Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Rocket's Journey - Part 3

Home Sweet Home”

Keep up the facade
For the neighbors
Don't let those secrets out
Don't let those strangers in
I OWN this plot
And my Satellite TV

It's “The Dream”, right?

     This one speaks to a concept that developed during a trip from North Carolina to Oklahoma last summer.  Or it might have been the other way around. That happened a couple of times - I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with my ailing father. I would spend a couple of weeks, then head out and do some glass work and clear my head & attempt to process the situation, then head back in for a few weeks.  The visits were pretty emotionally charged, we never quite had the kind of connection I thought we were supposed to have.  He was 81, a child during the Dust Bowl in rural Oklahoma.  He was from the same generation as most of my friend's grandparents.  Emotions were kept close - rarely expressed. I think that was the hardest part of our relationship, at least for me anyway.  Immediately after his funeral, I suddenly understood a great deal more about the man. Of course I wish we would have had more time together - but we didn't - that one's on both of us.  We had what we had.  He was a really Good Man and I believe he passed along some great gifts to me.

     It is the notion of the emotional facade that sparked this piece.  Never opening up and letting anyone see what's going on inside.  Distracting ourselves from the internal decay via satellite transmissions.  Keeping up appearances to the neighbors.  That is where the white picket fence comes in.  It creates a boundary that keeps us safe and content, keeping the bad of the world out.  The fence also keeps us in. Contained. Trapped to our little domain.  Seeing the world through the TV from behind that little boundary.  The American Dream is all wrapped up in that fence.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Rocket's Journey Part 2

The second in a series about the work from the show at Atlanta Hot Glass in Atlanta, GA.


Nailed It

    Sometimes the ideas are very simple.  This piece plays off of the dart-like form of the glass rocket.  I have spent a good amount of time playing darts with my friends, at home, at the pub, in the studio. This one just seemed like a no-brainer to me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Rocket's Journey Part 1

   I currently have a sculpture show set up in the gallery space at Atlanta Hot Glass.  It is a series of work that has evolved over the last couple of years as I have meandered along on my Journey.  I really loved those days where my mind could wander freely for hours on end as I watched the landscape change before me. I had finally escaped the prison of my little Philly world – I could really start to feel my place within the world at large.  Perspective.  Perspective gets lost when the blinders are kept on.  When you don't make it out of your hometown.  When you go from work to bar to bed to work to bar to bed. When you keep your world so tight and fight any little change.  The world is a fluid and organic thing of which we are an interactive part.
    I was offered the opportunity  for the show in late July, which gave me approximately two and a half months to produce as much finished work as needed to fill the gallery.  Deadlines can make for good motivation, and set me on a fantastic path for making the best work I have made to date.  All in all there are seven major pieces in the show, and five smaller works.  I would like to write a bit about each one, to give some insight on my thought process.  I have some photos that I will be sharing, please keep in mind the work has not been professionally shot yet.

“The Grass is Always Greener”

It is isn't it?
It's better just over there.
The neighbor's yard is much healthier than mine.
It has to be easier than this
The grass around here is so brown and prickly
Everyone is so sour and grumpy
There has to be a better place.

       The first Rocket was created during my first day of demonstrations as a visiting artist at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, WI in November, 2011.  I have made one in nearly every studio I have been in since.  The first time I thought about making sculpture with them was in Durham, NC, summer of 2012,  where my friend had a square of fake grass that made the perfect landing pad.  “The Grass is Always Greener” was conceived.  The physical manifestation appears quite simple, only a few elements – wood/steel frame (which became a recurring theme in the work for this show), the square of plastic grass, and a glass “Rocket” with its steel tip.
    The grass square is that same one mentioned above, which was actually a remnant of my former life in Philadelphia.  There is some very real personal significance in using that particular piece of material. I do believe that objects contain powerful energy, often that energy becomes one of the reasons an object or material is used in a piece of sculpture.  In this case, introducing an actual element that was present in my life during a time of great change seems appropriate.  When I think of the phrase “The Grass is Always Greener” it brings on feelings of nostalgia, of where I was, where I've been, what I've been through and finally where I am now.  It reminds us to take stock and really examine where were are in life at the current moment.
    The overall gesture really makes me think of a yard dart. The last time I played with a yard dart was a couple of years ago at a childhood friend's house.  He had a small wooden trebuchet he had constructed, we rigged it up to hurl yard darts at pizza box targets.
    I chose to present the work in the very formal frame for a couple of reasons: aesthetically as a reaction to this very manufactured square of plastic grass.  It makes that grass really important, frames it like a 3-D painting.  I was also thinking about a diorama in a museum. Here are a few pics of the piece in the gallery:

