Art and Design, glassblowing

Thanksgiving Tiding…

No Comments
Sun catcher by Ian, a grade school student from our area who blew this piece last weekend.
Sun catcher by Ian, a grade school student from our area who blew this piece last weekend.

THANK YOU!!!!!my followers, fans, friends, enthusiasts, dreamers and makers of glass!  Without your humor, engagement, enthusiasm, dreams and innate creativity, I could not do what has been achieved these last few months.  Without your desire to discover your own creative fire at the studio, I would not have had the support that made everything that came out of this season possible!  It was you who wished to come blow glass in great numbers with one person’s story inspiring still others who kept coming, inquiring, if it wasn’t too late to sneak into the studio to make your very own glass creation.  This, one of the most ancient of arts springs to new life with every eye that be holds it, with every hand that gives it breath and form.  The support your enthusiasm has given has made new wonderful creations possible.  I merely provided you the means, encouragement and what I myself have learned directly from this ancient material that transforms sand into light. Your own inspiration is breathed into my own as what you do brings life to what I CAN do or make possible within the timbers of this house of glass, this studio, this workshop, this haven for inspiration, hard work,discipline,discovery, and awe.  Only because of what is most native within yourselves has any of this happened.

A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher (hers is the red and pink piece directly above this image)
A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher

Yesterday, facing the last work to be done in the studio in who knows how long, I chatted with a friend about glass.  He asked if he could come sometime t blow glass with his wife.  I explained if he did, it would need to be in the next few days because I didn’t know what the weeks to come might bring.  Classes at the university that have been regular as the sunrise went unfolded and a key financial resource was, for the time, lost.  What was I going to do Without this buffer for keeping the studio running  when there were no orders to fill, but glass that still needs to be made for still newer opportunities for support, sales, and continued creative output? This man and his family loved what they did.  It was quite simply unlike anything they had ever experienced.  And here it was, just ten minutes drive from their home In the New River Valley.  Today as I delivered the pieces to him at his work, he excitedly asked me what my plans were for the next month.  He explained that he had been talking to people he met about his glass experience just last night and he had MANY people all wondering what they could do to make their own glass?  This man comes into contact with hundreds of people each and every morning shift as a Barista at one of our local coffee shops.  Chatting idly, he had created a mini flame if interest simply because he had come and had such fun.  It is people like this, just like you, who have held up their creations of glass and smiled while showing your friends what a great time you had…..and THIS has been the thing which does it.  This is the planting of seeds, of spreading the word and watching as the fresh rain of spirit nurtures all of this so naturally.

New pendant designs at the studio this Fall.
New pendant designs at the studio this Fall.

I get to live in a world flush with enthusiasm, passion, wonder, and awe.  THIS is what my clients bring to my studio, to my end of the world.  For this and more, I Am so very thankful.  Now I stand at a place where it feels as though the universe is opening the doors wide, perhaps uncomfortably at first, but it seems to be doing what it always does—asking what great things await ahead of me?  So with this I reflect on what even greater things might await that will continue to press the studio forward into a place of greater sufficiency? I am considering a crowd funding campaign in order to put the studio into the right resource territory it needs in order to run effectively.  While I have had a lot of people take workshops, these are all constrained by what people are able to pay, which is always much less than what can be produced by me as a production glassblower.  Consider that to make your own sun catcher ornament it costs $30.00 a piece.  Each takes half an hour to make with one on one instruction.  Now consider that in that same time I can make those same pieces at a rate of one per seven minutes.  This is the unrealized potential of the studio which is currently limited by not having the right resources to lift it into this next level of operation.  Whether blowing or not, it costs $60.00 a day to keep the glass hot in the furnace, ready to blow.  Turning a 2100 degree furnace off for the night is not an option in the glass world.  So what is needed? I will be describing what has been done this and last year to move Stafford Artglass into this new arena and I will explain what remains, which will form the basis of a possible crowd funding project.  For ten years the studio was self sufficient and I sold work to galleries, through art fairs and craft fairs as well as open studio events.  This activity needs support and prior to a move to a new studio and a subsequent injury, nothing has ever been the same because the level of support necessary was never where it needed to be in order to do it right.

"Journey Beads" designed and created for a client at the studio.
“Journey Beads” designed and created for a client at the studio.

I was telling a friend who owns a business how it took nearly $30,000.00 a year before I made my first dollar of profit in glass.  He turned to me and smiled, saying, he had to generate a million dollars, thereabouts, before he could Buy his first hamburger.  Now that sure put things into perspective!  And yet, the underlying reality is the cost of bringing all of our products to market.  It’s not cheap, and yet, this is the reality of business. What I will be doing is looking at a number of funding options, including local foundation grants for specific aspects of developing the studio operation while also developing a crowd funding strategy.  What you can do,quite easily, is to tell people, just that, to your friends, family, acquaintances, and perhaps even your clients.  In networking, you never know where a resource will emerge.  Like Doug, who unexpectedly spread the word to dozens of people all in one morning, you never know where a spark of interest might reside.  Show them the efforts and work on this blog.  Do you like what you see?  Do you think this type of creativity is worth supporting?  A thousand people giving less than ten dollars is enough to move mountains, and these people all come from spreading the word. So stay tuned, stay in tune and consider the possibilities, because so much has already been achieved and there is a little way yet to go.  And thank you for reading this, for wearing your interest and passion on your sleeve….evidence inspires us all!  It is through these simple acts that great things come into being!  Today, I give Thanksgiving for all that my supporters have mustered and look forward to what tomorrow will bring!

Art and Design, spirituality

A Designing Soul


We create for hosts of reasons, and creativity itself is in no way limited to the arts, but is rather I think a feature of our very being.  We  gain a deep sense of satisfaction from creating. It fills up every space of our lives like a living thing that seeks to involve itself in broad scales of our lives.  That means building a fence, designing a walkway, a garden, a new medicine, or art.  Trying to shoe-horn creativity into one discipline is like trying to do the same with spirituality.

