumDesign, the engineer and architect for the building project, has a number of other regional projects that show a similar sensitivity to the building and identity of the organizations and businesses that operate there.  It boasts a commercial kitchen for special events as well as an eatery all under one roof.  To get an idea for what the building looks like, a picture is worth a thousand words.  When you first see the structure, it’s so funky-cool that its exciting to actually approach and go inside.  Once inside, though, the view is open, airy, cathedral-like even.  It’s an inspiring and exciting space to be in for the interesting sense of design that draws on many different sensibilities yet never becomes maudlin or steeped in stereotypes.  This is an interesting space, no doubt about it, and its drawing visitors on a daily basis to see what all the fuss is about.  While there is a barnsy look, and while there is even a lofty look to the interior, you have to understand that a barn is a country cathedral.  If you think you know what a barn is like on the inside I ask you; have you ever been in  a barn so beautifully put together?  Below and to the left, you will see an example of how the architectural design has helped to bring about a fusion of many different sensibilities all under one roof.  This is remarkable.  Gifted with plenty of space, storage, meeting rooms, offices, kitchens and display space, this is a wonderful achievement.  The building is divided into two main wings with a central desk that serves to check out customers and guide visitors into the building.  There is room for a permanent exhibit that helps to tell the story of fine craft in this part of the country.  Beyond the main desk is an open area where visitors can rest, eat a meal from locally grown produce at their own eatery, and a second wing that hosts musical instruments, music cd’s of local musicians that are part of the Crooked Road.  While embracing the design sensibilities of fine craft, there is a broad range of work at the Center.

photo courtesy of SpectrumDesign

Towards the back, or is that the front?….  The building is so light and airy that its open all around to the outside, a feature that gives it a four corners effect.  But the space is soaring and open, rich and alive, cool and warm all at once.  The lighting in the photo to the left was made by a member of the Floyd County Artisan Trail of ‘Round The Mountain (RTM) Crenshaw Lighting.  With similar building techniques as employed in barns and even cathedrals, the resulting effect is inspiring.

photo courtesy of SpectrumDesign

Display areas are in the two wings of the building.  This one, near the front of the Center, includes some story boards that explain a little about the history and culture of the region.  There is a little something for everyone…from educational information, the opportunity to meet artisans during demonstration weekends, and listen to live music.  The displays are laid out so that its easy to move through the spaces.  It’s a great design and easy to navigate.  When design is both intuitive and well thought out, it creates an affirming and enjoyable experience for visitors.

photo courtesy of SpectrumDesign

The eatery, located more in the center of the building, provides those who are sitting down to have a bite, with a view of both wings, and the opportunity to consider where to go next.

For my money, this is a great facility.  It’s a great home for the regional artisans.  It helps to bring their work to the public in a high-profile way.  It finally honors the role that the arts play in our community.  In the town of Blacksburg, which is a few hours west, the local University has been busy building an arts center.  It turns out that this center will allow for programming to take place, but no room for artists, no consideration for their work or workshops. Its been the result of a very real disconnect between a very corporate kind of entity (albeit a state-run one) and the community it is supposed to serve.   I contacted its director and asked what I had to do to locate my studio in their facility.  There was never any consideration for such a thing.  My calls were never answered.  I wasn’t worth the time, or consideration, or perhaps it wasn’t something that occurred to its board which oversaw the conceptualization of the project. Its okay, though, because the arts begin at home, and whooo what a home RTM has made for itself and for the artists that they serve!  This is an example of how big business can serve the little guy and gal, celebrating our culture, boosting cultural tourism, as well as the business of every artisan associated with it!

photo courtesy of SpectrumDesign

For more information on ‘Round the Mountain, The Crooked Road, Heartwood Artisan Center and the people who make it happen, you can visit these sites for additional information:

For a story about Heartwood and its recent opening, see this article (which also has a picture of a piece of glass made by yours truly). It includes an interview with Todd Christianson and other artisans.

If you who would like to learn more about the artisan trails that are part of this regional effort and the opportunities they offer to visitors all across our region, go here.

Support your local artist, artisan, and designer; its all local and made in America!

Parker Stafford