June 15, 2012
By: Jill Allan
By this time last year, I had given up on going to grad school, which was my cherished dream for half a decade!
I was living on Vancouver Island, working for Mel Munsen and trying to re-shape my idea about my future as a glass artist. For four years I had applied to grad schools in the U.S. and Europe, had been interviewed, rejected, wait-listed and accepted, but not funded.
It seemed as though it wouldn’t happen and putting more time and hope into this dream was unproductive. It was time to abandon the notion of grad school; and so I was surprised to get a call from Robert Geyer offering me a fully-funded graduate position at Bowling Green State University in Ohio last May.
It was the beginning of June before anything was settled and I was in a mad panic to pack and prepare to move to Ohio. The school year at BGSU begins in late August and runs until early May; it is a longer school year than I was accustomed to. This meant that I had to be in Bowling Green by August 9 to go through 10 days of orientation.
It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago now; but the first year has flown by.
I always thought that three-year master’s programs were such a huge time commitment, but I wouldn’t mind extending it by another year now! As part of the program at BGSU, graduate students must enroll in academic and studio electives as well as pedagogical training. While I found all of the course material to be interesting, it was difficult for me to make my own work and do homework and reading at the same time. Because of this conflict, I chose to complete my academic coursework early to better moderate my distractions and later focus all of my energy on studio work.
To me, it was important to prioritize my schedule to make the most of the time here. As a graduate assistant, I also work 15 hours each week in order to earn my assistantship. As part of my assistantship, next year I will be teaching, which is an addition consideration for scheduling.
This summer, I am staying on in Ohio to work, uninterrupted, in the studio making neon and also modular components for a large sculptural work. In addition, I will be using the kilns to make work with photo decals. It feels like this summer is going to be a wonderful time to work and explore my ideas with quiet time to consider and reflect about what I am making.
My motivations for returning to school to get my master’s are manifold: I want to be able to teach at the post-secondary level; I want to make work that is more expressive and sculptural; and I want time to spend in the studio without the distraction of survival.
For me, teaching art is a way to be connected to a centre for learning and creating; to be part of a creative community. Next semester I will be teaching Glass 1 in the School of Art at BGSU and in the spring I will be teaching in the first-year program. I feel like I have a lot of experience and broad skills to teach and hopefully I also have the right personality to pass it on effectively to my students.
When I think of the teachers that I had at ACAD, I can see that the most important ways that they taught me were by asking questions, giving me space to work it out on my own and most importantly providing encouragement. I hope that I can remember these things when I am teaching.
It seems like Canada is on the verge of building new academic traditions and that there is hope for domestic MFA programs in the near future; I would like to take part in building those traditions and strengthening the international networks of our community through my academic experience.
Since I graduated from ACAD in 1999, I have designed and produced my own work while working for other artists and galleries. Primarily, my work has been based in the craft tradition of vessel making. For me, graduate school is an opportunity to explore new terrain with my work; making work that is larger in scale and more expressive, calling on architectural forms as a basis for inspiration and using glass to alter and shape light. It is 13 years since I graduated from ACAD with my BFA and I have been working steadily since that time to develop my work and my career. It will be interesting to see what comes of my time in the studio when I am not under financial pressure to produce the work I know will sell.
BGSU is in Northwest Ohio about 30 minutes south of Toledo. This is a region with a rich glass history both in terms of industrial glass production and the studio glass movement. Dominic Labino, one of the founders of the studio glass movement, received an honorary doctorate from BGSU in 1970. The 1962 glass workshop at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is widely viewed as the seminal event for the studio glass movement; the GAS conference in Toledo this June will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the workshop.
The facilities here are great: two 500 lb Wet Dog electric furnaces, gas garage, three benches, two large kilns for casting, and three large annealors. Although there is no room to set up a lampworking station permanently, we will be bending tubes for neon this summer as a special project. The cold shop is equipped with grit wheels, a Denver and a Merker lathe, lapidary saw, band saw, cork and cerium wheels, a large sand-blaster and a gluing station. There is also a plaster area with a steamer and wax pot for mold preparation.
The glass area at BGSU is part of the 3-Dimensional Studies Department of the School of Art. Students at BGSU are encouraged to approach their education from a multimedia standpoint and the programs are set up for mobility between studios. There are about 90 undergraduate students taking glass classes, and about 20 ‘majors’. In the glass area, we are moving toward a comprehensive glass education; covering all aspects of working with glass rather than focusing on the hot shop process. Visiting artists form an important part of the curriculum (Laura Donefer in October, 2011, Ethan Stern in November, 2011). The student glass association (SAGA) is active in fundraising and community building.
The proximity to the collection at the TMA and the new hot shop facilities reinforced my enthusiasm to accept a graduate position at Bowling Green State University. I am currently the only graduate student in glass, but the school has an incoming first-year graduate student in the fall and will continue to accept a new graduate student annually. If you are interested in the BGSU program contact Robert Geyer email@example.com or myself jallanatbgsu.edu.
Jill Allan is a Canadian glass artist from Vancouver Island working towards an MFA at Bowling Green State University in Ohio (BFA 1999 ACAD). Jill is using her time at school to develop new techniques and formats for her work