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Breaking the Ice - Writer's Block 2013

    Boy, its been a while. It has been an amazing year thus far!  I ran into a writing block (they look a lot like cinder blocks, but much larger) somewhere along the line, and am feeling that I may not necessarily continue the blog in the linear timeline the way I have been thus far.  I have still been travelling, although I now have an apartment (which is taking quite a bit of adjustment).  Transitioning from totally mobile to having a home base has been wonderful and quite challenging at times.  There are loads of new things that I now have to consider.  Like taking out the trash on Tuesday!  When I first moved in, I had to go to the store to purchase things like a mop and a toilet brush.  Didn't need those in the truck!
    Fortunately, I am in a very supportive community, and the cost of living is such that I do not feel like I run the risk of getting stuck.  Been there, done that. Never Again. Of course, being "Stuck" really is a State of Mind, and a way of being - and THAT is a choice that we make for ourselves.
    I have had several conversations with friends regarding the writing block.  It does feel that I started a new chapter of my life in January.  One friend pointed out that perhaps there was an aspect of the blog that allowed me to not feel so lonely while I was living out of the truck.  I do know that some of the reasons for writing while travelling was to keep friends and acquaintances informed of my adventures, as well as a sort of ongoing Curriculum Vitae - so when I show up somewhere, there is a trail that gives me some sort of professional validity.
It has also been pointed out to me that I have been very busy just Living!

Regardless of all this, the stories have been piling up, I need to get back to it & start sharing!

Next Post Coming Very Soon!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Neusole Glassworks Residency

    Corning was a lot of fun, I was totally inspired and could have stayed for another week or two at least, but I had this other thing going on.  Over the summer, while at my dad's place in Oklahoma, I sent an email to Jason Chakravarty, Director of Operations & Studio Manager at Neusole Glassworks in Cincinnati, OH, inquiring about their residency program.  He sent along some info & let me know that the residencies are typically scheduled about a year in advance.  The following day, I received an email, letting me know that he had met with Debbie, the director of Neusole,  and they decided to offer me a week long residency in November.  Right on my birthday!  Perfect, nothing better than blowing glass on my birthday!
   I blew through Philadelphia, to pick up some color that had been delivered while I was rambling up North, then to Gettysburg, where I was planning to spend a couple of days.  Until Jason called - apparently there was a conference of Ohio State Art Teachers going on, and there were a whole bunch of activities in the studio - could I arrive a couple of days earlier?  Sure!  That put the kibosh on my Mom's surprise birthday party - which was such a sweet idea - and I was off again!
    Drove through to Cincinnati the next day - I had never been there, and it was an interesting ride through West Virginia.  Jane (that's my GPS's name) took me on some back woods roads, which took a little longer, but made for some fun driving.  She'll do that occasionally, and she's fairly accurate. Except for the time she tried to send me across the mountain in Big Sky, Montana, where there was no road.....

    Neusole Glasworks is a very interesting place.  The space is HUGE, well equipped and expertly manned. They stay very busy with a variety of activities.  That has been an interesting thing about the travels and seeing so many different shops.  Each one has its own formula for success.  The whole deal for me was that I help out & teach pumpkin workshops for the teachers, do a big demo on one of the nights, and make as many tumblers as I can, and leave half of those behind.  Fantastic.  I had my own apartment while I was there - which was a REALLY big deal.  I hadn't had my own space in a VERY long time. Except, of course, the truck - a very small private space with big windows.
    The workshops went off without a hitch & I must say that it was very impressive how Jason ran the shop. Logan, Nicole, Steve, Mike &  are all very professional & know what they are doing, it was a real pleasure to be able to work alongside these folks.  The second day into my stay was the night for the big demo.  We talked a little about it over the course of the day, with no real concrete plan.  There was a little bit of time before hand, so I went back to the pad & chilled out.  Changed into a dress shirt & tie - the tie was a gift from Ralph Harvey in Americus (I'll get to that story in a minute) - and headed back to the studio.  I did a chalk drawing on the floor describing the idea, with about 30 minutes to spare.  The piece would be a combination of parts blown into several different molds, and assembled hot to make this rocket ship sort of thing.  Steve had just enough time to get some practice blowing one of the molds.  Steve is a very skilled glassblower - and it was fun watching him figure out how to approach the piece.  Generally speaking, everyone touches on mold blowing, but not too many people take it where I do.

