Exploring the fusion of art and technique

June 15, 2013

The Contemporary Glass Society fires up the debate on skill versus art

By: Rebecca Dearden

In contemporary glass, art and technique come together to enchant and challenge us. But is there tension between the two, or are they perfect partners? One thing is sure – the glass community is a vibrant place, where artists employing a huge variety of techniques use immense skill and creativity to shape their unique works.

But these are difficult times for the economy and for education, characterized by loss – the loss of industry, of opportunities to learn and, perhaps, the loss of potential for the future. By keeping skills and the artform alive, glassmakers play a key role in our cultural landscape. Through innovation, ingenuity and surprise, they take us forward into the future.

Stephen Gillies of Gillies Jones glassblowing in his North Yorkshire studio.

Stephen Gillies of Gillies Jones glassblowing in his North Yorkshire studio.

The challenges and opportunities for glass art are the theme of a national conference organized by the Contemporary Glass Society (CGS). Glass skills: exploring the fusion of art and technique is being held on October 12 and 13 at the National Glass Centre at the University of Sunderland and will bring together leading artists and glass specialists.

The debate couldn’t be more timely. In parallel with recession and the scarcity of opportunities for skills development and training, there is, says James Bustard, Director of the National Glass Centre, “a renaissance in the value of making, perhaps displacing the hold of conceptual art”.

New forms, ancient techniques

“There is an upsurge in interest in artists as makers as well thinkers,” he says. “Artists are asserting the importance of making with their own hands in a period when we are seeing extraordinary advances, facilitated by technology, towards a sort of mass-produced personalisation in which the maker is still absent. They are generating a new vocabulary and new forms using ancient techniques.”

Wendy Fairclough - Acquiescence  2009 - Hand blown glass, sandblasted. Acrylic bucket handles, found objects (straw broom, stepladder) acrylic paint. - H102cm x W200cm x L150cm  - Photographer: Grant Hancock

Wendy Fairclough – Acquiescence 2009 – Hand blown glass, sandblasted. Acrylic bucket handles, found objects (straw broom, stepladder) acrylic paint. – H102cm x W200cm x L150cm – Photographer: Grant Hancock

In his book The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art After the Readymade, John Roberts claims that touch and manual dexterity “lost their place as markers of artistic taste and authority”. The artist was no longer seen as a “self-confirming ‘creator’, but as a synthesizer and manipulator of extant signs and objects”.

But, spend time in a thriving artisan glass studio, and you sense how touch and dexterity are very much at the heart of the art.

Gillies Jones Studio - Landscape Study, Lavender over Pink.  - Blown and engraved glass. - H 20cm x 15cm dia.

Gillies Jones Studio – Landscape Study, Lavender over Pink. – Blown and engraved glass. – H 20cm x 15cm dia.

Stephen Gillies and Kate Jones are makers of finely crafted blown and engraved glass. They work from their studio in the village of Rosedale Abbey in North Yorkshire, drawing inspiration from the “elemental beauty of their rural surroundings”. Design Historian Lesley Jackson described their work, which can be found in public and private collections, including the V&A, as “defiantly decorative”. Their work was selected for the two major shows in the Contemporary Glass Society’s Glass Skills program – 12 months of exhibitions, events and workshops that explore art and technique, culminating in the October conference.

A glimpse into the studio

Their unique aesthetic began, though, with a traditional apprenticeship. Twenty years ago Stephen Gillies was an apprentice to American glassmaker Philip Baldwin. He worked in the UK, Denmark and at the studio of Baldwin Guggisberg in Switzerland, and his making, his fundamental skills and his understanding of the material were shaped by that apprenticeship.

Baldwin was, in turn, an apprentice of Wilke Adolfsson of Sweden, a glassmaker at Orrefors for many years before opening his own artisan studio. In an elegant example of the unbroken line of glassmaking skills, Stephen was recently invited to Sweden to work with Wilke.

“We were two makers, two different generations, working together for the first time,” says Stephen. “Though neither of us spoke the other’s language, we could communicate through making and through shared knowledge and skills.”

Wilke and Stephen found they made glass in the same way and used a smooth rhythm, an identical way of laying out the tools on the bench and the same gentle technique. It’s a fascinating similarity, given that Wilke’s way of working came to Stephen via Philip Baldwin.

“I could see that there was a direct technical lineage; a way of making preserved,” says Stephen. “The techniques of overlaying first used at Orrefors in the 1900s are still being practiced and preserved by a few artisan glassmakers.”

In fact, Gillies and Jones are proud of the fact that they make glass as pre-industrial revolution glassmakers did in Rosedale in the 1500s. They define themselves as artisans – making small numbers to the very best of their ability.

From ABC to poetry

“That’s what’s important and is the foundation of all our work,” says Kate. “We make every piece as well as we can, which relies on hard-won, slowly learned, practiced skills.

“I like to use learning to write as the analogy for learning skills in hot glass. First, you trace over the letters and practice these; then you join up the letters and make words. After much practice, you develop your own unique handwriting. What comes next with these accomplished skills is creativity and the ability to write poetry or tell a story.”

The stories they create with their beautifully blown vessels are not only founded, like all the best stories, in a long tradition; they are a fresh and contemporary retelling of fundamental themes.

“For years, we’ve have talked about the importance and value of skill, and I know that we’re often in danger of being bores on the subject,” laughs Kate. “Happily though, others agree with us, including the Arts Council, which funded us to bring in glassmakers from the Venetian tradition to demonstrate skills not seen in the UK since the 1970s.