In the same fashion, I have tended to feel that there is something about us, in us, that grasps for something familiar while seeking the new.  It is an old familiar push-pull we humans have and it keeps us moving backwards and forwards between tradition and innovation.  I wont say that I have not been touched by tradition, for certainly I have, but in many ways I have sought to go it alone.  The sense I had was that my spirituality was not contingent upon a religion.  I did my seeking, but it seemed that whatever it was I was looking for was somehow bigger or perhaps more inclusive than any one religion.  I think that every time I thought about our concepts of the deity, I felt like most of our notions were like cartoon characters in a sense, a kind of bookmark in the REAL work, which was itself a mystery for the simple fact that we were creating an icon or image or bookmark instead of finding the real thing.

This gets onto touchy ground, I know, because religions becomes very personal very quick.  We have fought wars over ideology plenty over the last few thousand years.  When it comes to what we think is right, what is our tradition, we will fight tooth and nail for it.  I think it is to be expected given what it was we put our faith into.

So most of my adult life, I felt a bit like an outsider in a sense, living in the shelter of art to find meaning.  Most of what I have done in my own work has been to reflect and seek to illuminate, most often unconsciously, what I was deeper down.  Just as in religion, which I think is supposed to help us to know ourselves in relationship to a deity or higher power, I felt that the answer was within.  I will admit I spent years not completely sure what this answer would tell me, if anything.  I would discover, though, that the answer was incredibly simple with broad applications.  This was perfect, I now see, since the very best projects in art have been those with the most specific parameters but the broadest interpretation.  As in art, so in the mystic.

The events that led up to what I now know to be an Awakening experience changed a lot of my wonder over what my own inner work was leading to.  Awakening is also called by other cultural groups as kundalini.  There isn’t a culture on the earth that doesn’t have its own explanation of the phenomenon. While I had read in my teen years on what this was, which seemed an exotic kind of spiritual experience, most of it simply went over my head.  There really is not way to convey what happens when the switch is flipped inside that brings all the requisite elements into enough a unity within the psyche and body to fuel the process that the Hindus call an awakening of kundalini.

It was the Summer of 2006 and I was seeking to put to rest some old overhanging issues in my spiritual life.  These were some things that kind of nagged at me and caused me some frustration and consternation.  What these things had done, unknown to me at the time, was to create a massive block of energy.  Emotional, mental, and spiritual.  I was certainly active and engaged in creating and was running a business that was selling and showing all across the United States and abroad.  I had in fact dedicated a significant part of my life in building the business and had done so while ignoring the very things that would bring a new level or form of inspiration, a kind of living flame, through my very being.  Little did I know that this force would seek to tear down everything I had built in order to rebuild it anew in an entirely new way.  For kundalini, I had become the art project.

What would happen to me in the wake of this unexpected resolution of old events in my life was akin to shedding a spark that would grow into something larger with unintended consequences.  The results of this would lead to entirely new directions creatively for me and would cause me to question some of my most cherished notions about myself and the world.  Why I was engaged in making things, my impulse to create, what I made and why.  It wasn’t just limited to my creative life.  This force would show no mercy and would set right what had gone wrong.  I say this and realize it has always been setting things on the path that would provide me with the very best sense of fulfillment.

What was sparked what would become a kind of  steady-state  of inspiration.  No longer as I left with the same chasing of inspiration.  As I sat in my studio I began drawing with chalk on the floor idea after idea.  This went deep into the night.  Erasing one idea to make room for more, I would record the sketch in my book for later.  Somewhere I had managed to open a valve and it results in a flood of information that has left me wondering how on earth I am every to bring all of this material to the fore.  What I had come across, though, was something that I had been studying for years within myself that struck to the center of HOW our brains work when we are creative.

Its interesting.  In the Hindu tradition, they describe the twin currents that move up the spine as the Shakti and Shiva, two opposites that meet and merge, creating the bliss of the divine. In early mystic traditions of Christianity, the Gnostics, Jesus speaks of being “One with the Mother and Father” which, in later documents gets edited down to “I am one with the Father.”  This was startling to me because at first I did not know what was happening to me when this force came.  I could feel “it” and I sensed that there were two opposite forces which I called the masculine and feminine that created sheer bliss in their union, a bliss that I knew to be a third energy which I called “the child.”  This was how vivid and clear the presence has been for me.  I called it that simply because that was how it felt.  But what this thing was, was without form.  It was a FORCE I had somehow unlocked inside of me.

When I reflected on the ancient texts, though, I saw how others had had experiences with this and that in the Christian tradition, a lot had been hushed up, or had not been fully understood by those who followed after (it was 320 years AFTER the death of Christ that the books that detailed Jesus’s life and his disciples were gathered to be used for the institutionalizing of a new religion through the Council of Nicea on orders from Emperor Constantine).  Clearly, for me at least, the triadic nature of this energy in me was the same energy that was being spoken of as the Christian triad, the kundalini of the Hindu and Chinese.

it was out of this “rising” that I discovered a new-found creative output that often left me at a loss as to how to make all that my hands had scribbled or that my mind and heart had considered.  It  resulted in new sculptural forms, new glass forms, books (plural) and hundreds of pages of writing (an editor and a close friend both pointed out that I had the content of three books in my 750 page manuscript).  It also resulted in the dissolution of my marriage, nearly losing my business after a serious accident, and a slower but more certain return to a new kind of life that had in a sense been torn down from chimney to foundation.

These types of awakening, though, are becoming much more common. No longer do saddhus, or Hindu monks, have to sit in meditation awaiting awakening after twenty years of trials.  They are now happening to people with virtually no experience with meditation or any form of formal preparation, something the Hindu tradition explains is simply just not possible.  Clearly, something has changed in us.

In Carl Jung’s day, there were but a handful of people so effected at any given time.  Jung lamented that there would never be enough of these people on the planet at any given time to provide the necessary push or catalyst towards greater change. Now, though,  people are having these experiences in numbers that can only be described as a watershed kind of event.  The old traditions are not keeping up with the reality of what is happening.