    The demo was FANTASTIC.  Went off without a hitch, seamless.  Like I said, everyone there is a pro, so even though we had all never worked together before, we still all spoke the same language. The funniest thing for me was the Tie.  I don't wear them unless I am in a wedding or funeral procession.  Ralph Harvey wears one everyday. Whether blowing glass, or fishing, he's wearing a tie.  So on my last day in Americus this summer, I came into the shop and he was there, "I wore this tie in to give it to you - it looks like your work".  True, the pattern is geometric and is reminiscent of the stuff I like to make.  He took it off and I put it on. "You have to wear that during your demo in Cincinnati".  Okay.  Wearing that tie added a dimension and dynamic to the demo that I have not experienced before.  I did notice that I had much more interaction with the crowd - perhaps it was more of me putting on a costume, or a different persona.  I don't really know for sure exactly, but it did make for a couple of great photos!  Click here for a link!
    So much happened this week. We went to some amazing restaurants and this great market - the spice shop is one of the best I have come across.  The experience culminated in the creation of my very first piece of neon.  Jason, as Angus Powers (see Roman Glasblowing post) puts it, " a wizard, Phil, a wizard!"  This is no joke.  Jason advised me on a piece, and attached the electrode this is done hot, just before the piece is put into the annealing oven - a very tricky move. We hung out the next day & bombarded the piece with neon gas, and electrified it!  Seriously, as if blowing glass is not magical enough, this takes it way over the edge!  There will be many things neon to come.....
    My goal for the residency was to make cups.  That was the original deal, and I intended to stick to it.  I started out with some chain mold tumblers, to get the feel of the glass, the studio, and the help.  That went really well, so I moved on, and discovered new ways to use some of my existing molds, to create some really cool drinkers. I had a day to create some new molds from some fantastic new parts from my buddy Chad - I made three!  All in all, I made approximately 200 pieces and there were 6 new designs from that week.  Decent run, I would say.

    There are some of these pieces still available - you can get them here on my web store - Click the Tab at the top right.
    I am very grateful to the folks at Neusole for the opportunity.  It was an amazing week and I was treated so very well.  It was a great opportunity for me to do new work, and I did my best to take full advantage of that opportunity!

Sunday, January 27, 2013


    I found myself in south western New York state.  When one is in these parts and has any interest at all in glass, Corning is a must.  It is one of the glass meccas of the western world and frankly, it had been WAY too long since I have visited.  As it turns out, I have several friends there - one of which I had recently reconnected with in Toledo.  That visit to Toledo turned out to be very pivotal, even though I didn't actually attend the conference itself!  It was exactly what I needed and when I needed it.  That is the way life goes, if you allow it to. That has been one of the toughest lessons for me to learn, but now that I understand and have succumbed to this truth, the world seems to open up as needed.
    Jeremy and I have some history that goes back to former lives, and we hadn't actually seen each other since then.  He also attended Tyler, and worked at a manufacturing company in north Philadelphia, where I was a Project Manager. He had commented to me one day that he had never been West of the Mississippi, so I requested that he accompany me on my business trips out West.  He was a fantastic companion, as I had a tendency to get a bit manic, he would always remain steady, and keep me as level as was possible at the time.  He is now Technician and Teacher at The Corning Museum of Glass' Studio, and has a place just outside of Corning.  When I ran in to him in Toledo, he offered up, so being in the area, I decided to give him a call.
    The Corning Museum of Glass is an amazing place.  The collection runs the gamut, I am a real fan of the super early stuff.  Egyptian, Roman, the stuff that was made way back in the day when glassblowing was Invented.  For the First Time.