“The skills Tobias Mohl and Janusz Pozniak shared with British glassmakers and students has had a far-reaching influence on many makers’ work.”

Looking to the future

Gillies Jones are also committed to offering apprenticeships, not only to pass on their skills, but as a model for running a hot glass studio.

They are quietly confident about the future for artisan skills.

“We believe that, in the future, people who see our work may be more likely to appreciate the time taken, skills used and the efforts made to bring each piece into existence,” says Stephen. “There are now many more ways to digitally communicate the process and describe the dedication to the material.”

The debate will continue at the CGS conference as the speakers, all of them internationally renowned glass artists, bring their own perspectives to the question of art and technique.

Markku Salo Oceanis 2012 Glass and Finnish granite

Markku Salo – Oceanis 2012 – Glass and Finnish granite

Finnish artist and designer Markku Salo is, for example, always looking for new ways to express the artistic quality of glass as a material, but sees technique as only a tool rather than something that outranks the content. Dr Jack Dawson, an expert on Scandinavian glass, is interested in the creative dynamic in the working relationship between artists and the glass industry.

Luke Jerram brings together and collaborates with specialist teams of engineers, craftsmen and technicians to help him realize his works – from composers to glassblowers, medieval musicologists to hot air balloonists. In this way, he says, he is “only limited by my imagination in what can be produced. Anything is possible”.

Diane Peacock studied fine art at Sheffield and the Slade, and is now working on a PhD looking at creativity in the context of UK education policy. She’s especially interested in the negative impact of successive policies on

students and teachers and in possibilities for averting further damage.

KeKe Cribbs - Bateau Rustique  2013 - Reverse fired enamels on glass, mosaic deck, copper, wood, hybridized concrete, acrylic resin. - H 51 cm x L 51 cm x D 10cm

KeKe Cribbs – Bateau Rustique 2013 – Reverse fired enamels on glass, mosaic deck, copper, wood, hybridized concrete, acrylic resin. – H 51 cm x L 51 cm x D 10cm

Other speakers include Keke Cribb, Wendy Fairclough and Geoff Mann and, in the exciting Glass Pecha Kucha, 20 glass artists will present and talk about their work in quick-fire succession. There will also be seminars on architectural glass and presenting work to galleries, plus demonstrations of printing on glass, flameworking, hot glass and water jet cutting.

For more details about the upcoming Contemporary Glass Society conference and Glass Skills, visit www.cgs.org.uk.

 

For more information, please contact info@rebeccadearden.co.uk or call 07972 167945.

Rebecca Dearden is an award-winning writer and photographer based in the UK. She works with the Contemporary Glass Society and with individual artists, helping raise the profile of contemporary glass. 

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Healing the Spirit: The Windows in the Attawapiskat Church

by Norbert Witt

Attawapiskat is a Mushkegowuk (Swampy Cree) community, with currently about 2,000 inhabitants, located on the Ontario coast of James Bay. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post about 15 km from the mouth of the Attawapiskat River and Oblate Fathers started a mission to bring the people, still living in family groups out on the land, into the folds of the Catholic Church.

Relationships with the newcomers were good and the Cree coming to trade and eventually settle near the mission helped to build the first church. With the adhesion of Treaty #9 in 1925, the Canadian government tied the Cree into the political entity of Canada and by the early 1960s a settlement had grown around the trading post and church, which officially became the Attawapiskat Reserve.

Nevertheless, the people still held on to their traditional lives on the land, to their language and culture. The establishment of a residential school therefore necessarily created frictions as the school tried to “educate the Indian” out of the children that were put in their care. Although established by the government, the school was run by the Catholic Church in the community of Fort Albany, about 100 km south of Attawapiskat.

The elders in the community still tell stories about the pain of separation from their children, some of whom never returned.

I came to Attawapiskat as a teacher in 1989 after having immigrated to Canada from Germany just two years before. With my background in anthropology, I was, of course, interested in the local culture. Particularly because I was also a graduate of the College of Art (now University of Art) in Berlin, I was looking for artistic inspiration in this different culture. Despite the obvious hardships, at that time, of still living under third world conditions (no running water, etc.), local people proved to be generous, friendly, creative and artistic. I found I could learn a lot.

The story I want to tell begins 23 years after I came to Canada. Now married to an Attawapiskat woman, Jackie Hookimaw, besides our jobs in the community, we offered art workshops to high school and elementary students with the goal of raising the self-esteem of the children.

When in 2011 we discovered we could get a $50,000 project grant from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we decided to make it an art project.  The purpose of this project was to instil pride in the people’s culture and reconcile relations with the church, one of the institutions responsible for an education that destroyed and vilified local culture.

How would you support pride in one’s culture within a church that was introduced by the colonizer? Somehow, we had to indigenize the church’s interior, and the most logical solution would be to create images in the church depicting local culture and history.

Having been raised in Augsburg, a city that has one of the oldest stained glass windows in the world, I suggested windows for the Attawapiskat church that showed local history scenes. We discussed and soon agreed on the designs with Fr. Vezina and then brainstormed about the realization. There were six windows to be made and none of us, including local artists, had ever worked with glass. The grant was not enough to have the windows made by a professional and, besides, we wanted to try to involve as many local people as possible in the project.

Northern Art Glass, Ottawa

Northern Art Glass, Ottawa

The solution offered by Northern Art Glass in Ottawa was to offer us a one-week crash course after which we would bring the craft to Attawapiskat.  So Jackie and I went to Northern Art Glass in Ottawa and received intensive training in glass cutting, leading, framing and some painting.  We brought our first design with us and made the first window while being trained.

