Pilchuck inspiring me beyond glass

August 5, 2011

I had the opportunity to have a face-to-face meeting with the class I’ll be co-teaching online in a few weeks. It’s a “Program Planning” course (LRNT 503) from the Royal Roads University MALAT cohort (MA in Learning and Technology).

I am still bursting with ideas from Pilchuck, and although the LRNT503 course is not at all about glass I believe that my experience at Pilchuck has given me new ideas for ways to address its goals.

At Pilchuck, Bruce Mau referred to technology and said “now we can do anything, what will we do?”

He encouraged the Pilchuck group to consciously design our lives and our environments. A perfect thought for the MALAT students I am working with, who will be designing online educational environments. Bruce Mau, a big BIG picture designer, gave me a renewed understanding of the scale of design principles. It’s something I want to share as I teach this year.

For instance, the intersection of arts and science can be made more explicit as an educational goal. “Massive change” for education. “The Third Teacher”  — interactions for learning. Kids interact with adults, peers and their environment — as program planners, the group I’m teaching will be making decisions about learning environments and should spend time reflecting on how these shape the learning experience.

Also, collaborative learning is something that Royal Roads has always emphasized, and it was beautiful to see it in action at Pilchuck. In my session with the MALAT group I described Pilchuck’s environment of artistic collaboration and hopefully made it clear that the same creative energy can be applied throughout the MALAT program. Students will work together to solve problems, create a set of online resources that will stay with them long after the course is completed and, most importantly, they will begin to think about plans that can be implemented in their real life workplaces.

I ended my discussion by considering Bruce Mau’s statement that “sacrifice won’t work”. As humans, we won’t stop loving travel, communication, playing, making art and so on, so we will continue to consume things. That means in order to be sustainable we have to make smart things more compelling than stupid things. And that’s a design problem!


When I wrote this on the board I saw many of the class members smiling. I hope a seed has been planted!


July 29, 2011

I’ve been super busy since returning from Pilchuck but through blogging and Facebook I’m keeping in touch. In fact, I’m leaning towards the idea of a blog or wiki for the Glassimations group so we can keep track of each other and also share with the world. I think I will start working on that concept this weekend.

In the meantime, I’ve been back to my university work and that got me thinking about ways that the Pilchuck model of collaboration is actually so incredibly relevant to education in general. That’s something I plan to write about in more detail within the next few days.

But first, I am part of a three-person art exhibition with an opening reception tonight.



"Send Me No Flowers"


About a dozen of my glass-on-glass mosaics will be on display along with paintings by Deryk Houston (my husband) and Linda Heslop.

The end of session three

July 22, 2011
be most excellent

Be Most Excellent

And so, with the first shuttles to the airport already gone, most of the session three students have disappeared. It will start all over again in a couple of days.

It is so hard to leave this place…

Double Rainbow (Pilchuck style)

July 21, 2011

Last night was an opportunity to see displays of all the glass work done in session three here at Pilchuck. The energy was fantastic and it a lovely touch is that everyone’s photograph was displayed beside their work, helping with identification. For me, this was a chance to gain unexpected insights about folks I’ve been hanging out with and sharing meals with over the past weeks. Seeing the details of everyone’s work, how they incorporated colour (or lack of) showed whimsy or made more serious pieces and seeing how some pieces exhibited a delicate fragility while others were manifestations of chunky strength — was a way of knowing more about the personalities and minds of each member of this group of wonderful people.

I took a lot of photos for my own memories but I’ll only share one right now. The Double Rainbow.

Double Rainbow

Double Rainbow

It seems to express something about Pilchuck that resonates with me. The “Double Rainbow” YouTube video that went viral a couple of years ago was an expression of awe that has sort of become a standard way of referencing anything in life that is breathtaking. So it just made sense to me when I kept hearing people here saying “Double Rainbow Man!” when they looked at the breakfast offerings or the sunset view from the lodge or someone’s sketch for a glass piece. It’s a sort of social media ‘highest praise’ term of endearment — allowing yourself to become completely goofy about how enthralled you are about something. And of course, being Pilchuck, the idea has been made into reality in glass. I hadn’t seen any sign of this piece until last night and I burst out laughing when I walked into the Cold Shop and there it was. The true Double Rainbow – solid and enduring.

That feeling (and I’m not ashamed to be goofy about how enthralled I am) is how I feel about Pilchuck!

Double Rainbow Man!!!

Pure Magic at Pilchuck

July 20, 2011

I can’t believe today is the last studio day. Tomorrow is clean up and then Friday – we — this collaborative amazing creative and funny group of people — must disperse.

I can’t believe I haven’t been in a car for nearly three weeks. Although I was invited, I’ve had no desire to go into town, make a trip to Seattle or leave for any reason.

