Sunday, January 22, 2012

Archie Bray

    The semester had not quite started, so Cheryl took advantage of the time by organizing an outing to Helena to visit the Archie Bray Foundation with our neighbor Amy.  I have heard of this place before, and it had been mentioned to me several times from different directions, all in the matter of a couple of days. Helena is about an hour & a half from Bozeman, but there were a couple of stops along the way to break up the drive.
    First stop would be at a place called Wheat Montana in Three Forks.  I was able to pick up a five pound sack of oat groats for less than $5!  Simple pleasures!  Breakfast for weeks!
    Next stop would be in Townsend - there is a hot glass studio called Goose Bay Handblown Glass, owned by Jim & Terry Gunderson.  They have a gallery set up in the front & the glassblowing in the back, with chairs set up so you can watch them work.  I had a lovely visit - they even invited me to blow a piece of glass!  Needless to say I was pretty excited!  Its one of those things I don't like to go too long without doing, it was such a pleasure to work in their shop.  The glory hole doors are some of the best I've seen. They open vertically via a handcrank - very easy to adjust and control.  This feature is also great because it allows for a variable size opening depending on what you are making, and it looks like a fiery eye!
    On to Helena!  Archie Bray is a little outside of town, a series of buildings - some occupied, some not, with  a beautiful mountainous backdrop.  It is "'a place to make available for all who are seriously and sincerely interested in any of the branches of ceramic arts, a fine place to work.'  Its primary mission is to provide an environment that stimulates creative work in ceramics."  The artists in residence are there for two years! What a dream.
    We spent the afternoon wandering through the buildings and around the grounds - there is sculpture everywhere.  We also popped into the studios where the residents were busy at work.  We were able to chat with a few, Alanna DeRocchi, Nicholas Bivens & Sean O'Connell.  Small world Alanna and I have mutual friends - I tend to run into that often within the glass & ceramic world.  Our visit there was really inspiring to me, it is a very peaceful place, with the evidence of over half a century of creative energy floating around.  Here is an album of the visit.

Stopped off at Blackfoot River Brewing Company for a quick one on the way home.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hit The Ground Running

Ahhh Bozeman.  My re-arrival came on the first day of 2012.

The road in was great, yet another series of epic views. Just 40 miles south, the road was closed - just outside of Big Sky. The police officer said there was an accident, it would be about 3 hours until the road was opened.
"Is there another way to Bozeman?"
"Yes, back the way you came and in from the West - about a 3 hour drive."

Welcome to Montana!  There is one road to there, and if it's closed, change your plans!  I relaxed and waited - it was only a couple of hours before the road was cleared.  Very happy to be back.  Warm reception, settled in - it was nice they both had off Monday, so we had a chance to hang out, which also gave me a chance to rest up & collect myself in preparation of what was ahead of me.  I came back for a reason.  Home Base.

    Tuesday it began.  For those of you who don't know me very well, I can have a bit of trouble putting myself out there.  My whole thing on this trip has been about putting myself in positions to overcome the things that cause me anxiety & have restricted me from getting on with it, both personally and professionally. Push the boundaries of my comfort zone.  I have no choice but to move forward now. Full tilt.  There are still things from my past that need to be dealt with, but that can only happen by moving forward.  Kind of a funny coincidence, but this little tryptic is displayed very prominately in my room.

    First stop would be the Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture.  Logical place for an new artist to check into - the local Arts Center.  It is a very cool place, I stopped here on my previous visit.  I chatted with folks in the office, and in all the galleries.  My approach has been this:  I came back to Bozeman because of a feeling I got when I drove into town that first night (the full moon eclipse night in December).  This place is ripe for a public access glassblowing studio.  I feel it and everyone I have talked to has given me very positive feedback.  That is why I came back.  It's like there is a critical mass developing & I want to help push it over the edge to help make something happen.  I really enjoy exposing people to glassblowing, through demonstrations,  teaching & collaborating, and I decided to be very open about my thoughts.  Ideas cannot come to fruition if they stay swimming around in my head.  This has lead me on an interesting path since I have landed,  sort of a word of mouth adventure of "you should talk to so-and-so".  I have met a lot of folks so far in my short time here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back To Bozeman

I had made a call on Christmas Eve to my friends Andy and Cheryl whom I had just visited briefly in Bozeman, MT.  There's something about that place that was drawing me back.   My request to return came a little sooner than they expected, but all is good.
    Decisions made, Furnace coming up. Time to pack up & move on.  It was New Years Eve, sunny, T-shirt weather in California.  I repacked the truck, double checked everything, and proceeded to lock Evan's keys in the Tech Room.
    An hour later, after breaking in to retrieve the keys, I was on the road!  Sun at my back, on into Nevada. The trip that day was pleasantly uneventful. I took I-80E across to I-93N. Beautiful clear sky that night. Found a great spot to park for the night.
    The first day of 2012 was a crisp, sunny day.  I watched the sunrise in Northern Nevada and as I crossed into  Southern Idaho.  The roads were pretty quiet - This was the first time I have been travelling on New Years Day.  Very appropriate for this one.  I stopped off a couple of times, just for short breaks, still had a ways to go.  
    I drove past Hell's Half Acre again. This time I stopped. The part of the Park that you can visit is basically at rest stops on either side of the the highway.  There are paved trails from there that meander across the broken landscape.  Apparently the surrounding fields are like this below the surface, then covered with thousands of years of dirt that has landed there via the winds.  I would really like to return to that place.  As I drove away, thoughts started to bounce around and collide.