With the intention that the windows should show Attawapiskat culture and history based on a local perspective, the six windows coincided with the six Cree seasons. Each window would depict one season, with the corresponding animal symbol in the upper, round part of the window.  The lower parts of the window would show history and cultural activities during each season.  The sequence of the window themes was also ordered according to the two solstices of the year:  summer and winter. The windows are on the east and west side of the church.

The style of the images was kept close to local and regional (Cree) art which, appearing almost two-dimensional, seemed ideal for the work with stained glass.  One design (a goose) made by a local artist, Jerry Kataquapit, was included as-is into the round of the first window.  The style provided the blueprint for all the other windows.

THE WINDOWS

Kateri (Mohawk Saint) Window

This is the window we completed in Brian Eagle’s Northern Art Glass workshop during our one-week training.  The window is dedicated to Jackie’s mother, Mary-Louise Hookimaw, who was also the model for the image shown. The shed on the left is the original Mushkegowuk-Cree migwam style shed that was on Potato Island during the 1950s (please note: the Cree word is indeed ‘migwam’, not the Ojibway ‘wigwam’).

Kateri Window (Fall)

Kateri Window (Fall)

Learning the craft, we first depended totally on our instructors, who changed our design to fit the needs of the glass cuts.  This changed the whole design though, which showed a lot more perspective.  We negotiated some trees back into the image, but a lot of the original design was lost.  This first window is probably the most orthodox of the windows we made.  All those that followed were made according to the original designs.

The Travellers (Freezing Season – Moose)

Mushkegowuk-Cree used to travel with dog sleigh.  The religious theme here is of the three Wise Men carrying the gifts in the sleigh. As traditional trade spanned the continent, the travellers here represent people from different nations (Woodland Cree, Prairie Nations, Inuit).  The comet the Cree person points out is in fact a meteor falling in the northern sky. We saw that shape during a summer in the 1990s while visiting home in Attawapiskat.

The Travellers Window (Freezing Season)

The Travellers Window (Freezing Season)

We experienced the limits of cutting glass according to the original design when we tackled the antlers of the moose symbol in the round part of the window. The image is of a traditional scene at the Attawapiskat River (long ago – before contact), which we painted according to stories.

Winter Solstice – Nativity (winter – wolf)

As winter solstice and Christmas coincide, this design was easy to agree upon.  Many indigenous people in North America celebrated winter solstice as the rebirth of the sun, which grows stronger each day. The scene shows a traditional family in front of a tipi. The wolf is the symbol for winter months, also known as the wolf moon in many cultures.

Winter Solstice Window (Nativity)

Winter Solstice Window (Nativity)

With the installation of the Nativity window, we completed the windows on the west side of the church. The winter solstice window is the northernmost window on that side.  The wolf symbol is the only one that has the moon instead of the sun in the centre. We included northern lights in the upper left and a campfire in the right lower square window.

The Fasting Window (Thawing Season – Eagle)

In the Bible, there is a story about Jesus fasting in the desert. As in many cultures, fasting was part of Cree spiritual life.  People still do fasting ceremonies in secluded areas in the bush.  Cloths in the four colours (white, yellow, red, and blue/black) are tied to a tree.  The birch bark container with water is there for security in case the faster (four days without food and water) has to break his fast because of health problems.  Eagle Moon (Mikisew Beesum) is in March, the beginning of the thawing out season.

The Fasting Window (Thawing Season)

The Fasting Window (Thawing Season)

The John Hookimaw Window (spring – caribou)

Many people here hunt caribou in spring, bringing their harvest back by canoe.  Farming was introduced by Oblate missionaries who started a potato farm on the island just across from the community.  We were inspired by a picture from the 1950s of a missionary training a local person.  As John Hookimaw was one of these trainees, we dedicated this window to him.  The window shows the landscape of Potato Island as it can still be seen today.

The John Hookimaw Window (Spring)

The John Hookimaw Window (Spring)

The old photograph from the archives of the local church shows how ploughing was done in 1950.  In the window, the rising sun reminds the viewer that this is the time when the Cree started their day.

Archival photo showing how ploughing was done in 1950.

Archival photo showing how ploughing was done in 1950.

The Fishing Window (summer – polar bear)

Summer is the traditional time for fishing, when people might have an encounter with a polar bear following seal up to the first big rapids.  The theme refers to Jesus’ disciples’ “Big Catch.”  According to Cree tradition, the woman (absent in the biblical story) is steering the canoe, while men are responsible for the other work.  The fishing scene shows people checking the net as is still done by people who net fish.  This window has special meaning for Jackie, with the polar bear representing her clan, and both water and fish being among her spiritual helpers.  We therefore took special care in selecting glass that actually looks like water and, despite the time pressures, did not shy away from complicated, tedious cuts that were necessary to “get the fish into the net.”  The impression of net was achieved by using extra thin lead.

The Fishing Window (Summer)

The Fishing Window (Summer)

With the installation of the summer window the project was complete.  The total time to finish was three months, including the initial learning of skills in Ottawa.  To complete on time, we relied on the generous support and skills of local people like Dominic Hookimaw, Brian Sutherland, Stanley Edwards, Carlo Poretta, Jerry Kataquapit, elders Mary Louise Hookimaw and her husband John, and Benoit Okitiquo.