I intend to stay connected to Pilchuck, and I hope to return. Ruth, the artistic director told me of some of the tentative plans for artists in residence and oh boy! I want to be here to see them!

I also told Ruth about my idea to keep our “Glassimations” group intact online — hopefully expanding it as well and she is very supportive. I see something really interesting coming out of this!

Last night – great after dinner talk by Jay (who lives in my city but I didn’t know of him till I got here – and he’s originally from Prince Rupert which caused someone in the group to sort of gasp and say ‘that is really far north’.). He’s an amazingly skilled hot glass worker who can both interpret the ideas of others as a gaffer and also imagine and make his own stunning creations based on things ranging from plant life to shipwrecks on the beach. The joke when Jay was introduced: “What’s the first thing a Canadian does when he wakes up in the morning?” Answer: “Apologize. (pause) For things he might do during the day.”

Jay started his career in glass in what was basically a factory. He made 250 paperweights/day. The workers there were told that if they ever went to Pilchuck, they shouldn’t bother to come back. Jay did the job for six years then *did* go to Pilchuck. And he believes that the paperweight job gave him a skill in his hands so he didn’t have to think about them and could work directly with the ideas in his head. And after all those functional pieces he was able to focus on completely non-functional pieces.

Jay has had many roles at Pilchuck since he began here. And he has explored some interesting combinations of video and glass that address ideas about dementia — how our brain can get scrambled in its access of the timeline. He depicts this through some beautiful time-lapse portraits that are reflected from glass.

Also, I absolutely loved his project of attaching LED lights to people working in the hot shop and videoing their movement via time lapse.

Then… I was off to work on my own classes’ final videos for presentation on the studio walk which will be tonight. As Charlotte said — the class has been pure magic and when everyone set up their work, that magic became truly visible.

Pilchuck for the next 1000 years

July 19, 2011

Monday – the last Monday for this session at Pilchuck. Another great day. I coldworked my “message in a bottle” and got it to a point that will allow the image captured on the matte (sandblasted) back of the piece to shine through the gleaming, cerium-wheel-polished (by me!) front. And I reworked the animation for it to be a bit friendlier – with animated hand-printing instead of computer text. Now that I know I have a piece of glass as the foundation there is time to add final important touches to the video that will work with it.

Also, some great conversation again this evening. The whole group after-dinner session was led by Bruce Mau and was about what makes Pilchuck different (collaboration and sharing ideas rather than hoarding them like the Venetians did is one aspect) and also about the issues that face Pilchuck if Pilchuck were to have a 1000 year plan. Is it sustainable? I had a chance to say how I think it’s a non-competitive, non-industrial model that should be the standard for all education. (see my blog posts here, here , here, here and here if you don’t know my ideas about this).

And Pilchuck really should be presented to the world as such. Apparently there is a PBS documentary being made about the school and Pilchuck has a TED-X license so there may be a TED Pilchuck at some point in time. I’d sure like to be part of THAT! And I want to create an online community for Glassimations – promoting this idea via Lienors and Pilchuck to the world.

Bruce has ideas like true production and marketing of Rick and Dave’s whiskey — putting it in hand-blown bottles with matching goblets and selling a high-end product to support the school. I think that’s brilliant!

Then I had another small table chat with Bruce and a couple of other folks which touched on fundraising and big-time donors, the marriage of left-brain right-brain and work Bruce is doing on this. Dave Willis was there and he mentioned how students think they can start their own studios but would have to spend $100K for set up. I supposed I scandalized him a bit by describing my setup and my costs (basically a cheap kiln, recycled bottles and old windows). I acknowledged that it wouldn’t replace glassblowing but I did pose the question about why Pilchuck never deals with recycled glass. Bruce said he had the same question 🙂 Maybe that’s another direction to pursue.

Chatted with Spencer about energy. He describe a new type of windmill that doesn’t spin but is a spiral that vibrates and can be quite small. He also talked about his plans for a Boston glass studio/gallery in an ‘experience’ mall that is a new concept — no stores allowed unless they provide an experience. Nice idea.

This post is a bit of a ramble. Maybe I’ll clean it up later. Maybe I won’t.

July 18, 2011

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A few pictures from yesterday’s Open House. Awesome event and I think Chris and Karolyn enjoyed it. I certainly enjoying having the chance to show them around a bit.

After the Open House we were invited to give feedback to Jim and had a really interesting conversation about how Pilchuck is run, how the board works, etc. This place has really done it right to attract students, faculty and donors and part of that success seems to be related to the collaborative nature of working in glass. People seem to “get it”. Almost every project requires teamwork of some sort here and that just flows up to the spirit of managing the school altogether. And the way communities form each session and are so tightly knit is important too.