    The juxtaposition of those smooth trails, some with railings and gates, all winding around this broken ground suddenly caused a whole group of thoughts and images that have been floating around in my head to gel into something that makes sense (to me anyway).  That little visit spawned ideas for a series of sculptures exploring the intersection of humans and our landscape, the way it presents itself to me. I have been moving around for the last couple of months and noticed much diversity in the way human beings have manipulated the landscape, and also how the landscape can reclaim.  It is something that has been present in my mind for as long as I can remember - its just that now I finally have thoughts on how this imagery can start to evolve into actual objects to tell a story.  I may have understated the significance of this epiphany, I'll try to rephrase - In that moment, complete sculptural objects appeared, along with the hundreds of visual reference memories they are constructed from, as well as the processes I might use to create them, all poured in at once.  It is difficult to put in words what this experience is like.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Rebuild and Exodus

    The week after Christmas marked the beginning of the furnace rebuild. It was finally cool enough, time to take it apart & put it back together again. They use an electric furnace which has a series of 9 U-shaped Molybdenum Disilicide elements suspended from the top of the furnace. The dismantling meant that we would have to unhook all the electrical connections at the top of the furnace, carefully remove the delicate elements through slots at the top of the furnace, remove the 700 pound crown (top of the furnace), lift the empty crucible out, then repeat all the above steps in reverse.

This is the old crucible and crown removed from the furnace.

Some weird crystalline growth on the surface of some of the elements.  It was like glitter. 

This is a view of the opened up furnace from above.  A week ago, this was 2000 degrees.

    All in all the rebuild took a few days.  Once it was all put back together, the program was set, and the furnace would slowly come back up to temperature over the course of 5 days or so.  Evan set the program and we hung out to make sure all was good.  Robin and James were there, we all played hacky sack - I haven't done that since the early '90s (great workout) - while the furnace came up to a couple hundred degrees.  To insure that the furnace gods would be appeased, we decorated the furnace with chalk drawings. This is the kind of thing you can really only do while it is cold.

    In the midst of the rebuild, a good friend of mine, Kate was moving away from Phoenix, AZ to Redwood City, which is just south of San Francisco.  Kate is an amazing person. I have known her for a good 18 or 19 years.  She is one of the most positive people I know - she has undergone a dramatic lifestyle change in the past few years, and has been writing about it on her blog. I highly recommend reading.  We got together for dinner. The last time we saw each other was in Philadelphia, a month or so before I left town.  It is always such a good thing to see friends away from the elements of our old lives.  The connection and history is still there, but we are no longer living in that history, we are present in the now of our lives.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

Big Decisions

    I had finally made it to the Left Coast. It was the week before Christmas,  the workshop was over & successful, it was time to sort out the next move.  I was at the point where I had to settle in for a bit & plan out the next move or series of moves.  I had a welcoming place to stay in Oakland, yet something was not sitting quite right.  Oakland is a very dynamic city.  It is just across the bay from San Francisco, and it is a hot bed of creativity.  There are studios of every kind all over the place. It is right down the road from Berkeley, Pixar is down the street and it has one of the busiest ports in the US.  There was one place in particular that I toured - it was pretty cool - called the Crucible.  It is a studio devoted to all things fire related.  The place was pretty bustling, they were preparing for a fire opera that would be performed just into the New Year.  I filled out a volunteer form - it seemed like I would be sticking around, so what better place to start networking.  There are enough different places around, I should be able to find some work.  If it wasn't the week before Christmas.

