Art and Design, glassblowing

The Essence of Inspiration


My students at the university aren’t always happy with me.  The ones who are independent self starters seem to have no trouble, but the students who want to be led and “taught” how to make a piece of sculpture most often wind up pouting a lot.  I understand why this is, and I am there to teach processes and methods and tool usage and all the rest.  However, most of what I offer is basic information that has to be brought together into a synthesis that is the creative moment. This means that the student has to go beyond mere tools and methods in order to realize something of consequence, and to do this winds up feeling like a lonely place.  This is not where the teacher can go.  As a teacher I can nudge and encourage and give my own ideas about how to kick start the moment that lead to inspiration, but its very much leading the horse to the water.  This is the fact of art.  Process, method and technique wedded to something that has nothing at all to do with such concrete things and is instead the deep waters of our own insides, our own creative selves.  It takes a bit of courage to bare ones soul in such a way.  There is a lot of very careful work that happens in schools, I think, as a result.  I mean, really, who wants to bare their souls for all to see and poke and prod?  This is what all of those dreams we have all likely had where we discover that we forgot to put on clothes after taking off to school or work and wind up feeling panicked to find ourselves in such a position.  So discovered, so vulnerable.  Meshing bravery with vulnerability isn’t the most comfortable place in town, but it is most often the very place where innovation begins, where all new ideas start –  be they in science or art.

The rational and practical fact-based world is brought into the wildly creative and imaginative in order to drive a process that leads to creating art.  I realize more and more that what I seek to teach above all is a self-reliant attitude that oozes with confidence; a confidence that comes by way of experience.  Doing.  Making.  It is a curious conundrum; confidence most often comes by way of learning and then doing.  However, in great art, not knowing how one will accomplish a piece is most often what leads to a far greater work than if you follow the more obvious steps.

Confidence allows the creative to flow.  I try to teach my students that some of art is a leap of faith.  they say, “But I don’t know how I am going to DO this!”  and I say in return, “It is like you are standing on the side of a cliff before a river.  All of your friends have all just jumped into the river and you are now standing with your arms crossed, shivering, afraid that the water might be too cold, or the water too fast.  You just have to jump in, and when you do, you will realize all of this was really just about your fear.  You just have to jump in and do it.”  When I began telling my students this, they began just jumping in and the result has been some pretty remarkable work.

I try to apply the same things to myself.  It is easy to stay in ones comfort zone, but the remarkable in life emerges when we go out on a limb.  Even just a little.  So it was several weeks ago that I was asked if I could do a tree of life design in glass as a gift for someone.  I had never made anything like this before.  It would require me to work in a way I had not done previously.

I said yes right away.  I ordered the glass which was a glass I had not worked with for over fifteen years.  I work with a glass called soda-lime.  It is a composition that has been relatively unchanged for millenia.  It is the basis for all of our container glasses from beer bottles to champaign flutes.  It is in our plate glass, windows, and automotive glass.  Its working characteristics are pretty specific.  It is a known to me.  Borosilicate, which is the glass I had to order for this project, is a very different kind of glass.  It contains boron which imparts a great deal of  thermal shock resistance to the material.  It is what all labware is made out of and is also used in cookware.  I connected my torch because the glass is worked with this appliance and I simply began to make the tree.

Being able to do this piece was a kind of blessing in disguise.  It allowed me to work at the torch with a material I had pretty much avoided for years.  Just this past year I purchased eight torches to make up a new addition to the studio which will enable students to come work glass at the torch as well as the “big glass” that is part of furnace work which is what most people normally think of when they hear the term “glass blowing.”  But torch work is also glass working and it is every bit as much fun as its “bigger” counterpart.  Being commissioned to do this piece helped push me along in getting some things worked out technically and it also showed me just how much fun it is to work at the torch.  If I am going to offer glass of this type in the studio, I really need to be the best proponent for it. And I am sold.

In the coming months I will be building a special work table that will house all of these torches.  Each torch will be hooked up to lines for gas and oxygen.  I will make small kilns for preheating glass bits and for annealing beads and small glass elements.  The studio will unfold one more page in its capacity to bring the gospel of glass to the masses here in the New River Valley (NRV).