Altogether, the windows have transformed the interior of the church which is now a place of serenity.  The local people agree that they can sit and look at their history with pride.  It is a place where their spirits can heal.

 

Norbert Witt and Jackie Hookimaw-Witt live and work in the Attawapiskat First Nation.  More information about their project can be found at:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2012/01/24/ottawa-attawapiskat-stained-glass-project.html.

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A Different Sheridan

By: Steven Tippin

As you walk through the doors to the Craft wing at Sheridan College, there is definitely a familiarity sense of the past. It is like being transported back in time to when you were a student there and reminded of those good ol’ days.

For many graduates, Sheridan is the place that set our lives in a different direction. Some of us met our best friends there, our husbands or wives there (some of us even met our ex-husbands and ex-wives there) and many of us began a very different kind of relationship there; one with glass.

Many things are still there to remind us of those magical days enrolled at Sheridan. To give you some context, I started the program in 2005 and graduated in 2008 – and I realize that for some of you this seems very recent, but after talking to a few of the students currently enrolled, they think that 2008 was a lifetime ago; perhaps they are right. It definitely has been enough time for many changes to take place within the program. Here are six major changes that I noticed:

Sheridan introduces Artist in Residence program

The most recent change to Sheridan’s Glass department was the addition of an artist residency program, which grants two artists full use of the studio, two blowslots, storage, and the title Artist in Residence (AiR). The program started in January 2013 and was filled by two professional artists, Patrick Fisher and Steven Tippin (yours truly). It is a fantastic opportunity for both the AiRs to utilize the fully equipped studio and for the students that get to pick a professional artist’s brain about anything they wonder about. Being the AiR also offers a unique vantage point to see the school through different eyes and to see that many things have evolved within the department.

One of many results from Sheridan’s collaborative SHED project

One of many results from Sheridan’s collaborative SHED project

One of the first things that I experienced during my first week as the AiR was the massive collaborative project known as SHED. The first week of the winter semester the students from all four craft departments (Glass, Ceramics, Furniture and Textiles) were arranged into groups and challenged to make original lighting solutions, from planning to production, in one week. It allowed students to experience the other studios and work with completely foreign materials and tools with a common goal. Needless to say, it was frantic but the results were inspired, original and extremely varied. What more could be expected from such an incredible environment? Please see Ron Vincent’s SHED article found in this issue.

Another result from Sheridan’s SHED project

Another result from Sheridan’s SHED project

Changes to structure of program

The biggest change that I noticed is to the structure of the program.  Just as when I was enrolled, students spend the first year of the three-year program learning the basics of each area of the glass department. However, now students in second-year can select a major and minor from within those different areas (coldworking, hotshop, kilnworking, flameworking or sandcasting).

Choosing one area over another does not limit students to only those studios but it does give them greater access and priority in their selected areas. For instance, a hotshop major has two four-hour blowslots where the non-major students only have one scheduled slot. This allows the students to focus more on what they feel best suits them, allows better access to those selected areas and also ensures that resources are better directed to those who want them. Back in my day, the gloryholes seemed to be on nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week; but now, in an era of ecological responsibility, the hotshop closes every day at midnight and is not lit up on Sunday.

“Koen-cepts” development class

The other major change to the structure is the concept development class that anchors the program and allows students to further develop whatever they are working on, even in other glass classes. This “Koen-cepts” class (as it is referred to by the students due to it being taught by department head, Koen Vanderstukken) is the main source of artistic concept development that balances the technical instruction of the other classes.

Glass lathe and electroplate

Sheridan College now has a glass lathe in the flameworking room that allows students to flamework boro tubes and rods with a torch while the machine spins at a constant speed. No more sore wrists! It also allows for much larger and precise torch work than if done by hand alone.

Kirill Korzinski working recycled glass on the lathe

Kirill Korzinski working recycled glass on the lathe

Did you have a chance to electroplate while you studied at Sheridan? Nope, nether did I. Now those lucky students have access to an electroplating station to bond glass and metal at a molecular level. How cool is that? Silvia Taylor, a recent graduate of the program, used the electroplater to develop a successful new body of work and has been awarded a GAAC project grant to set up her own electroplater in her studio to continue her glass and copper alchemy.

Silvia Taylor’s electroplated Journey Vessels. Glass and copper.

Silvia Taylor’s electroplated Journey Vessels. Glass and copper.

Ecologically responsible

There has been a hot casting and sandcasting area for as long as I can remember at Sheridan. It is a day tank (different from the continuous melt furnace used for glass blowing) that has a curious deep blue colour due to it being fed recycled colour. All of the trimmed lips and failed overlays that would otherwise be destined for the trash now are used in the hot casting furnace. This is a fantastic way to save the cost of new glass, ensure ecological responsibility and also gives a very cool colour to be able to cast with.

Kurt Fisher’s Bench. Steel with sandcasted glass insert

Kurt Fisher’s Bench. Steel with sandcasted glass insert

Faculty changes

The faculty and staff have changed slightly since I was a student in 2008, although there are still familiar faces too.

Jason Cornish is still the studio technologist and he ensures the studio runs as perfectly as ever and is still the foundation that makes the program possible.

Koen Vanderstukken is still the department head, inspiring the students to see the world of art and not just the world of glass while constantly pushing his students to critically think and react, sharpening both their skills and thoughts.

Brad Sherwood is still leading the way in the flameworking studio and can make any tool, mounting hardware or problem-solve any predicament that you find yourself in.

Lucy Rousel stills teaches the students about Glass History with a kindness and understanding that exemplifies her personality.

