Pebbles in the Pond:
Content in this issue is motivated by the theme of LEGACY and examines a wide variety of ways in which looking upon the past within our field can give us focus on our future.
For this issue, I took a risk and used a recent teaching experience at Pilchuck as the lens with which to think about departure points and inheritance. About our own capability as present day members of this community for perpetuating unforeseen change to practitioners the field has yet to meet due to what we're collectively doing at present. That any notions of progressivism now is only due to seeds planted by those who came before us and, in turn, that we are equally responsible for indirectly having influence on the narrative of our field for simply doing the things we feel inclined to do in our work, in our teaching and in our research at the moment. It's all so seemingly accidental...and so pivotal at the same time. This is a piece that is more for me than the GAS community...one that briefly examines the ripple-effect of our small gestures to seek out something truly ours and yet to be discovered.
Below is the draft I submitted to my Editor in its full, unedited version to serve as supplemental material to what is seen in the Fall 2018 issue of GASnews:
This article is not about me. You’re going to have to trust me on this. But, it’s certainly going to seem so.
It’s an article using myself (and a recent educational experience of mine) as a heavily noted point of reference. Being one-part narrative and one-part contemplation, this article is really just an oddly angled examination of the premise at which the LEGACY phenomenon within our field exists (as experienced first-hand just last week)
The people and places referenced in this piece may or may not be specifically mentioned. I haven’t decided yet. However, if I decide to address the specifics it’s important for you to know that whatever or whoever is brought up is not the focal point of the piece. Just as I am not. It’s all a platform I’ve recently been chewing over regarding the notion of heritage; a quest within a recent teaching experience to seek, define, and place myself (as well as my students) within a shared history. One that may or may not even exist…
When I proposed a writing class to an internationally recognized glass school I had assumed it was a stretch. The idea of approaching an educational entity with such a rich history of its learning community engaging glass in a very tactile, physical way with a course about facilitating artistic growth with glass through conversation (and conversation alone) seemed impossible. A course that would engage material and making, but with words? Many might see it as interesting, but who would see it as important? …enough people to sign up for it? …enough to make it run? Who would want to bypass the opportunity to experience the prestige of a school devoted to glass without the experience of making with it in their studios?
Turns out that there were a handful of souls who would. The session was quick and the course’s pace determined. We joined on campus, we dove into the content, our conversations were rich, our work was illuminating. Course participants were asked to investigate the multi-faceted organism that the glass field is through various writing exercises and project; activities that would then invite further conversation between the group on topics of shared appeal (which would, in turn, influence more writing direction).
What made the work unique that we were doing was that it relied heavily on interaction with the community upon the school’s campus; crossover with various members and happenings in the session’s program as a focal point in our thinking, writing, and conversation.
We wore many hats in the work we did. We explored various corners of the field through several ways in which writing exists: in lists, critique and criticism, field journalism, the op-ed, poetry, narrative, and the experimental. All different lenses with which to examine this GLASS thing…a variety of methods engaged to help us explore all of GLASS’s various parts.
All of us felt like something special was going on. We were not making with glass per se but making was happening nonetheless. “Making” of a different kind. We used words to make commentary, to make needed observations, to make meaningful connections between things unseen, to make clear the unclear, to make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar.
This is where the notion of LEGACY began to come up in our conversations part way through the session. This is also where it begins to introduce itself within this article; this foundational occurrence of benefaction and inheritance that the contemporary glass field has been built upon. What it’s still currently being built upon: the idea of enhancing what others had provided before us and leaving something important for someone else to run with afterwards within our making, teaching, learning and living practices.
The conversational direction of the course was designed and delivered by me, a current-day community member under the influence of the current-day landscape of glass. If it exists, how would the conversation of a course like it be influenced by the landscape of the field if it took place in the 70s? …the ‘80s? …the ‘90s? …or even the Aughts?
What LEGACY could we be a part of as a non-making, conversational course within this school? …or even within material study workshop schools like it?
It became a side project for me during the 2-week duration of the class…a desperation to know what educational ancestry we were resurrecting (as I was certain there just had to be one). I asked the school’s marketing team and staffed archivists. I asked the current artistic director. I ran into or reached out to pillars of the school’s history. People like Fritz Dreisbach and John Reed, first-hand individuals who had been involved in the school’s inception and/or administratively involved in the school’s early development from the early 70s up until the recent past. I reached out to staff at the Rakow Research Library. All incredibly helpful, equally interested in the mystery. But not quite certain if such a thing had indeed ever existed before. Not even sure if records had been kept from far enough back to help substantiate the possibility of such a course taking place.
There are other leads and I’m currently looking into them. A general question has now become a personal obsession. But this article isn’t about the class I’ve recently facilitated or the wild goose chase I’m currently on in identifying one like it at this particular school before. It’s about a hope of connecting with (and placing myself) within a shared past; a crazed determination to believe that this recent course and its participants are part of a thing that has been established by someone before me.
And I’m having trouble believing that there isn’t.
I’m having trouble with the fact that, in this media-specific writing course I facilitated at a media-specific school, I may accidentally be a pioneer. I may accidentally have cultivated a body of student trail-blazers. We all may accidentally have experienced a groundbreaking moment in this school’s programming. Why does it not sit well with me? Perhaps another essay for that…
All the above has been a roundabout way of getting to such a very small point. The matter of LEGACY within our field is more a measurement of time, community, and service than it is personal achievement. As our field evolves and advances, there’s an underlying element of giving and generosity inherently designed within progress that’s overlooked.
My desire to know where my recent non-making educational experience might be coming from is really important to me. It’s a desire to anchor; to find anchor in something. And then to use that connection to measure the distance between then and now, to see what that information may or may not suggest. Those are the things that perpetuate forward motion.
It should be important to all of us, especially as we’re making all these unpredictable, remarkable strides forward in how glass is being engaged and what all glass is in service to today. It’s important to not just wave the flag of progressivism for its own sake, but to do so with some context; awareness of exactly who and what has been responsible to put us this particular place, this particular moment, to spring forward in the way that we can and are.
But the other side of the pivot point of the present is then thinking about what we’re doing now and how it’s setting something up for someone down the road to be able to build up; to build up in a way we’re not able to in this moment…in a way that we haven’t even predicted or imagined to be possible in this moment. Potential and direction that not only exceed our current capabilities, but our current ability to even conceive.
Writing is usually an opportunity for me to explore something, to understand something, to maybe even try to prove something. It always is an attempt to penetrate what seems obvious, sometimes even to rethink what I think I already know. To chew over the notion of LEGACY within the context of glass making, teaching, and learning here in this way is no different. This piece allowing me to dwell in the cyclical nature of giving and receiving when it comes to heritage; a measuring stick held against now in relation to what came before, but also a question regarding the unknown influence of now in relation to what’s ahead (both near and far).
I think that’s what the personal narrative above has introduced me to. Talking so much about this non-making educational experience I’ve just facilitated at a glass making school and wanting to place it all within a bigger picture.
I am wondering if others might take the time to do it in their own way, too. I wonder, then, not only what could be discovered, but what those discoveries could further perpetuate communally.
GLASS Program of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.