    There is a fantastic collection of such objects at the museum.  Researched, restored & displayed to let you know where this all started.  Things were made two thousand years ago that would take a lifetime to recreate!  That is one of the things I love about glass (in case you are keeping a tally)  there are tools and techniques that I have learned, that someone discovered thousands of years ago. Without a Natural Gas pipeline. Or a welder. Or electricity. Fire, sand, and seaweed, man.  It is a healthy perspective on life, culture and society to trace it back to its Roots.  You have probably heard the phrase "It's all been done before".  Bare Naked Ladies wrote a damn song about it.  You go to the Corning Museum, and you see all those original thoughts you thought you had, that someone had a thousand years ago.  Then you bring that current, add the twenty years that I have been at it, watching how it has all expand exponentially even in that short time,  and it is a bit overwhelming.  It is pretty amazing to me that all these objects exist, and am grateful that they are preserved & presented in a way that is accessible to contemporary attention spans.  Here is a link to a batch of pics.  Be sure to read the captions!
    I stayed for about a week - I originally planned on staying for just a couple of days - I was supposed to be in Cincinnati in early November, and didn't really want to jam up my schedule - but a couple of things came up.  Hurricane Sandy was one - as I had to pass through Philadelphia & Gettysburg on the way - I didn't think heading southeast straight at it would be the brightest move.  The second was that mid way through the week, Jeremy's teaching assistant for the weekend class had a schedule conflict, the position was in turn offered to me.  I am not the type to turn down an opportunity to teach, especially at The Studio in Corning! I managed to keep myself occupied between the museum, fireplace, pool table, great food, beer, company, and catching up on computer work, that the week flew by in a very pleasant manner.
    I neglected to mention above that Corning has the Rakow Research Library, perhaps the most extensive collection of glass related materials in a single location in the world.  I didn't even go there....saving that one for another trip.
    Suddenly, I am teaching at The Studio in Corning!  Pretty much all of the world renown artists who teach workshops have been affiliated with this shop at some point. You see that is the deal with taking a class at the Studio at Corning.   It is a beautifully equipped, immaculately maintained place to blow glass.  They don't mess around. Period.  Except for the messing around.  It maintains a balance between tight & laid back like no other place I have been to.  Which is why it was such a great thing to be invited to be there.  I was the Teacher's Assistant for the cane working workshop.  It was kind of great (aside from all the obvious reasons) for the role reversal, as Jeremy always worked for me in the past, and now I was working for him!  We had only been in the hot shop together once before, a really long time ago, and in our former lives.  He is a fantastic teacher, and we worked very well together.  The students were great, and we tried a couple of things that none of us had ever seen any one do before. Including this fun thing with a cordless drill attacking a cane pickup!  My visit ended with a few hours of blow time, where I got to pull out my molds and introduce everyone.  Wouldn't you know it, another long standing friend was blowing on the bench beside us!  It was a blast!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Roman Style Glass Blowing

    About mid way through my stint on Philly I saw a post from my friend Angus Powers on Facebook.  He has built a Roman Style wood fired furnace in his backyard.  My immediate response was something along the lines of "I want to play!"  It's like when the neighbor kid got the new Star Wars toy you've always seen in catalogues, but didn't have yourself.  In response to all the comments, he decided to host an open house, for all to come & participate.  I am so there.

    The open house was on Saturday, and I had work booked through Friday night around 10 pm.  I worked a 12 hour day in the hot shop, packed the truck, and headed North.  Alfred is about 6 or 8 hours from Philadelphia, I have actually never been there before.  I drove 'till about 3 am, and passed out on an exit ramp somewhere in upstate PA.  I woke at sunrise, had breakfast in some small town along the way, and rolled into Angus' driveway 5 minutes prior to the start of the open house.  Strange sensation pulling into the driveway, as I had never been there before, for a split second I wasn't really sure if I was in the right place!  That does happen to me once in a while, I just figure there is no embarrassment in making a mistake, so long as a shotgun doesn't appear....
    Angus has a fabulous backyard, the furnace overlooks the valley near Alfred, NY.  Just like his backyard, his life and family are fabulous as well.  Few folks have his kind of energy - it is infectious - I always appreciate the moments I get to spend around him.  This was no exception.  The little wood fired shop is amazing.  It is one of those things that all glassblowers want to experience, but few actually ever build.  Angus is a bit of a pioneer in this field -  this is not the first that he has built, he is getting pretty good at it. I am very much looking forward to owning the book (Hint, Hint).  The furnace is stoked by his friend & fellow pyro, Dan.  Everything needed to make glass is right there in the lean-to, except the annealer.  It is about 30 yards up the hill in the studio.  Which means after you are finished forming the glass, there is one last flash heat, the piece is held up for the spectator's approval, then, as the applause fades out in the distance, you jog up the hill through the autumn mist, hot finished glass on the end of the stick.  There wasn't a single casualty from the Olympic style marathon to the annealer.
    I had a blast.  There is a mini bench in front of the furnace, close to the ground, so the flames coming from the opening of the furnace do not remove facial hair.  It just so happens that I have a shorty blow pipe which turned out to be the perfect size - it got lots of use that day.  One by one, I would bring the molds out.  I would make a piece, do the triathlon up the Hill,  have a sip of cider, then go to the truck & walk another one down, and quietly place it behind the bench.  There were lots of folks there, we all took turns making stuff.  It was an experience like no other, as far as blowing goes.  Totally different than gas or electric fired equipment.  It really felt like I was getting to the roots of my craft. Here are some pics of the fun!
    The open house was timed with an event down at the school, where a massive iron pour was taking place.  We went down that way to watch, if you've never seen an iron pour, its a pretty wild thing to see.  Fire, sparks and molten metal.  Here are some pics.
    The day ended with an invitation to the local homebrew club Halloween party.  I am a little anxious about going to parties where I only now one or two folks, especially Halloween, when I don't have a costume.  Never fear when Angus is near.  He produced a costume from the garage for me (he just has these things laying around, you see).  Bacon!!!  The best ice breaker costume EVER!

Because Bacon makes everything better!