Awakening is not itself a religion or philosophy or ideology in any way.  There are systems of thought that have been created that seek to give direction and some structure to it.  It is not a spirit, although there are some who observe that this is so.  My sense is that it is a mystery in the same way that the truth of a deity is a mystery perhaps simply due to its entirely expansive nature which renders us a dust mote in comparison to a galaxy of consciousness.

Awakening reorders the self through a process that is as much spiritual energy as it is physical.  To say it is one thing or another is like casting a net to one side of a boat or the other and expecting to capture the entire essence of what lies in the ocean.  This is not to say that you cannot experience what it is, it is simply that to speak of it or describe it is like seeking to describe the indescribable.  A dust mote trying to provide some sense of context when it is seeking to grasp the galaxy before it.  And yet, we come face to face with this as our very nervous system is reordered, rewired to take in more of this infinity of material.

Those who have awakened are different, but we do not seek to wear this on our sleeves simply because it is like how I described it back when it first struck me like lightening; I woke up one morning and found I was speaking a different language.  From another planet.  I was instantly rendered into a stranger on the planet, and it would take a number of years before I could ease this sense back into a feeling of belonging here.  Many who have this experience describe it the same way as one who has had a stroke; your memory is slowly erased by some surge of energy and it scatters all the data and you are left picking up the pieces that now fit the new arrangement.  It is a bit like a hurricane blowing through your house, fundamentally changing the size and shape of the rooms such that only certain things from your previous life can ever fit into the same rooms again.  Much winds up being weeded out. It is in many ways like a death and a rebirth into a new life.  Certainly the Gnostics described this experience in much the same way and it leads me to the conclusion that the version of spiritual knowledge we have handed down called Christianity has been left wanting for some very basic fundamental principles of how we as human beings work.  ALL of us.  Not just a sect such as Christian or Hindu, Zoraster, Muslim, or Native American.  The distortions in the code have been the things that have been used to define and differentiate some religions from another when in truth, I suspect, the answer is that they all seek the same thing in the midst of a misty and distorted landscape of understanding.  Anything that was not understood may have been distorted due to lack of experience, or out of bias or prejudice.  One thing is for sure though; awakening serves as a model for how a creative person can drive their inspiration to new heights by understanding how this dual current mirrors the brain’s function and the fact that just as we have this dual etheric current, we also have a dual brain current as well.  When these two hemispheres unite, we have an explosion of creative output.  And just as this mirrors the etheric seemingly mystical side of the experience, it also mirrors how we all are in the world, which are essentially a world culture that has lost sight of the true potential of our natures, which are yin and yang, right brain and left brained.  learning how to balance these two elementals in our own lives will lead to a more balanced person.  As this spreads, it will also lead, potentially, to a more balanced world.

I am a pretty observant person I think on balance.  I have for years pondered the nature of creativity and have noticed what is happening when I am most creative.  I also notice that my thinking is not just one way or another, but balanced between both rational AND irrational thinking.  It is this balance that seems to borrow or utilize what I think of as a more balanced involvement of the two hemispheres.  I suspect that the other 90% of our brain that we are said not to be using may well point to our underutilization of the right brain.   I suspect that it is the right brain that mirrors the mystical and spiritual experiences in our bodies.  I don’t think the brain creates the material, but it certainly manages it and gives what is without form a kind of “voice” s that we can relate to it in some way.  Trying to grasp the entire ocean can be a tricky sort of thing, but it seems that the structure of the right brain is perfectly matched to the task.

I know that the left brain for me is a very concrete place.  In it there is language, an ability to parse ideas in a linear fashion, which goes hand in hand with different forms of communication, including language, music, and art.  It has a great capacity for picking out a single particle in a mass of particles and focus intently upon it.  It has the capacity to take things one step at a time in logical order in order to get the job done.  That is extremely useful.  It becomes less useful when it comes to being able to see the ocean, or God, or God shimmering within your own awareness.

This is the job of the right brain.  The right brain can see the entire forest and never once get confused over what it is that it is seeing.  It can see across nations, across ideologies, across beliefs and see the overarching effects.  It can, in effect, glimpse the greater good. It can also allow us to glimpse new ideas, new ways of being or doing things.  It may not know HOW to create these things, or bring them into being, but the right rain seems to know that there is nothing that is NOT impossible.  We just simply haven’t figured out the way to make whatever it is we have just glimpsed, work. This is not a concrete world. It is softer, flowing, and imaginative.  If we were to ascribe sexual attributes to our hemispheres, the right brain would be feminine while the left would be masculine.

In a fully functioning brain, the left (male) would bring the discrete spark of inspiration in its own way into the field of the right hemisphere.  Seeded, the right brain would take this spark and turn it into something beyond anything the right brain even has the capacity to believe or conceive of.  What emerges is like a mystery in a sense and when you think about inspiration and the products of it, the process seems just as inconceivable.  It simply bursts into being, often fully formed as we scribble madly to get the details down. No wonder the Hindus called this the union of Shakti and Shiva!

Later in my reading as I tried to make sense of what had happened to me on that fateful day in August of 2006 when the lights suddenly began to come on.   I came across old texts that spoke of how awakening was the rising in awareness of two seeming opposites.  The Hindus called this the Shakti and Shiva energies.  They are seen as deities or spiritual beings.  In early Christian texts, it was spoken of as the Father and Mother (although later this was shortened to Holy Ghost as the tide of paternalism sought to abbreviate the effect or power that the feminine might have in such an institutionalized religion.  Even in the early Christian texts described the process perfectly as I had experienced it which was a union of two opposite energies in my awareness.  The texts said things like “When you are one and become two, what will you do?” it described these things over and over in similar fashion.  One current was masculine while the other was feminine.  The key was in bringing these two forces into greater unity.  Perhaps, I thought, this was the goal of meditation or yoga.  I had managed to eliminate the junk that stood between these two currents.  These two currents I saw perfectly mirrored in the brain.  Perhaps we do indeed have both spiritual and biological energies that are all aligned according to something perhaps as simple as positive and negative charges of energy in the body that bring rise to a glorious feeling of bliss when that energy is allowed to grow and develop to greater levels. Perhaps it has a nourishing effect on the brain and psyche.

