Wednesday, May 2, 2007

In the Rearview Mirror

I am a stranger in a strange land.

Somehow I've taken an artistic detour from the land of glass into the world of fabric. It's all Traci Bautista's fault, if you want to know the truth, although the road from there to here is long and somewhat winding.

A few years ago, I took a stained glass class in an attempt to save my sanity from a job I abhorred. I love stained glass, and since I have an untreatable case of "why buy it when I can make it" syndrome, I thought I would learn to create those beautiful stained glass windows I had always admired. Creating stained glass pieces was excellent therapy to counteract the psychic destruction my job was wreaking, but I felt too stifled by the careful, measured processes that stained glass requires. (By the way, if you're ever tempted to make a stained glass window rather than purchase one in order to save money, resist the temptation. Several thousand dollars later, you'll realize that there's a good reason stained glass isn't cheap.)

Glass wasn't my first crafty venture. I have a history of backpacking through the arts and crafts world, dropping in and swapping stories by the campfire, then moving on to new ground. Here's a map of my wanderings:
  • Woven Potholders: My mom bought me a "weaving" kit when I was 9. Remember those? A little plastic loom and some stretchy, rubber-bandy-like pieces of synthetic material in multiple colors. I made a bazillion potholders, took them door-to-door, and sold them for $1 each. I sold plenty too, although I now realize that my business venture was successful more because of kind-hearted customers than because of my craft or sales skills.
  • Practicing to be an "artist": In junior high, I had a secret fantasy that someday I would be a famous artist. I spent most of my class time practicing my artistic signature. I would scrawl, swirl, and dash my way through hours and pages. I finally perfected my signature. Unfortunately, I had no art to attach it to. I yearned to take art classes, but I assumed that only people who already knew how to be artistic could take art classes. I knew I couldn't draw, so of course I couldn't be an artist, which meant I couldn't take art classes.
  • Sewing: In the 7th grade, I took the required Home Ec class and learned two invaluable and lifelong skills: how to sew, and how to make sausage balls. I also learned how to make a bed with "hospital corners," but that was just a silly waste of time. Do they even have Home Ec anymore? What a shame if they don't, because most of the people I know who sew learned there. Anyway, I made "super simple" tops and dresses and, when my kids came along, "super simple" summer dresses and shorts for them. But I never really liked sewing all that well, so eventually my machine was relegated to the closet to become the official dust collector. Occasionally I would drag it out to make some simple curtains or fix a tear, but I don't remember ever changing the presser foot, adjusting the tension, or even having to wind bobbins!
  • Crocheting: Pregnant with my first child, I bought a crochet kit so that I could make a baby blanket (see the "syndrome" comment above). A co-worker watched me struggling in the breakroom during my lunch hours to follow the written directions, trying to understand yo-ing and single and double and treble crochets. She finally took pity on me and taught me how to crochet. Every few years I still dig out the hook and buy some yarn and make an afghan.
  • Ceramics: a friend took me to a shop where, once a week, you dropped in, bought some greenware, cleaned it, glazed it, left it to be fired, then returned to pick up your masterpiece. I loved getting out of the house and having a "girl's night out" while doing something crafty, but after a couple of years the store closed down and I couldn't find another that offered these in-store "workshops." Unfortunately, I gave most of my ceramic pieces to my ex-mother-in-law. I hope she still enjoys them. Really. I do.
  • Beading: I made some beaded earrings and had visions of making more, but who knew that beading could be so tedious? Besides, who needs 40 or 50 pairs of beaded earrings, anyway? I still have boxes of tiny seed beads, most of which I can't see at my age.
At any rate, I stuck with stained glass for a couple of years. I did some craft shows and realized that the last thing you want to haul back and forth to an outdoor craft fair is a bunch of heavy, somewhat fragile panels of leaded and copper-foiled glass. I needed more spontaneity in my artistic journeys anyway. Then I heard about this thing called "fused glass."

Fused glass provides loads of fun and requires truck-loads of money. I cut, painted, fritted, fired, sandblasted, slumped, carved, and draped my way to some beautiful pieces. I learned numerous techniques, bought every fusing book available, and tried to copy every piece I admired.

I love fusing glass, but at some point I crossed a mental and emotional bridge. After taking classes from a couple of very talented glass artists, I realized that learning techniques and attempting to copy pieces I admired wasn't enough, and it wasn't art. I wanted to create work that meant something, to me and to others. I yearned to hear that "artistic voice" people talked about.

I wanted some art to hang my signature on.

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