Andy Kuntz is still inspiring the glassblowers to not let simple problems such as not having an assistant in the hotshop get in the way of great glassmaking. Andy teaches to self-punty, work smart and honest but Andy is also now instructing in the cold working and engraving area of the studio.

Sally McCubbin replaced Blaise Campbell and inspires her glassblowing students to be great both technically at the bench and also in the development of the design before they start working there.

Orion Arger teaches the techniques of the kilnworking  to students and encourages experimentation, observation and diligent record-keeping of each firing to use as guides for future firings.

Paula Vandermey  made the sandcasting area one of the coolest places to work in by pushing her students to experiment and enjoy the procedure that yields the results.

Changes bring opportunities

It was a fantastic semester working alongside the faculty and students at Sheridan College as the Artist in Residence. It brought back so many great memories of days gone by but also made me wish that I had all of the opportunities that the current students have. A lot has changed and all of the changes are for the better. Keep up the good work Sheridan. I cannot wait to see what changes will come next.

 

Steven Tippin is a glassmaker in Ontario that simply could not turn down an opportunity as great as returning to Sheridan College to be the Artist in Residence for four months. He is also the Ontario representative for GAAC as well as its new President. www.steventippin.com

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The Profound Experience of Creativity: Sheila Mahut on Teaching and Making

By: Brad Copping

Sheila Mahut began teaching glass around the time I started as a student at Sheridan. She was part of a cadre of instructors who made the experience of falling in love with glass a pivotal time in my life.  Living near Haliburton, Ontario, I have had the good fortune to continue to connect with Sheila on a regular basis and as part of Contemporary Canadian Glass’s focus on education we recently took the opportunity to discuss her career as a teacher and a maker.

Contemporary Canadian Glass (CCG): I was thinking we could start with a bit of background for those you may not know you.  Where and when did you begin working with glass?

Sheila Mahut (SM): I started working with glass as a student at Sheridan College’s School of Craft and Design in 1980.  I was 19 years old.  After graduating from Sheridan I went on to get a BFA in Sculpture (Glass) from Illinois State University in 1987.  I worked as a self-employed glass artist full time until 1995 when the birth of my second child made family life a priority.  From 1995 to the present I have pursued a career in glass that has been more focused on teaching than making objects.

CCG: How did you get started in your teaching career? 

SM: I started teaching in the summer glass blowing courses offered at Sheridan in 1985.  After getting my degree I returned to Toronto and taught in the Glass Diploma Program at Sheridan from 1988 to 2003.  I was a glassblowing instructor for the first four years then became the kilncasting teacher after Peter Koegh left Sheridan.  I developed the kilncasting program for the remainder of my tenure.  I also taught three kilncasting courses at The Corning Studio.

Sheila Mahut assisting Loni Kimber at the bench at Haliburton Glass Program in 2013. Photo by Alex Raptis

Sheila Mahut assisting Loni Kimber at the bench at Haliburton Glass Program in 2013. Photo by Alex Raptis

The most recent long-term teaching I have done is in the certificate Glass Blowing Program at the Haliburton Campus of Sir Sandford Fleming College.  I was part of the committee that wrote the curriculum and developed the 15-week intensive certificate program in Haliburton.  The glassblowing class has been running for nine years and I have been teaching there since the beginning.

CCG: Was there someone or some event that was influential in your teaching and making?

SM: I got started in teaching by the good old “right place at the right time”.  Once I got started I was hooked.  I loved the excitement, the energy of people getting together, and making the creative process come alive.  Daniel Crichton, the Studio Master at Sheridan College, actually hired me in 1985 and I would like to thank him for giving me the latitude and time to grow as a teacher under his light touch.  He really let his teachers take the lead and find their own way.

So many people have influenced my teaching and making over the years.  Jeff Goodman, for his pursuit of excellence by taking risk and challenge to a level beyond my comfort zone.  Kevin Lockau, for his “don’t forget to throw your students or audience a curve ball”.  Laura Donefer, because of her infectious enthusiasm and let it all hang out style.  My husband, Larry Glatt, for endless hours of conversation about the fine art of really listening to someone.  Catherine Hibbits taught me about flexibility and the sheer delight of discovery and experimentation.  Every one of my students over the years, because they all have something unique to show me, whether it is about patience, an inspiring mistake, problem solving, or a different way of seeing.

In my glass making I have worked collaboratively with three different artists, Jeff Goodman, Deborah Cardinal-Ryason and Tanya Zaryski.  This aspect of making glass was one the most memorable for me.  I found combining two peoples views, styles and approaches to be so much greater a creative experience than working alone.

CCG: Has it always been glass-related or have you taught other things as well?

SM: It has primarily been glass-related.

CCG: How has your motivations to teach changed over the years?

SM: My motivation to teach has deepened over the years as I made the gradual shift from making work for the market place to primarily teaching.  I now look at teaching as an opportunity to share with others the profound experience of creativity; to mold and change a material with intention, inspiration and experimental abandon.  Yup, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Sheila instructing Alex Raptis on the pipe & Nina Stellmach on punty at Haliburton in 2013. Photo by Loni Kimber

Sheila instructing Alex Raptis on the pipe & Nina Stellmach on punty at Haliburton in 2013. Photo by Loni Kimber

CCG: In what ways has your teaching influenced your making?  Has your making influenced your teaching?