I recently watched a documentary on the Buddha for the first time.  Up until that time, I had not read much more than a few quotes here and there that were attributed to him.  It was interesting to me that Buddha achieved enlightenment in the same way that I did.  We both weren’t doing anything to bring it on.  I was standing in the back yard of a winery during a festival, simply looking out across the fields of grapevines.  Buddha was sitting beneath a tree.  We had both been seekers for many years.  Awakening did not come by way of a guru or method or teacher.  It came like the wind, or like the sun piercing the horizon of the sky.

For me, art has been a means to find my way without a dogma, but to go about it in a solitary way.  In the end, I found that the only time we really encounter a force higher than ourselves, it is when we are focused on what is happening within.  I don’t think that this is because we are imagining it but that there is a reality “beyond” our own that does not cohere as directly to our own as we might think or expect it to.  It is a nonphysical reality.  While it is connected to our reality here, we are simply too focused in our physical sensing to touch it in any meaningful way such that it begins to change our lives.  I do think, though, that we are constantly bumping into it throughout each and ever day.  Somehow it just never turns into the spark that sets the self to flame as the ancients describe it.

It does seem, however, that the experience of nonduality can be experienced without having a full-fledged awakening experience. I say this because such online sources as Nonduality Magazine (dot org) have plenty of articles about brushes with this realm of human experience.  I even have an article published on their site about one aspect of the experience.  Some lead to larger awakenings, but some do not.  I think it is due to whether we are ready or not.  We in a way have to become a little empty in order to begin to take in new stuff as revolutionary as nonduality can be.  Perhaps this is achieved simply through the intent that we wish to be filled with something more, perhaps the same impetus that drives people to awakening to begin with, which is often a sense like something just isn’t quite complete, or right…..and in seeking and pondering, it is just enough of a push to start the entire process moving.

For my creative life I know that all of this has opened a new chapter for me.  It has offered up entirely new challenges both in being more fulfilled creatively as well as an opportunity to look in a more clear-eyed way at all the things that have kept me from accomplishing my goals.  This operates on the microscale as well in how I may not always make inspiration a moment by moment experience and find myself casting about for new ideas when in truth, I have gone through my days with ideas just flowing into me.  The difference in how I choose to be.  As an artist, I am still a reporter of a sort.  I am using my own discipline to create objects of arresting power or grace in order to communicate or express something that I have found to be worthy in creating.  This has all enriched my experience and has helped to bring entirely new opportunities into my life at this time.  By erasing a sense of limit, I have become much more open to the possibilities, which is perhaps just what the gift is from the right brain.  And yet, without her partner the left brain, she would remain entirely inspired, but like a car stuck in neutral.  She needs the hand that identifies what first gear is.  The left brain seems to supply the bare essentials to give the right brain the substance to form something out of nearly nothing.

For insight into the nature of the right brain I suggest that you take a look at the TED Talk by a woman, Jill Taylor, who experienced first hand what happened to her when her left hemisphere shut down as a result of a massive stroke.  HERE.

Her story is I think an important one for understanding that these experiences which we say are spiritual do, I contend, have a basis in our neurophysiology.  It isn’t an experience that is “out there” or “woo-woo” but has been something that has been poorly explained so that it all sounds like magic or incomprehensible.  What Jill Taylor describes is the state of nirvana that results from opening up to her right hemisphere.  In the book that I have been working on that chronicles my experience, I am seeking to place this seemingly mystical experience into a more understandable, and approachable context.  Awakening only happens when the body has a way to process the substance of that experience, and the right brain plays a central role.  When we can bring these aspects of ourselves into a greater unity, a greater sense of wonder and joy can prevail once the wreckage of our lives is addressed.  Only then does the wonder come in uninterupted streams of experience.  This, then, forms the basis of “the work” one needs to do to untangle the self from all that holds it back, blocking the flow of this stream of awareness in our lives and which has kept such potential out of our grasp.

Awakening is not a walk in the park.  It has been the hardest task master of my life, and yet I know that with each release of old patterning, I am placed into calmer and more peaceful waters.  This is an accelerated course in becoming, like fifteen years of therapy packed into three or four.  I am hopeful that this potential exists, even for as difficult as it can be to ride its wave sometimes.  For me at least, it is the answer to a very old lifelong question.

Art and Design

Art & Religion

1 Comment

I have never been a joiner. I have joined metal, wood, and glass and a host of other materials.  I know the great benefit in doing things like that, but when it comes to clubs, associations, and religions, these things kind of leave me cold. For some time I thought of myself as a lone wolf of sorts, but I realize that really isn’t it at all.  I just don’t fit, and never have.  I have never felt comfortable within the confines of a dogma that required me to put faith in tenets that I couldn’t agree with.  Somehow, we managed to split our natures into two halves; one rested within what amounted to a strictly rational “prove it” paradigm based on empirical evidence and another that required you to simply have faith.  The one with faith sounds good, but along with it came a terrible inability to question the tradition and what it contained.  Somehow, science has lacked what religions contained and religions lacked what science contained.  We managed to partition ourselves off, creating institutions that mirror the great cleft in our souls.  Look at how big it is; science dominates a part of the world while religions dominates the other.  One is feeling, the other does not require you to feel ANYTHING.  One, though feeling, has taken us into terrible places like Crusades, Inquisitions, suspicions, righteousness while the other has taken us to the brink of total nuclear annihilation.  True, this is all the result of tools in the hands of frail humans, but look, we have this great divide that is perfectly expressed in these two institutions and “schools” of thought and being.