I am now done with the piece. I wont say I am Gods gift to makers of trees, but this project showed me a rich bed of potential that I had not known before had I simply passed on it.  Packed and now on its way, I am glad for the gentle prod, the perfect nudge.   Sometimes it just takes a gentle nudge to make the jump into the water….which perhaps is a big part of the essence of inspiration.

(I will post a pic of the piece as soon as I am able)

Art and Design

Art & Religion

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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

The Art of Glass

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There are a number of stories that suggest the genesis of glass as an expressive and utilitarian material. Some are more believable than others, but what we do know is that glass, unlike other materials was discovered in one place and spread from that locus (in the middle east near Ur or present day Iraq).  Glass was an entirely new and unique material whose secrets remained with those who discovered it.  It did not pop up in many places at once as did other better-known inventions or discoveries.

Glass was not first blown but was instead heated in small batches over fires more like a forge than anything we know today as being like a glass furnace.  The feat, though was significant since the temperatures necessary to make sand turn into glass requires a pyrotechnology that rivals iron smelting, and THAT dear reader is some significant heat. Consider that with our advanced knowledge and ready liquid fuels, it still takes between 2200° to 2300°F. to induce sand to move into a glassy phase.  The first objects were trails of glass wrapped around a solid core made up of sand, clay and camel dung.  These were the early core formed vessels that were not blown and sported wraps of color like ribbons running down the sides of these miniature vase-like or amphora forms that were used to hold the most valuable of unguents, ointments or perfumes.  Only the rich and royalty could afford these objects.  They were incredibly rare and the price for a vessel would be on par with the similar prices for a nice sapphire, garnet, or emerald.  The craft, science, and art of glass has been highly secretive for millennia.  Its secrets were hard won and its keepers sought to keep the gems for themselves.

That was about 3,500 years ago.

About a hundred years before Jesus walked the earth, Romans discovered that you could dip irons in glass and blow bubbles.  By coupling their knowledge of mold making in creating mass-produced ceramic items, these enterprising people turned their attention to a new way of working.  Offhand glass blowing was born.  During that two thousand-year period many epochs in glass creation have come and gone. The empires of glass are many, some more famed than others, and the march continues for the hope of the new. For as much as we would like to say there is nothing new under the sun in glass, artists and artisans continue to tease out new forms that have never existed before, cutting new soil and turning up fertile ground for new movements, ideas, and advancements.

There is nothing like hot glass.  I have had a broad background in sculpture that has put me in contact with a variety of metals for casting including pewter, silver, bronze, aluminum, and iron.  I have fabricated in steel, aluminum and bronze. I have carved wood, fabricated in wood, along with stone and a variety of materials all made in molds including paper, wax, polyester resin, chocolate, and clay.  I have built forms from slabs of low fire and high fire clay, slip cast clay, coiled it, pit fired and raku-fired it.  I have developed a slip cast clay for pit firing when I was in graduate school, and I also developed a new take on papier-mache that involved a glue that was highly reactive to heat that provided me unusual coloration. I have worked in mixed media, cloth, wood, encaustic and oil paint.  I wont claim to be an expert at all of these things, but I do know that when it comes to the mainline materials used for creating three-dimensional objects, there is no other material that is like glass.

Drop it on the floor and let it drizzle along like honey from a spoon and what you have moments later once it cools is a beautiful tenuous thread of liquid frozen light.  Add color and it gleams like a gemstone.  Exert expert control and you have a vase, a bowl, a sculpture, or a window of stained glass.  No matter the methods or the means, glass is intrinsically beautiful.  It gleams.  Like gold, glass wont save our souls but it certainly will bring us delight.  We could certainly hold our milk in ceramic jugs and life would continue perfectly fine if we didn’t have an ounce of gold upon the planet.  But we seem to need the twinkle, the sparkle.  Somewhere deep inside of us glass just makes us feel good.  For me, it is nothing short of a miracle.  For someone who has been in business since 1997, I think that is a significant statement.