SM: My making has often been informed by my teaching.  In order to teach a certain technique or answer a technical question I would have to try all the ideas out myself first.  So I would learn many new things.  It is as if I have a box of infinite possibilities that I can extract from when I have an idea to make something.  The students also provide a constant stream of wonderful mistakes that inspire me.  I have a mercurial approach to making and this has been quite good for teaching.  I have worked collaboratively and as a production blower.  I cast glass in the kiln and in sand.  I’ve mold-blown pieces.  Shaped pieces that are symmetrical and others asymmetrically.  I am an experimentation junky.

CCG: I know that your husband Larry is also a teacher and his involvement in Waldorf Schools has lead you to live in upper New York State, and that both your sons have gone through this program.  Can you reflect on this school system and what it has meant to your own approaches to teaching or making?

Sheila’s home in Hudson Valley

Sheila’s home in Hudson Valley

SM: I moved to the upper Hudson Valley in 2004.  My husband took a job as the music teacher at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School.  Both my sons Ben and Ezra have gone through this alternative education from kindergarten to 12th grade. Waldorf education is about many things. It was the brainchild of Rudolf Steiner who created a school for the children of the workers of the Waldorf cigarette factory during post WW1 Germany.

Rudolf Steiner wanted to create an educational model that would help form a society in which World Wars would not happen. The Nazis eventually shut down his school, but his ideas had taken root and today Waldorf schools are the fastest growing private schools in the world.

Fundamentally Waldorf pedagogy is age-appropriate education delivered in a way that integrates the arts, the sciences, the heart and the intellect. The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America has a website you can visit if you want an official quote.

My approach to teaching has been informed by my children’s excellent education.  I see the way integrating the notion of educating the whole person is vital to communicating information and ideas.  Everybody receives different messages at different times.  Every teacher has experienced this in his or her classroom, where each student hears what you say so differently.  I see this as the first challenge to teaching.  I try to find out how a student learns then what they are ready to learn.  This is a big job especially in a one-week class.  Listening and watching with as much concentration as I can, helps.  But above all else a deep love of what you teach is what transmits the most to students.  If you are jazzed, excited, inspired and enthusiastic it is irresistibly infectious.

CCG: I also know that you have actually built the house that you and your family live in.  Has that experience impacted either your teaching or the work that you make?

Second view of home

Second view of home

SM: The house is a small one on a five-acre lot adjacent to a biodynamic/organic farm near Hudson, New York. It still needs finishing details but the building took about eight months to complete. I used the pine trees from the clearing of the property for the siding and the hard woods for flooring. The house is heated primarily with one wood stove in the basement.  We burn a little bit more than one bush cord a winter. I learned how much I didn’t know about building doing this project.  I know a lot more now.  The front stairs took three days!!  I figured it couldn’t possibly take more than one.  That was the story for just about everything, just like glass eh!

Glass House, Sheila Mahut, blown glass

Glass House, Sheila Mahut, blown glass

Using burning wood as a connecter here the glass houses with the glass smoke coming out of the chimneys are also in the photos.  They are 10 x 12 x 8″ for the house and the smokes are about 18″ long.  They are mold blown into a wood mold and the smokes are free blown.

Glass House, Sheila Mahut, blown glass

Glass House, Sheila Mahut, blown glass

I have been making houses in a variety of forms for a long time.  The shape and context is comforting and intriguing to me.  So much happens in the home of my family and the home of my psyche.  In these houses the wind is blowing hard and the smoke is as big as the house take what you will from that metaphor.

Glass Tiles, Sheila Mahut, fused glass

Glass Tiles, Sheila Mahut, fused glass

The other images are also recent from the last two years.  They are fused glass tiles that were made for two different bathrooms.  The dark amber tiles are from my bathroom and the blue ones are from a commission I did for a house in Massachusetts.  Teaching fusing at Haliburton inspired these tiles.  While the students work on their pieces I putter about trying stuff and voila a new way to make some stuff.

Glass Tiles, Sheila Mahut, fused glass

Glass Tiles, Sheila Mahut, fused glass

 

CCG: The commute to your teaching gig in Haliburton is a long one.  What is it about the program at Fleming College that keeps you going back?

SM: Haliburton is a touchstone for me as a teacher and a Canadian living in the states.  The Canadian Shield, the bedrock of Ontario is nourishment for me.  I get to reconnect with the land, my friends, family and I get to teach, all of which is very good.  Haliburton is a unique program.  It is a 15-week intensive studio based glassblowing education.  Each week consists of 24 to 30 hours of hands-on studio time. That is a lot of practice and demo time.  It’s an introduction to a large selection of glassblowing techniques, from paperweights to mold-making to colour applications to production work and everything in between.

CCG: Are you currently teaching elsewhere?  What are you working on these days?

SM: These days I am on a committee to build a new craft studio at Hawthorne Valley School.  The school wants to incorporate glassmaking in its curriculum.  They already do stained glass and last year I taught the Grade 11 class on fusing, which some students used in their stained glass windows.  Eventually the school would like to have hot glass. Yahoo for Sheila!!!

Sheila Mahut demoing the suck bowl at Haliburton.  Photo by Alex Raptis

Sheila Mahut demoing the suck bowl at Haliburton. Photo by Alex Raptis

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SHED: Tearing Down Sheridan Craft’s Iron Curtain

By: Ron Vincent

If you were to survey Sheridan College’s Craft and Design students upon leaving the assembly for the upcoming SHED project, you would have been hard pressed to find more than a few dozen students toting positive attitudes toward the idea. Where do our instructors get the nerve? We don’t want to take time out of the studio to let outsiders into our home and play with our toys.
But it happened anyway, and I can now laugh at my childish entitlement.