I am not here to bash any of them.  Just pointing out the problem I have had since I was young.  Science left me thirsty, dry, even, and religions left me awash in waters that felt…..well…..less than good.  Like we gave it our shot but as we hold up the great cloth of the shroud of religion, there were all these holes in it.  Bits of truth clung to it here and there, gold glimmering so beautifully, yet not enough to truly satisfy.  And the same was so with science.  It seemed that science lacked the very thing that we need to make that quantum leap into the next sphere of knowing and being.  I am not suggesting we merge them.  I think we need to simply merge our own fractured awareness and build something anew.

For me, the way through this was art.  Sure, for some, art may seem like its a convenient place to find shelter, but the sheltering of art has proven to be every bit as much science as religion.  For every piece that is made, I must work through all kinds of engineering issues.  I have to present the concept in a way that I feel good about.  I have no rules to guide me, only the prompting of my own soul.   One of the few things in my life that I NEVER sought any approval of or for was my sculptural works.  Few pieces that I have ever made were ever subject to financial pressure to MAKE and produce something strictly for survival of some kind.  I never really cared to sell any of my fine art, my sculpture.  For me, these pieces were part of a reflecting process that was as much science as religion, of a sort.  In being both, they were neither.  I don’t really want to call them either.  They are something else.  They are ART.  Art comes by way of discipline but is not fully complete until grace enters.  Luckily, grace can be achieved through discipline, for this is the true heart of art.  Artists speak of art less as a product as a way of being.  Serving tea is art; walking down the sidewalk is art.  Life is art.  Breathing becomes art.  How?  Once discipline invades your life fully enough, everything you do is guided by it.  This is not some discipline pressed on you from the outside, although your teachers may seek to impress you of the need for it, it does not and cannot come about except by way of your own inner resources.  Either you have it or not.  It is passionate engagement in something that brings you fulfillment.  That, though, is as wide as the sky.  What fulfills the sky is different from the earth, the physicist, Sufi, pilgrim, or artist.  It is awakening the artist within, and this artist is in many ways much like the priest or priestess, or scientific researcher.  There is a dedication to something larger than ones self in all of this.  Even as you remain incredibly individual.  Like the artist.

It isn’t that I feel that selling my sculptural works somehow undermines their production or makes them less pure.  I simply have never had a desire to push them.  they were very personal, my journey, a deep plumbing of the depths.  I suppose I just never got over the feeling of being so close to the work.  Like aesthetic distance helps many artists stand back to observe their work in order to look at it with fresh eyes, I simply never felt like stepping back enough like that was the point.

Somewhere along the line I fell in love with glass.  For someone who worked in opaque materials like stone, concrete, bronze, iron, aluminum and wood, glass was revolutionary.  And yet, the entry of glass into my life was perfectly timed.  At the time I was making these translucent pods that were hybrid forms of seeds and wings.  they looked like airfoils, seeds, and leathery objects.  I had developed an interesting reaction with a certain type of glue that I discovered upon heating the glue in order to dry it quickly.  What began as a model using a modified form of paper maché turned into a three year investigation into a new way of working.  Once I got into glass, it was a sensible next step because the pieces I was making had gone from bounded to unbounded, cracking open, revealing something within.

The sculptor Richard Surls paid a visit to my studio while I was a grad student.  Richard is an intense kind of guy, and as he came into the studio it was clear that he wanted to give me some help, some insight, to leave with something substantive.  Richard is a guy who feels deeply and doesn’t want to feel as though he has copped out.  At least, that was my take about him.  He sat there, looking at my work, many drawings on the walls of the studio, some work in mid process on the tables.  I had one drawing lying on the table that was unusual.  It was an altar piece I made that opened up to reveal a floating plate with fork and knife as if they were elevated to supernatural status.  The side panels had motifs related to food.  the idea was that our spiritual traditions should feed us in the same way that food does.  So, I thought, why not just have food?  It was in truth, unlike anything I had done.  It was more a scribble than anything else, an offhand thing.  Unimportant to the stuff I was doing, which seemed so serious, bound up in this sense of being held within, begging for release.  Somewhere in my folders of old drawings that piece is surely tucked away in boxes in my loft.

Richard sat there, he looked around and said “You know, I don’t even know you, I don’t know your work and here I am hoping to give you something worthwhile in these few minutes….”  He picked up the drawing on the table and said “When I look around, I see that all of these forms are closed, bound, wrapped, encased…..Why?  I look at this drawing you have here, and its open.  I say; open the door!  Whatever you do, you have GOT to open that door!”

This wasn’t what I wanted to hear, really.  I had invested so much energy in this body of work.  I was in an M.F.A. program, and I had to come up with work that would reflect well on me.  My space was littered with all of these shells, airfoils, seed pods.  What on earth did this man mean by telling me this?  It upset the apple cart, and it made me feel uneasy.  Richard Surls is himself a well known artist.  He has done numerous public commissions.  He is kind of a big deal in the art world, and for as big as his standing is in that world, he made himself a welcome visitor in the studio due to the care and passion he brought into that rather brief meeting. I had to admit that he was right; the energy in the work was bound up.  Up until that time, I felt like that was what gave the work its power.  But I know now that when we seek to empower weakness or blockages of perception, we enable them in ourselves, and the gods we choose only serve to reinforce themselves.