The truth is, in order to master glass it takes years to develop the requisite skill needed to command a material that is frustratingly difficult to manipulate.  In the glass houses of Murano and earlier in Venice, a maestro was only so-called after many years of practice.  Boys who were allowed to first sweep the floors would take years of service before they could rise to the level of a gaffer, the name used for the individual who blows the glass at the bench and heads a small team of workers who move together as a crew to help move at the speed of molten glass, which is most certainly fleet.  I did not feel like I had begun to “get it” until two years of weekly practice.  I stuck with it and I did this because the moment I saw the bubble emerge from the blow pipe.  In fact, I am a little embarrassed to say that when I saw glass being blown while in graduate school for the first time, I clapped my hands like a gleeful five year old.  I am a little embarrassed to say that, yes, but also proud.  I am proud because this material had lit such an intense and immediate fire under me right from the start.  Through all of the comings and goings in life, the hardships and uncertainties, glass has remained as the royal and regal presence it has always been in my life.  My fall for glass was instantaneous.  When I close my eyes I see a world of wooden buildings rising up along the canals of Murano some four hundred years ago as hot shops or glasshouses held the honor of being the glass center of the world.  It wasn’t until Dale Chihuly began a school in Pilchuck Washington that the center of glass shifted to the United States in a Pacific Rim city called Seattle. Wherever the crown goes, glass remains what it has always been; so simply beautiful that we need not even speak a word or seek to describe it in order for others to “get” it.  We get it.

Glass eats light.  Refraction is measured by an index that actually describes how much the glass impedes the FLOW of photons through its form.  By slowing down light, it is accumulated, and this is what gives glass its sparkle. It seems to glow from within.  And just so you know, I came by the refraction definition in a book on engineering and optics.  As light gathers within the body of a piece of crystal, it shines and glimmers.  It makes us feel more alive, reflecting perhaps the shimmer that is most assuredly in our own souls, that it reminds us in such simple and uncomplicated ways.

For all of the tradition that has built up around such an ancient material such as glass, I will be the first to tell you that I came to glass as something of an outsider.  I came to glass later in life and was not privy to the knowledge that such a tradition can amass in ones mind.  The American Studio Glass Movement whcih was largely kindled by Harvey Littleton who began the first glass program in the university system in the U.S.  It was at the University of Michigan at Wisconsin-Madison that Harvey developed  a program that would produce some of the first glass artists who would fan out through the U.S. and begin teaching or working in studio practice to spread the gospel of glass.  For as much as I feel that I stand apart, I am part of this upstart tradition, even if only marginally so.  Bill Boysen was there in that program that Harvey had just set up and was in on the very beginnings of its big questions and discoveries.  It was under Bill that I was able to rediscover glass for myself while at graduate school, and even though I was a full time student in sculpture, he welcomed me into the program and provided me with the opportunity to take part in a program where we made glass,sold glass, and used the money to build new equipment and to purchase supplies.  His method was startlingly direct and simple; learn by doing.  Let school be a lab for real life and require students to know how to build equipment and develop their own studios.  For Bill, nothing resided in the theoretical realm but was discoverable right here and now.  You learn by doing, and we all learned under his care.   I have remained outside in order to remain fresh and to always look at glass with a fresh eye.  I quickly learned that my lack of knowledge was not a deficit but an asset.  I might not have been able to blow a dragon-stemmed goblet, but I was free to ask questions that many may simply have not considered due to their involvement in a tradition that was not used to asking those questions.  There are great gifts that glass has yet to offer up and they reside within the potential which we have yet to realize.  Lino Tagliopietra, arguably one of the greatest of glassblowers the modern world has known expresses the same sentiment; there is more to learn, more to explore, more to know even as he continues to work well into his seventies.

Glass exists at the edge.  in order to work glass properly, it must be so hot that it is nearly on the verge of being uncontrollable.  There is this small window of viscosity that exists where this vitreous material is worked.  The ability to control this unwieldy material now in its molten state is where mastery emerges.  This is not easy.  Glass becomes a challenge, a mountain to surmount and along the way a great discovery of the stuff that we ourselves are made of.  Whether you are the one who has glimpsed the peak of such a mountain or someone observing the fruits of such an expedition, the result is the same. We are enchanted by this impossible, even implausible material. Yet, here it is; a miracle in our midst.  Glass is precious partly for how fragile it can be, but also for how difficult it can be to grasp on a technical level.  If you listen, it will teach you.  My greatest teacher has been the glass itself.