Group 8’s hanging installation selected for display at Design Republic in Toronto; porcelain and mixed media; approximately 5’ x 1’; photo by Owen Colborne; 2013

Group 8’s hanging installation selected for display at Design Republic in Toronto; porcelain and mixed media; approximately 5’ x 1’; photo by Owen Colborne; 2013

The semester started with an email. We already knew the task from the briefing: groups comprised of roughly 10 students from all years and craft majors – glass, ceramics, furniture, and textiles – were to design and build a working light fixture prototype. We all received an email containing the group rosters (determined by the project coordinators), each group’s ‘home base’, and a schedule of workshops for the upcoming days.

The itinerary dictated that we would be meeting our coworkers on Monday and presenting our group’s working prototype on Friday. We had less than five working days to get to know our fellow detainees, agree on a design, and put it together. All of a sudden every deadline for every project that preceded SHED seemed like an eternity.
I knew the names of the students I would be working with for the next couple weeks. Supposedly, I have been in the same program as all of them (save for the first-years) for a year and a half – yet I had zero faces to match the names. A slightly embarrassing thought in hindsight, but therein lay the purpose of SHED: students of varying expertise working closely together in an effort to foster future cooperation between studios.

Group 4 members Caroline Floyd, Victoria Lutz, and Chris Detakacsy installing circuitry components; photo by Ron Vincent; 2013

Group 4 members Caroline Floyd, Victoria Lutz, and Chris Detakacsy installing circuitry components; photo by Ron Vincent; 2013

Cooperation would be integral to the entire experience. Group members were forced to compromise their vision to the relative satisfaction of nine other people. Fortunately, the majority of students banded together amicably for the sake of their respective light.
Within the first day, each of my group members had listed the skills/traits they possess that would contribute to our production (and a couple they feel could be detrimental). We were now aware of who could solder, who had CNC experience, who loses their wallet often, etc.
This exercise identified every group member as an asset. Among our group of 10, two of us were glass majors and therefore had to become immediate experts on the material – relative to our coworkers, of course. When it was time to leave the brainstorming session and make things happen, we began to see each other as professionals, not simply college students. All of a sudden, our skills were in demand and contributing to a bigger picture. Our group members were now our contacts, sourced to realize our common goal. A burgeoning sense of respect among colleagues is the inevitable result.
As professionals in our own fields, the time to doubt our capabilities had passed. The rest of the group had trusted the two of us to construct laminated puck-lights to fit into a large wooden case. In actuality, this seemingly small request invoked a great deal of trust among strangers: we had to trust the furniture students to make the light fittings the correct size, who in turn placed their faith in us to cast the pucks with enough time to finish and install them. There was no time to doubt one’s teammates; we had to rely on each other for the coming together of our piece.

Group 4’s interactive fixture invites viewers to illuminate different media without indication; wood, glass, porcelain, yarn, copper; approximately 6’ x 1’; photo by Owen Colborne; 2013

Group 4’s interactive fixture invites viewers to illuminate different media without indication; wood, glass, porcelain, yarn, copper; approximately 6’ x 1’; photo by Owen Colborne; 2013

Upon project completion, everyone is eager to celebrate. An array of differing light fixtures adorns both floors of the campus pub for the evening while the studio heads offer a couple thoughts on the first SHED results. From calming blue lights resembling icebergs to motion-sensitive installations, the variety/quality of work shown demonstrates that our group was not the only one to embrace and overcome the challenges of working with such external integration.

Second-story view of the Sheridan Marquee (pub) during the SHED project presentation; photo by Leah Marcoux; 2013

Second-story view of the Sheridan Marquee (pub) during the SHED project presentation; photo by Leah Marcoux; 2013

Free from the constraints of group obligations, many students seek out their studio mates for drinks and to emotionally vent their feelings toward the project in safe company. However, in spite of our initially pessimistic view toward the project, SHED has proven itself a successful first attempt toward further cooperation between Sheridan’s Craft and Design studios.

 

Years ago, Ron Vincent pulled the plug on his cubicle-oriented engineering path in order to pursue his creative endeavors. Unable to ignore his childhood passions of drawing, creating, building, and exploring, Ron continues to seek an outlet for his adolescence. Years of exposure to the craft realm have sparked an interest that has grown into a passion. Ron enters his third year in Sheridan College’s Crafts and Design – Glass program emphasizing flame working and transferring/manipulating his illustrations in glass.

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President’s Message

Jamie Gray

photo credit:  Ashley Gray

photo credit: Ashley Gray

“Well, that was awkward,” is a phrase my teenaged daughters frequently use to describe everything from garment malfunctions to social interaction gone awry.  It’s an expression that’s been doing the rounds in my brain too since mid-April when we had to make the very difficult decision to cancel our Calgary conference.

Awkward and unhappy, because we had to tell friends and colleagues, sponsors and presenters, that all was called off due to insufficient registration numbers.  The big party we planned for two years and so looked forward to would not be happening.  Very awkward.

But it’s been said that when things go badly you find out who your friends are.  And to my surprise (and relief, I have to say), that is what happened.  There was no shouting.  No complaining.  No accusations of bad management.  The many messages that came pouring in from around the world were supportive and sympathetic.  It seems that things are tough all over, and conferences and classes are very difficult to fill these days no matter where you go.  It’s not just us, then.  Whew!