The following year, moving towards my thesis work, I made the realization; I was done with everything I had up to that point done in school.  All of that work, all of that research, I was just done.  And I was scared shitless because I had a committee that was bearing down on me expecting to see great work.  This gnawed at me for a few weeks.  I knew I could not go on the way I had the past two years.  Something had to give.  And then something DID give.  Crash.  The floor fell through inside of me and an entirely new body of work entered.  Within a few hours an entire exhibition stood ready in my mind.  All of it.  This is how it has been in my life.  I don’t seem to do work one piece at a time but gather large clusters of them in a big explosion of creative output. And there they all were in my mind.  Some required casting, some required fabrication of glass and metal and silk.  I wondered if I was crazy.  I had five months before the show.  How on earth was I going to accomplish this in time?  As I drove to school through a drizzling rain, I decided that I  HAD to do this.  I had to let the past go and open the door to this work.  I wasn’t even thinking of the conversation that Surls and I had had in my studio in the Glove Factory (so called because it was a converted glove factory).  Just as I made up mind mind, I turned to see this old dead oak tree sitting out in the field to my left.  In it sat bald eagle.  My whole life I had never seen an eagle in nature before.  There it was, so carefully positioned out in nature as if it were some sign.  The eagle just looked at me, sitting there with its head showing the wet.  I was like that eagle, ready to soar but caught in the branches of this old dead tree.  It was time to soar.  It was time to OPEN that door.  It was a very fitting image.  From that moment, I began working on an entirely new body or work.  One would be a temple or tower of stones with wings that emerged out of the rubble.  Another was a boat filled with a spirit.  One was a puzzle piece that looked like it might fit together.  It consisted of over 600 lbs of bronze and was the largest casting I had done up until that time.  You never know what will happen when you open yourself up to new things.

I finished the work days before the show.  I took the last show slot available because I knew I’d need it.  I sweated bullets and I was a man on a mission.  I filled the gallery with bronzes, mixed media pieces, and drawing of my work.  All of these pieces represented a swift turn away from the old ways of working and opened a door of sorts.  that door opened up into my work in glass.  Upon exiting graduate school I would take another year of post graduate study in glass in order to make up for all the work in sculpture I had done.  I had begun to feel that glass would be the next step.  It would be the means for me to continue doing sculpture as an independent artist.

Since that time, life has taken a lot of turns.  One of them has involved a divorce, another  left me unable to work, a shoulder injury that landed me in a bad spot at a critical time when I needed to continue working in order to make an important transition both economically and artistically.  Sometimes life has a way of intervening as if by some grander scheme. Eagles and shoulders.  For as hard as all of that was, I also know it has forged a different person in its wake.  The work in the glass studio is one that is fluid, in the moment, and full of energy.  It HAS to be,  you cannot set aside molten glass like you do a piece of stone.  It demands attention IN THE MOMENT.  It is like a living prayer, this glass.  Some call it a “dance” for how coordinated the steps have to be in order to spin glass into light.

For far to long I have not made the pieces that I enjoy the most.  They are the hardest to do, but also are, to me, the most beautiful.  They incorporate a series of extremely thin layers of colored glass to create a painterly patterned surface.  While this is a technique that many glassblowers use, the way I use it is decidedly  different.  I took it on as a challenge to something my professor Bill Boysen once said while I was at Carbondale at grad school.  He said in a critique that you couldn’t make work of any significant size that employed colored powders.  They were just too thin.  Once he said that, I decided that I had to see if there was a way to prove this idea wrong.  Not to disrespect Bill.  Bill was a wonderfully generous man and allowed me, a kind of stepchild from the sculpture department, to be a part of his program.  The result of that challenge has resulted in a 15 year odyssey in glass and has led to my Nautilus Series.  But I will tell you that there is some religion in the making of these pieces.  The religion, though, is hard to catch when watching or casually observing.  It exists between the movements, carefully tucked.  Its the FEELING in the moment.  How can I even explain this?  It is so simple.  Now, though, this body of work exists like a blank slate which seems now to be pulling me along in an entirely new way to rework that slate into something entirely new, to continue reopening that door.  What is difficult becomes seemingly easy, like the gymnast that MAKES it look so effortless.  It only looks that way.  Here, though, inspiration can bloom in the previously difficult moment as you develop skill and open yourself to still new horizons.  This prayer then becomes something that you no longer concentrate on, you are now able to exist in a state of grace.  And isn’t this what inspiration offers us?  I don’t even think that inspiration is something that is just in art.  It is woven all through life.  It is what we are.

But today, as I made the first Nautilus in perhaps a year, I felt all of flood back.  It wasn’t that it was the feel of the familiar, but that there is something that happens when making these pieces.  There is a lot of care, a lot of exacting movement.  A lot of it is done entirely blind.  You cannot see the results until they are done.  You see, the pieces are made from the inside out.  As a result, the color paid down first is covered by successive layers.  This means that as you do this, you have to get it right.  You have to lay down the right amount of color and then you have to blow the piece out to the right volume.  If you blow it too much, the color goes pale and weak.  If you do not blow it out enough, it is too dark and it looked muddled.  But in order to do this, you have to have a good handle on what you are doing as you do it.  You have to be very present.  Like a prayer or meditation.  Like a Buddhist, perhaps.  Get any of it off, and its just…OFF.  As you blow the glass, now entirely encased in color that hides the inner bubble, you go by what experience says to you.  You work from an invisible template, here.  It is like painting in a darkened room.  People often ask me if the pieces are a surprise when I make them.  Only when they do not work out as the template I have been working from does not mirror the piece. To work in this way, every piece a complete surprise, would defeat the purpose of production glass, and yet it is true that when you allow the accidental to move into the moment, some amazing things can happen.  How do you make a living doing that?  You have to bring the ship into the harbor, you have to follow a form that goes from amorphous glass to certain form.  Something from nothing. There is a balance between creative production and the mind numbing make a hundred of the same pieces all in a row kind of work.  All of it is important, but for different reasons.  To stay sane and creatively vital, I think you have to keep both balanced and balance does not mean static, but dynamically balanced.  You know this balance when you are experiencing it, and a lack one way or the other winds up sneaking up on you.