    So I spent my time writing and checking out the area, and considering what to do next.  Do I stay in Oakland, find some work & make a go of it?  Or do I take my last remaining little bit of money and get out of the city.  I had finally decided to flip a coin and stick to it.  There is nothing like an old friend holding up a mirror.  Over the course of a conversation with one, I realized that I really did not want to relocate to another big city.  There were too many indications that I would fall back into old patterns that I have worked so hard to leave behind.  I had this nagging fear that I would find myself stuck again, my worst fear.  There would be no coin toss! I had to get out while I can!  It was not the people, everyone was very welcoming, I feel that I made many new friendships, which I hope to maintain.  It was just not on the right terms.
    Now that that was over with, time to relax a little bit.  I had planned on sticking around the next week to rebuild the furnace and to have dinner with an old friend (from high school days) who was moving into the area.  Christmas Eve, I packed the backpack & took the train into San Francisco.  What a day!  I walked pretty much non stop from about noon till 6 or so in the evening. Started in the financial district, through Chinatown, down to Fisherman's Wharf, up the coast all the way to the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge!  What a view! Of course my phone died just before I got to the bridge, so there are no pics of the sun setting as I walked off the bridge, a huge smile on my face!  That is an incredible structure. There is something about the scale of everything in San Francisco. I walked on for miles, along trails in the "cliffs" along the shoreline, up into the Presidio area at dusk.  Took me a long time to find my way out of there!  I eventually made my way back to the train & back to Oakland.
    Christmas Day!  Away from family, spent mostly by myself, on the phone to those I Love.  It was a lovely day, exhausted from the looooong walk the day before,  I didn't do a whole lot.  I did do some cheap Chinese food in Berkeley - homage to Christmas Story.  Berkeley is a strange place to me.  Extremes side by side.  I only took in a small taste, and I look forward to spending a little more time there next time I am in the area.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Adventures in the Bay Area

Immediately following the workshop, Public Glass opened up the blowing floor to area glassblowers to come and hone their skills by making cups.  The cups are then used for the Hot Glass Cold Beer fundraisers.  This time though, we had started to crank the furnace up, so that we could ladle out the remaining glass.  It was time for their annual shutdown, when the furnace gets a new crucible, some elements get replaced, this time the crown needed to be replaced as well.

   Once the furnace was emptied, it was brought down to room temperature over the course of several days.  We would not get back to it until after Christmas.

    In the mean time, there was lots to explore. There is another public access studio in the area, about an hour south,  in San Jose, called BAGI.  I actually had an order for some work, so I thought it would be a good time to check it out.

    Terrific studio to work in.  Joan Phillips is the Executive Director, and as chance would have it - a Philadelphia native!  I was able to fill my order & make some good connections at the same time.  I left a couple of my molds behind for the next renters to play with.  From the looks of things the next day - They had some fun!
    Joan sent me into town to check out a place called TechShop, man did that place get my gears going.  So much so that I needed to go check out the ocean in Santa Cruz to calm down!  That was a really cool place to visit.  The part of the shore I checked out was cliff-like with very small beaches.There were little pools of water where sea anemones and snails and sometimes very small fish reside. The textures in the rocks were great! Here are some pics.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mold Blowing Workshop - Public Glass

    I arrived in San Francisco early evening, just in time to catch the sunset.  Dramatic lighting - seems to be a theme along this adventure.  I stopped in Oakland, where I would be staying,  to meet up with my gracious host Matt Szösz.  Matt does some amazing things with glass. Here's a link to a video where he inflates fused glass with compressed air. Don't try this at home, kids!  This is just the tip of the iceberg. He is currently the Executive Director of Public Glass, a public access glass studio in San Francisco, where I would be teaching my mold blowing workshop.
     First stop was the glass shop to unload everything that I brought along for the mold blowing workshop, molds, tools, etc.  First impression of the studio was definitely a good one.  Everyone was quite welcoming and friendly, the facility's top notch, plenty of room on the blowing floor, and there is a whole other space for Kiln working and flame working.  Settled in a bit & took public transit into the Mission area of town to walk around.  San Francisco is a bustling city.  It was quite a shift from where I had recently been.
    Spent the Friday getting set up at the glass studio,  and helping Matt blow some glass. That was a blast. Matt doesn't really blow glass that much.  He spent a fair amount of the time exploring the qualities of the glass that came from the floor of the glory hole.  Over time a small pool of glass can build up in the floor of the glory hole - for various reasons - and it consists of a mixture of clear & colored glass & vermiculite & sand & bits of steel firescale, and it gets heated & cooled daily (all this will result in a very funky glass-like material).  It was a lot of fun to play with. Very stiff stuff.  The only "surviving" element was an ornament made from the stuff. Very pretty color.
    Afterwards, I was taken around town by Evan Venaas - the studio tech - he was an excellent tour guide, made it over to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean while pondering Surfer Philosophy.  An excellent way to spend the afternoon.

    Saturday Morning and the workshop begins.  There were 3 students, Ray, Lauren, & Eric.  We chatted a bit in the morning, then I did some demonstrations of my molds. I did one of the rocket ships that I first discovered at River Falls, only this time I figured out how to get a spire on the top.  I really like these - I need to figure out a way to make a bunch of them.  Here's a pic:

 I think they would look great in metallic colors too.....

    After the demos, we got to work.  We found some really interesting scrap in the tech room, and after a bit of fiddling around, we had our ideas ready to fabricate.  Here is the slide show (with captions) of the first day. Click Here.  
   Fun stuff!  We all had a blast, Eric & Lauren welded for the first time, there were a variety of molds made & lots of ideas bouncing around.  The next day we got to blow them all!  Everyone started out with a couple of mine, I always appreciate when other folks use my molds - many times they do things with the objects that I could never forsee.  It was a day for everyone in the class to play, and play they did! Here are some pics.
    The Energy was great & I think we all inspired each other.