Do you want to change your life?
Screw up your courage sit down and write..…poetry.
Any kind will do;
Rhyming, free verse, limerick, haiku,
Silly, serious or a song.
Then do something even braver,
Share it with a total stranger,
And neither shall be strange…. for long.
By T. A. Fry
I was a glass blower before I became responsible. It wasn’t a passing fancy. I committed several years to the mastery of the craft, honing skills both difficult and routine once muscles memorize the ability to mold a uniform layer of molten glass around a bubble of air at the end of a four-foot long pipe that is red-hot on one end, cool enough to handle with bare hands on the other and a blister waiting to happen in the middle.
I lacked several important character traits to make the jump from art student to artist. The first was skill. Though my skills were good enough to create beautiful functional items, there was a level of creativity, flare, precision and execution that separated me from the very best. With practice, better equipment and a more united studio, I could have narrowed that gap. But, I realized there was still going to be a gap and that gap is everything if one wants to be the kind of artist that makes a living from their art.
The second thing I lacked was far more important to any real aspiration on my part in becoming an artist; a belief that my work was in fact art. I took pride in being a craftsman. I saw the things I created as functional vessels, intended for the purpose of the shape in which I created them, whether it was as vase, bowl, platter or chalice. I took pride in their form and function. I did not see them as art.
Several years ago I was having a drink at the Grand Cafe on 38th and Grand Avenue in South Minneapolis. The cafe is located two blocks from where I had lived for 8 years in a duplex during my glass blowing days 30 years prior. I funded a year of college through the sale of my glass out of the duplex, mostly to friends and family, when I finally declared a major and started my academic study to become an agronomist.
I was sitting at the bar, when the owner, an old friend who I had worked with in the restaurant business, came up to me and said she wanted to introduce me to someone; a friend of hers and regular customer who wanted to meet me. I said sure, but had no clue as to what this was about. The woman came up and introduced herself and said she wanted to let me know how much she had enjoyed over the years the piece of glass that I had created. She told me it was her favorite piece of art because it sat in a place that when she came home in the afternoon, the light came through the window and made it glow. It made her feel like she was home.
I blushed. I was at loss at how she even came by the piece. It had been years since I had even thought of myself as a glassblower. This stranger, bestowed to me a gift, as her kind words made me feel, for the first time, like an artist. The oddest part was that the work she described was so unlike the vast majority of things I made in those years. It stood out because it was created largely to appease a professor as part of an assignment to create something original.
The piece was one of a series of the most un-functional glass creations in my years of blowing glass. I learned a technique where I would elongate a neck off the pipe by twirling it around like a baton while the glass was glowing orange hot and fluid. This is not by itself an unusual technique, it’s a step used in creating lots of different types of vases. I would then reheat the end farthest from the pipe and expand the air pocket so that it looked like the 1960’s vases with a big bulbous bottom and long thin top. Next, I would heat up the over sized base again, making the second half of the bulb farthest away from me hotter than the lower half and rather than put more air in, I would suck all the air out, so that the glass bulb collapsed in on itself creating two relatively thin layers of glass at the top of a long neck. It took me many attempts to figure out the right combination of gathers, reheating in the glory hole, the proper expansion of the air bubble and then contraction to create the form I envisioned. After several weeks and 20 or so attempts, some of them started to turn out. I would fashion the collapsed plate-like top into a rough approximation of a very large jack in the pulpit, with a long tapering glass stem base.
These pieces were soaked in frustration and uncertainty. They were only worked off the pipe, there was no second step on the punty rod to shape the top which in reality became the bottom. The pieces were asymmetrical at the finished end, which doesn’t work particularly well in glass blowing so I soon learned I had to work these pieces fast and on the cold side, right on the hairy edge of breaking on the pipe to keep the shape intact to enable working the top. Because of this, I had to work these pieces fast. I would break off the piece from the pipe with a scratch line from a hack saw, when it was ready to go into the annealing oven and sometime the base would shatter or chip beyond repair, meaning it would be discarded moments from completion, with no way to salvage it.
Color in hot glass is something both controlled and uncontrolable, as you never really know what the piece is going to look like until it comes out of the annealing oven several days later. Color is something a glass artist develops a feel for over time through experience and trial and error in learning how to prepare colored glass combinations in hopes that it turns out like your vision. These pieces contained even more uncertainty because they had two layers of glass that added to the unpredictability in how colors would merge and work together or against one another.
After many failed attempts, I finally crafted 3 or 4 pieces that worked, both in terms of form, concept and colors. I ground the stems of those pieces so that they would balance elegantly on their spindly bases. These pieces were completely impractical, there was no opening facing up, they couldn’t hold anything in the folds of glass at the top because their narrow base, was by its design, tippy. The were top-heavy and easily knocked over. The point of them was only the beauty of the glass and their form. I created them for the challenge of trying to figure out the technique and a grade. But I wasn’t that fond of them and discarded all the failed attempts. I never displayed in my home the three or four that were presented in class for the assignment and critiqued by my professor and classmates. I don’t remember getting a particularly good grade on them or enthusiastic feedback. I thought they were funky and I stopped making them after the assignment was over. I wound up selling a couple at the final glass show. I really don’t know what happened to the rest. As a glass blower, you can’t keep that much of what you make or it would overwhelm you. I gave away as gifts or sold 98% of what I made over those years and only later realized I failed to keep for myself some of my favorite forms.
The one she has in this series I remember distinctly. The piece is blue and white, with bits of red and yellow. It is mostly opaque but has clear dark cobalt blue patches throughout its long slender base and portions of the top. It’s top was the size of a small dinner plate with graceful curves arching up in the back of the piece and swooping down in the front. It had a swirl of white around the outside edge. It stands more than 12 inches in height and is heavy, heavier than it looks.
That the piece still survives and has given someone joy all these years embodies the miracle that surrounds creative acts. I believe humanity is bound together less by governance, rule of law or morality, but more by the respect for beauty we find in shared creativity: whether its creation of a meal, an article of clothing, a painting, a building, a film, a book, pottery, a photograph, a glass vase, a garden, a poem, or a baby, the list is endless. Entropy brings destruction and disharmony to everything and everyone with relative ease over time. Destruction is part of the natural order. But so too is construction. It is in creation that I find courage. Creation is where genius lies in wait to pounce on me when I least expect it and maybe in most of need of it.
What binds together this tale of glass and poetry? Where does this story connect to the poem at the beginning? My chance meeting with a woman who owns a piece of art I created long ago and forgotten about, was a reminder that the power of creation is only truly achieved when it is shared with someone else. It reminded me that even pieces that I create and might not be that fond, may turn out to enhance the life experience of someone, who sees something in them, that I have failed to see, and might only later, truly appreciate, through their eyes. I believe that all art finds its own water level. And some art is created for an audience of one, which searches for its proper place if set loose within this world.
I wrote the poem Change as a title page to a small chap book I hand bound and gave away for Christmas presents a couple of years ago. It has grown on me over time and is a proper clarion call of what this blog project is all about.
Is there a poem or piece of art you created, and set loose, that impacted someone else in ways you couldn’t anticipate? Start a conversation and share your story of creation and transformation.
©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.