In truth, the best works happen when I let go of controlling the outcome but flow.  After fifteen years of professional practice, this sounds to me a little crazy to say, but I think that after a while the need for discipline lessens as it becomes like an instinct.  Skill has been fully integrated to the degree that it has been developed.  It becomes more a dance, a cooperative rhythm that is less a challenge as it is something more, something that can verge on religion because you are no longer concentrating on the practice or discipline and now on something far more expansive.  Mystical, even..  It is worshiping at the feet of nature, the great template, the masterwork that is creation, which is for me, the one evidence of an intelligence that has brought this all into being even if that sounds a tad simplistic.  I know it is not simple……for science has uncovered the incredible complexity that takes place in order for light to be translated into impulses int he brain.  And for those who do not know, vision is one of THE most amazing processes you could imagine.  Look into the chemical reactions that must take place at the pico level of time (pico is an extremely fast measure of time).  Anyway, marvelous, yes.

So today I was able to go back into this work and remember what it was to do these pieces.  As I ponder the next direction for them, I fell how lucky I have been to be involved in such a sheltered place as art.  For some, it can be fraught with troubles and challenges, and it certainly is that.  But it is also the one place where I can look out and within all at once to find the sublime.  Here, I do not have to submit my findings for peer review, nor do I have to fear pointing out the obvious in church.  Here, my temple is the glass house.

Art and Design, Uncategorized

The Exquisite Object

No Comments

Nested Yin Form, Parker StaffordI’d like to take a moment and explain a little about this blog, what its about, what the thinking is that is behind it, and why yet another blog and why a blog about Stafford Art Glass.  First off, I am an artist, artisan, designer, and educator.  I write a good bit, having a 620 page manuscript in the works (which looks like if I can get a big enough crowbar could be turned into three books), have written some as-yet unpublished children stories and am working on a second book related to the first (this might be that crowbar I was looking for).  I also write two other blogs on other subjects related to nonduality and I run a studio in the Alleghany mountains of Virginia.  I am a father of two and my life has been turned around recently in such a way that I have begun to look at creativity very differently than I did before. Maybe I should say my thinking has blossomed a little more.  While my interests are broad, I am keeping the focus pretty tight on this blog.

We very much need good things to help reflect our values in life.  Everyone has different ideas, philosophies, and approaches.  All of them are valid, of course, all have merit, and even if by looking over our shoulder at our neighbor we have trouble understanding some of them.  The truth is, there is a tendency we as humans have that serves to lock out whole worlds of possibilities, and it doesn’t just happen in art and fashion.  Our brains are designed to see the patterns in the chaos, and because of that, we like to hold onto those patterns, and often deify them much to our limit.  We become biased and this bias closes us to the possibilities.  This has a broad application in life, and this principle is anathema to being innovative or creative in my opinion.  I very much love taking the most obvious idea or form and think how I can turn it on its head, turn it inside out, change it, reform and recreate it.  This is part of the very essence of the creative, and its necessary if you are going to attempt to think differently, and have a chance at creating something new.  By being able to innovate, we as creators and innovators can bring to market those products that matter and that tell the story in an entirely new way.  Sometimes new is very very good, but new often is built upon the old in such a way that it changes the conversation, the very content of the past so that it can speak to a new generation.  All great innovation is built upon this precept.

It might be a little silly for me to be titling this post “The Exquisite Object” because the truth is, one person’s exquisite is another person’s eeeew!  However, I think that the better we can innovate and create the New, the better we are able to insert something into the dialog of our lives that has some meaning.  Many strokes for many folks!

I am a glassblower, artist, as well as sculptor.  When I think of glass, though,  I tend to think of it as a sculptural medium, even though I often make very functional items.  Glass can be a material that we instantly have certain assumptions about.  Its a perfect example of how we can crowd out a world of possibility, as well as innovation and creativity by keeping our horizon limited.  The techniques I use to make my work set it apart from the usual run of the mill glass that you might think you know.   A lot of what I do, like most good designers and artists do, is seek ways to set myself apart from the pack.  I also do what matters to me.  If I did what sold, I’d still be making those god awful ornaments I took to New Jersey that one time that were, I thought, horrible color combinations and sold within the first hour of the Artfair!  What I know is that I am looking for the right person for my work, and this falls entirely outside the design process and becomes a marketing issue, but it is a basic philosophical precept to how I operate.  If I seek to please everyone, I wind up not pleasing myself, and asking just what on earth I am doing.  So I stick to what I believe and out of that comes something of consequence to me and my customers. I do not look at the materials I use in a limited light; they are just that, materials, and can become anything.  Sometimes the greatest ideas are waiting to be discovered and they are right in front of us.  I don’t bring to my glass work any of the same biases that I found once I got into the medium.

Perhaps as a result of this orientation, I don’t have much of a purist heart in me because it is that “purity” that I also know in another language also means “bias” and bias is also a way of limiting yourself. On the one hand, you need FOCUS when doing art or design, but I have always sought a range of different sensibilities that have all informed one another or told different parts of a much larger tale.   For sure, I am interested in certain kinds of design, don’t get me wrong, but I am restlessly creative, and this is evidenced in my enormous writing output over the last year as well as my going into teaching sculpture at the local university.  Its more like I can’t tell the whole story in English, and I need four more languages with which to explain everything!  This flies in the face of everything my teachers tried to convey to me early on, and yet, just like our need to find objects that are well designed and made that help  express our OWN sense of style and design, so too must I range across a multilingual landscape in order to tell my own story! Besides, who is living this life, me or my teachers from long ago?  Sometimes it also means sticking to your guns and not being afraid to believe in something.

Pino Signoretto at Eugene Glass School

I can remember a number of years ago when I attended a workshop by the well-known sculptural glass artist Pino Signoretto. That’s him at the bench with all the guys crowded around him.   It was a demonstration workshop, which meant we all watched.  I filmed the whole thing, hoping to learn as many tricks as I could from this great master.  As I sat with camera in hand an attendee and I began to chat.  He asked what I did in my work and we had a nice exchange that was pretty cordial until he found out that I also made these little sculptural pieces I call Andromeda Geodes and Inscape Geodes.  For lack of a better name, these would be referred to as paperweights. With a change in his body language and a roll of his eyes, he said to me that he REFUSED to do paperweights and quickly ceased any conversation with me.  He had, at that point, decided I was one of THOSE glass artists, and quite suddenly, I was beneath him.  I remember being a bit surprised by the arrogance that was being leveled at me, but also a little happy at the same time.  I thought that this was one less person to have to compete against, and how nice it was that I wasn’t so closed-minded about what glass could and could NOT be, or what was good or NOT good.