When I first opened my studio in 1997, I began the second leg of my education in glass. I had only a few years’ worth of experience with the material.  I had one course in graduate school.  After that, everything was considered independent study.  I was given a key to the studio for my four hour blow slot where I would blow glass and seek to tease the secrets slowly from the great body of material that were my first years in the field.  I worked alone because I felt so behind everyone else who was in the glass field full-time.  I was a sculptor working on earning my M.F.A. at Southern Illionois University at Carbondale and I was a late comer to the world of glass.  When I left the university and decided I wanted to work glass full-time, I soon learned that the number of pieces of glass that I would make in a week would be more than I would make in an entire semester at school.  Time sped up, or seemed to.  The secrets of the language of glass began to emerge and carried me along from one discovery to the next.  I knew nothing of the world of “paperweights” and chose to make rocks with galaxies hidden within them. The truth is, most paperweights bored me.  They seemed stiff and formal.  I simply was not drawn to develop any kind of study of the old traditions even though I was aware of them.  I think that this is the place where new ground is revealled, even though we may not recognize it for what it was when we look on as observers to what an artist is seeking to do.  Instead of making my “rocks” round, I made them bumpy.  Instead of brightly colored on the outside, their shells concealed a great secret within their crystal caverns.  What would be the bottom of a piece was the top of mine.  Everything that was considered traditional in this form was exploded, lain aside like some old tool that had been used but was too worn to be of much service.  Without any bias in my mind from the burden of too much information or knowledge, I set about quite innocently making things in a very different way.  The glass, in truth, showed me the way.  I learned from it.  By remaining attentive, I discovered how I could take  piece that took forty-five minutes to make and reduce that time down to just six minutes.  I found that I could shape glass by how I moved through space instead of touching a cold wooden or metal tool to its surface, which sucked it of its life force, which for glass, is heat.  By learning this, I was able to pack into the moment more operations of shaping and streamlined the process in ways I was never taught before.  The only way I did this was by observing the glass.  I didn’t walk fast, I merely listened to what the glass was telling me. The discoveries came in an incremental way and stacked up over time.  What you see in my work is the result of a development or a route that is the result of many small steps in a larger journey.

As a result of this love of glass, I teach glass making to others. I do my part to spread the gospel of glass.  My own teacher, Bill Boysen, was a generous, excited, and enthusiastic supporter of his students and of the art and craft of glass making.  I try to pass along a little of his own spirit in my work as well as those things I have found to be of value, too.  I don’t teach because teaching brings me great economic fulfillment.  The truth is, I can make more money just by blowing alone in the studio.  That, however, is not enough for me.  Being able to be around the hive of activity that is a studio full of newcomers to this very ancient art is something that borders on the mystical for me. There is a satisfaction that I get, a fulfillment that reflects on my early days of excitement and wonder about the potential of this material.  Leaning this close to that fire is where the essence of our creative spirit resides.  So I teach.  I have the best of all worlds in a studio that allows me to display, create and teach all at once if need be.

To understand the expressive potential of glass you have to just see the possibilities.  There is cast glass, fused glass, torch-worked glass as well as blown glass.  In my own studio I have both offhand glass blowing (glass blown by hand the old way) as well as a studio-within-the-studio with a set up with torches to teach lamp working, another term used for glass made by torch.  These two realms of glass making are very different from one another and their appeal includes a broad audience.  Some come to learn, while others are content to watch as I blow piece after piece.  Looks are completely free.  Sometimes I am host to groups who want to see the work finished in the gallery while also being able to see the work being made before their eyes.  The studio is especially suited for all of this.

The classes offered at the studio are day-long intensives, weekends as well as short Blow Your Own Ball events (BYOB) where participants work with the gaffer in designing and then blowing an ornament or suncatcher as well as a paperweight option, as well as events that involve working with the artisan closely to create custom designs to your specifications.  You are right there as the piece emerges from the pipe and as the collaborate energies flow between you and the glass worker.  There is consideration of a glass pumpkin do-it-yourself class, bead-making classes, as well as evening catered events with music, food, and locally sourced beer and wines from our own microbreweries and award-winning vineyards.  Everyone who comes leaves smiling, and it is little wonder; there is nothing else quite like glass.