At the conference, we would have been welcoming students and grads from glass programs the world over.  Since this issue of Contemporary Canadian Glass is about education, we take time to celebrate those who have completed their years of training and are ready to leap into the world at a full gallop.  We applaud you, graduates – great job!  You did it.  Now, get on out there and find your spot in the world.  Wherever you get planted, bloom like crazy.  We look to you to be the planners and plotters of the events and happenings that we will all flock to in the future.  You’ll do great things, and talk about them, and teach about them.  I, for one, can’t wait to hear all about it.

Finally, it is my honour to introduce to you your next President of the Glass Art Association of Canada, Steven Tippin.  I’ve worked with Steve on the GAAC Board for a few years now, and have been continually impressed with his smarts, integrity and dedication.  He’s got wonderful ideas and plans for taking GAAC to the next level, and I look forward to seeing where he leads us.  On top of it all, he’s a real gentleman.  For myself, after stepping down as President I’ll be once again taking on the role of Copy Editor for the magazine, relieving the hard-working Kate Tippin to whom we owe much gratitude for her hard work for the past few years.  I’ll be glad, too, to be able to tuck into some studio work again and maybe do some teaching.  I might even go back to school.

As my daughters would say, “Peace out, peeps.”

02 President's Message June 2013

photo credit: Ashley Gray

 

Le mot de la Présidente

Jamie Gray

 

photo credit:  Ashley Gray

photo credit: Ashley Gray

 

«  C’était assez embarrassant », est une expression souvent utilisée par mes filles ados pour décrire un peu tout, que ce soit des vêtements mal ajustés ou des échanges sociaux qui dérivent. Cette expression me trotte dans la tête depuis mi-avril, date à laquelle nous avons dû prendre la douloureuse décision d’annuler notre conférence à Calgary.

Embarrassant et triste, lorsque nous avons dû annoncer à nos amis et collègues, commanditaires et animateurs, que tout était annulé suite à un trop faible nombre de participants. Le gros événement que nous préparons depuis deux ans et que nous nous réjouissions de voir arriver n’aura pas lieu. Vraiment embarrassant.

On dit souvent que c’est dans les moments difficiles qu’on reconnait ses vrais amis. Et à ma grande surprise (et soulagement aussi je dois l’admettre), c’est ce qui s’est produit. Pas de cris, pas de pleurs, pas d’accusations sur un manque d’organisation quelconque. Les nombreux messages qui nous sommes parvenus du monde entier ont été encourageants et gentils. Il semblerait que les temps soient durs un peu partout et que les conférences et les cours se remplissent avec difficulté, qu’importent où ils ont lieu. Ce n’est donc pas juste nous. Ouf !

Durant cette conférence, nous aurions accueilli étudiants et diplômés venant de programmes de verre du monde entier. Puisque l’édition de ce Contemporary Canadian Glass porte sur le thème de l’éducation, prenons le temps de saluer ceux qui ont complété leur année de formation et sont prêts à faire leur grande entrée dans le monde. Nous vous félicitons, bravo les diplômés ! Vous y êtes. Maintenant à vous de jouer, allez-y et partez à la recherche de votre place dans ce monde. Où que vous élisiez domicile, épanouissez-vous à fond. Nous voyons en vous la relève de l’organisation et de la préparation des événements à venir. Vous accomplirez de belles choses, en parlerez, et les enseignerez à d’autres. Rien qu’en ce qui me concerne, j’ai hâte de vous entendre.

Pour finir, j’ai l’honneur de vous présenter votre futur président de l’Association du Verre d’Art du Canada, Steven Tippin. Cela fait plusieurs années que je travaille aux côtés de Steve dans le comité du GAAC et j’ai toujours été impressionnée par son ingéniosité, son intégrité et son dévouement. Il a de très bonnes idées et plans pour faire passer le GAAC au niveau supérieur et j’ai hâte de voir où il nous emmènera. En plus de ça, c’est un vrai gentleman. Pour ma part, une fois que j’aurai laissé le poste de présidente, je retrouverai mon rôle d’éditrice pour le magazine, soulageant par la même occasion Kate Tippin qui a travaillé dur et à qui nous devons beaucoup pour tous les efforts qu’elle a fourni ces dernières années. Je serai ravie aussi de pouvoir retourner à mes fourneaux, travailler dans mon atelier et enseigner à nouveau. Je retournerai peut être même à l’école.

02 President's Message June 2013

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Con”grad”ulations!

Jamie Gray

This issue of Contemporary Canadian Glass has been dedicated to the topic of education.  So, I thought I’d speak directly to that and send a big shout-out to this year’s graduates of our Canadian glass schools:  Espace Verre in Montreal, Sheridan College in Oakville, and the Alberta College of Art + Design in Calgary.  Con”grad”ulations, you guys!  You did it.  You made it.  All the late night cramming for exams, panicky project catch-ups, and gruelling critiques are over.  Now comes the tricky part:  becoming who you’ve been practicing to be.  And we’re here to help.

Our glass community is pretty well connected and highly supportive.  The Glass Art Association of Canada provides all new grads with a gift of a free year’s membership and eight images for an individual artist profile on the GAAC website.  We hope that you’ll stay in touch with us as you take these next most important steps in your career.  Send us photos of your new work, articles about your journey, links to your blogs.  We’re interested and we care.

Congratulations must be also be extended to the instructors of our schools.  You taught well and raised up some great up-and-comers; glass artists whom we’ll be watching with interest.

Have a great summer, everyone, full of well-deserved rest!

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