Since then, I have run across a number of glass artists who look at the subject of making sculptural glass the same way.  Its largely from a place of ignorance, and thus bias, and the fact that “paperweights” are thought of as easy to make by those who have dabbled in them, which they can be, the act of bias, a very subjective activity in itself, closes off any intellectual or creative curiosity for some people.  Its when we make assumptions about what we THINK we know that we can miss a world of possibility.  In fact, many of the great discoveries were accidents that forced people into thinking about a given phenomenon, technology, in a different way. So often, we just get STUCK in what we believe is possible, or not worthwhile.  Often, by turning something on its head, we can peel off entire layers of new material and possibility just by NOT assuming we know all there is to know.  Truth is, we really know very little, but that ego of ours sure doesn’t want us to believe or be mindful of that!

Here is what I mean:  paperweights are normally round, clear, and brilliantly colored.  They are a delicious slice of eye candy. For me, though, I never saw the paperweight as anything with a history.  I didn’t KNOW the history of these things.  I didn’t grow up owning paperweights.  I never saw them made. I didn’t know what you were SUPPOSED to do with them, or any of the traditionalist baggage that could have served to limit me.  I simply came innocently into their grove and like a child, looked anew at what they could become.  I had nothing that told me anything about any of this was bad, or more desirable than any other.  I was a sculptor getting my M.F.A. and I was just taking glass because it was such a cool medium.  I took a beginning glass class that covered the basics, but was so intimidated by the skill and knowledge of the other glassblowers in the program, that I wound up working alone much of the time.  In some ways, it may have been my own loss from a technical stand point, but the flip side was I remained a conceptual vacuum where I didn’t always know what should or could be done.  Normally, this way of working is not one I would even suggest as being productive for my students in sculpture, but I have to admit that it served me in a way that helped me to dream in a different way, in a more unlimited way.   I learned all of my techniques pertaining to solid work entirely on my own.  As a result, I did everything opposite from the way its normally done. Instead of making my “paperweights” clear on the outside, I made them opaque. The design on the outside wasn’t even a design, but a rock-like effect.  Light did not dance across their surfaces, but instead they had a shell that obscured their interiors.  I also didn’t make my pieces round.  They were  lumpy, bumpy, and organic.  I was more interested in real geodes and how their surfaces looked.  I wanted to make the glass NOT even LOOK like glass!  Then, by cutting them open, I  revealed their interiors, which were sparkling worlds and galaxies full of brilliance and crystalline beauty. Everything about these pieces has defied what the assumed definition of a “paperweight” is to the point that I often have trouble even calling them paperweights. People seem to need to have a way to peg them, so they get this categorization.  The truth is, these pieces are hard to make.

Already, have had two artist attempt my designs, one who sought to adapt it to his own color effects and design sense while another has not taken my design very far from the tree from which it was conceived (which bothers me the most since this feels like theft to me).  One of them gave up the work because of some technical problems that I faced in the work but worked through.  It was interesting looking at his derivative work and being able to see that the issues I had worked so hard on to fix were still remaining in his version.  A given type of work can be difficult to make technically, but the user doesn’t want to know about this, they want an object that they can use, and while part of their enjoyment is the “how’d they do that?” factor, it doesn’t matter much since its all just details.  When people go to see a movie very rarely do they want to see a film about HOW the film was made;  they just want to become absorbed in the art, in the story being woven.  Regardless of the level of difficulty (or lack thereof), the bottom line is:  is it exquisite?  Is it finely crafted, thought out, does it have good design, and does it say something in a way that hasn’t been said before? If the answer is yes to all of this, then its a “go for launch.”

In my teaching, I try to get this across to my students.  We talk about what art is, and while its a sticky wicket sometimes, part of what art is about is its ability to take an old conversation and turn it into a new one. Most great artists took what was assumed and turned it inside out.  Duchamp took ordinary objects and said they were art, underscoring how important INTENT was in art making, while at the same time also using everyday mundane objects  in an entirely new way. Sometimes it can also mean starting an entirely new conversation based on new concepts, new forms, and new ideas. Ultimately its about transforming the mundane into the profound, and this is no mean task.  It means thinking different, and it also means not allowing the mundane to trip you up, or to believe that there isn’t some new way to go about making something so that it breathes new life into the artform.  Its about not letting our biases rule the day because just beneath the bias runs the strongest and most powerful current we know; creativity.  It also means stopping before you begin your eye roll when you hear of something you think you already know everything about!  When we can learn to think different, we can also create different. When you can make different, you can come up with new forms, new product, new stories, new ways of seeing and feeling.  This is one of the powerful sides of the human spirit, and that is a great thing to embrace!

So much about design and art is taking established guidelines or forms and creating something new out of it.  Being able to break out of those old molds, modes, and ways of thinking is the essence of innovation, and that means design, too!  To that end, this is in large part what this blog is about; innovation.  As I write, I now have several new lines of work waiting for me to continue to tune and tinker with.  The concept is well fleshed out, but the form needs to follow the function, and the function is the concept.  How well do these two align?  How do I pull on the idea of utility and art to create something new?  What taboos can I break, or old notions can I leave by the wayside in the search for the next big thing?  This is where the rubber meets the roads, my friends, and this is the very meat of what interests me most about what I do. In the posts that follow I will be discussing the processes and ways that have led me to knew work.  The studio is a place of flux.  I am not a factory, although the studio sure looks like one.  It could be one, or it could be an entirely new model based upon a very old one, that of the individual studio artist and artisan creating new work just as they have for millenia.  I might even manage to comment on the state of design in our world, perhaps in small bite sized chunks!

Goodnight Sweet Readers…