Sunday, December 2, 2012


    When I was blowing glass on the back of the truck in Toledo, a very mellow fellow named Devan Cole approached me.  We had a short conversation, all of about 20 minutes, he's a glassblower involved in a school in southwestern Georgia, and after seeing the molds, suggested that I should come for a visit.  Sure.  Why not?  A couple of months later I received an email from Devan, wondering if I was still interested, and laying out some possible details.  We sorted all that stuff out & tuned in on some dates.  At this point it was getting to be late September, almost Autumn in fact.  I had a wedding to attend, then would make my way south after that.

    I have only been to Georgia a few times, Savannah & Atlanta.  I thought about attending Savannah College of Art & Design back in '93, but the price tag was a little steep.  And they didn't offer glass.  What a different life that would have been... My time in Atlanta had been spent between a hotel bar & the mall - I was overseeing the installation of a store's worth of fixtures in a former life.
    Meanwhile, I was finishing up some work time in Philadelphia, and planting some seeds for a return - I had been notified that I was accepted to the Art Market at Tyler, this gave me a positive date that I would be back in town.  A loose plan was starting to develop. Sometimes it is a comfort to have things lined up, other times it is a comfort to be completely open!  One must allow time for things to materialize on their own, you know.
   The trip South was very pleasant, except for the fact that I had to make sure that I always parked uphill when refueling, so that I could pop start the truck - my starter had finally given out on me, I would eventually replace it.  I am not much of a vehicle mechanic - but this truck is very straight forward - two bolts & a little grime & truck starts like a champ!

  I stopped off in Durham to visit & spent a day helping to trick out the shop there.  There is always a list of things to be done in a glass studio, and my hands were much appreciated.  The following evening I made my way to Americus via mostly two lane roads (the best way to travel), past pecan groves and fields of peanuts.  It was harvest time, so the air was thick with the smell of fresh peanuts being pulled from the ground.  They actually till the plants up & flip them over in rows, so that the peanuts are exposed to the air.  They dry out a little like this, then are gathered & separated from the plant & loaded into big bins and carried away to be processed.
    Landed late that night, met up with Devan, then proceeded to head to the hot shop.  Upon entering the shop, I immediately felt comfortable.  The shop is located on the far side of campus (around back), with a row of trees to block the art area from the rest of the campus.  The studio has a rough edge to it, although everything functions beautifully.  The benches and equipment are set up well for working solo.  It is very rare to find a place like this.

    The program was started in the early 70's, and had been under the direction of Ralph Harvey from the mid 70's up through a few years ago, when it was taken over by Charles Wells.  Ralph is quite a character, and frequents the shop nearly everyday in his retirement.  We immediately hit it off & had some fun playing around with my molds.  It is always such an honor to blow glass with someone who has been working in the material as long as I have been alive.  I am rapidly reaching that point myself, having been first introduced to this stuff 19 years ago - often I will be working with folks who are in their early 20's and suddenly realize that they were like two years old when I started!
    Charles is a brilliant multi-media sculptor, who does an excellent job keeping everything rolling. The glass department is small, but well equipped, and well run.  The vibe in the shop reminded me very much of Tyler when I first started.  Loose, and open.  If you have an idea, try it & see what happens.  Charles asked me on the first day what I would like to accomplish while I am visiting.  I have had an idea for a mold floating around in my head for about a year now, and decided that I should build it & see what happens.  My initial intention was to use this opportunity to create work that I could use to apply for a Wheaton Fellowship - going back to that feeling of needing to settle down for a little bit.
    The mold I ended up creating is a step further into the idea of never making the same thing twice.  There are 12 spring loaded buttons that are pushed in by one, two, three, or four people while the bubble is inside the mold.  The glass is hidden, so that everyone is working by feel.  The ends of the buttons are threaded, so the parts that come in contact with the glass are interchangeable.  The end product has varied greatly, there are so many different factors involved, that each time has been a new experience.  Right now, I am more interested in the process and interaction of the participants with the mold & the materials, than in the actual lump of stuff that comes out of the mold.  It was a big deal for me to be able to create this piece, a big step in a direction I have been wanting to explore for some time. Here are some pics from the first few days & the mold.
    The visit culminated with a big demo which involved everyone.  Charles had a life sized head mold that we blew, and placed it in the annealer.  For the next couple of hours, everyone took turns blowing into molds, and attaching the pieces to the head with a "Hot Ball" (a little glue bit of hot glass).  There were some technical difficulties, and we took it all a little too far, the piece ended up breaking, but the energy in the room was awesome! Here is a link to some shots of the demo.
    The day prior to this demo, during a conversation in the morning, Charles had asked me if I have ever considered going back to school to finish my degree.  I never finished my BFA, you see - I had an opportunity to start a studio with a friend in '97, and have meandered through various career paths since.  I did consider it about 10 years ago, for CAD and industrial design, but was offered a job as a Project Coordinator - the job I would be looking for once I graduated with that degree, so of course I took the job. It is something that has always hung over my head, but could not justify the enormous debt I would incur to have a piece of paper that says I can blow glass.  There are certain advantages to obtaining the degree, I am aware of that, it would really free me up to pursue the bigger dreams and ideas.  I could come back to Americus as a Continuing Education Student and once a Georgia resident, attend school & finish my BFA.  I told him I would give it some thought.  Took me about a half hour (I didn't want to appear too eager).
    So that is the New Plan.  I am moving to Georgia at the end of the year.  I will be able to sit still-ish for a bit, finish my BFA, get an MFA somewhere in the world, and then see what happens after all that.  I didn't see this one coming, but very glad it has!

Hmmm...Made In China Studio, in Americus, GA...I like the way that sounds.