It Takes a Factory to Run a Tour

By  Lani
2018-03-29 09:56:43
“Start time? End time? Breaks? Hourly wage?” Casting Supervisor scrambles to answer a volley of unexpected questions from a Latvian visitor watching his team rolling sheet glass. Tours of the Bullseye factory can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or more. Questions range from the tech-nerd’s “Is the coloring chromophore in red glasses part of the silicon tetrahedra?” to the sweet-faced 8-year old who wants to know how old he has to be to get a casting job. This week I led a small group from the Baltic states who were clearly Olympic caliber interrogators. I was unprepared. Thinking that one knows something is among the greatest impediments to learning. I’ve been in and out of this factory for 35 years, but I doubt I know 2% of what goes on here. Questions from visitors on tours push me to consider other perspectives. Most often visitor questions focus on the material. No secret: hot glass is mesmerizing. Yet tour visitors can miss what is truly magic in a factory like Bullseye. It’s the people. One of this week’s visitors operates a glass fabrication studio in Latvia with 46 workers. Many of her questions took me off guard. In all the commotion, the activity, the 2500°F furnaces and the ladles of flaming hot honey, the real marvels are the stories of working people. I’ve just put my toe into that stream and started posting about it earlier this month. Why? What am I looking for? On occasion a tour group sends me photos or other records of their time at the factory. In 2013 a gaggle of preschoolers documented their visit with this drawing. In 1995 I cleared out my office at the factory and moved across the river to head up our first Resource Center (at the time verbosely named The Bullseye Connection: A Glassworking Resource Center). Within four years that first “RC” had subdivided itself and spawned the Bullseye Gallery. That gallery has since been incorporated into Bullseye Projects. Obviously with all that time spent plotting new directions and thinking up new names to describe our extra-factory activities, I lost touch with the deeper workings of the people and operations at the core of what Bullseye is: a community of glass makers. So last summer, as Dan and I were having our portrait shot for a spread in American Craft Magazine, it struck me how nuts it was for the magazine to portray us as some kind of royal couple sitting atop an “oasis”, away from the trenches (not that anyone, looking at Dan’s hands, would think for a moment that he wasn’t a trench dweller). Living with art is sheer joy. Living with a white sofa, not so much. What really needed chronicling was the beautiful creature that hosts us all: the Bullseye Factory. But where to start? How does one prioritize the components of a living organism? Is a kidney more important than a leg? The heart more critical than the lungs? Not knowing where to start, I began by nagging Dan to climb up into the rafters above the casting floor – a place he knows well – and stand still for the photographer who’d posed him months before in front of the white sofa that he rarely sits on. As much as its people – few of whom are as responsive to my nagging as Dan – I wanted to portray the Organism itself. Furnaces, annealers, machine shop, studio kilns, dilatometer, baghouses, the library – the organs that form a pulsing whole with the people who run them, tend them, pamper them, and depend on them in the complex symbiosis that is this factory. So, that’s how this all started: looking at spaces, wrangling a few people inhabiting those tiny sub-kingdoms, and begging them to stand still for a few minutes out of their days. Most obliged. I’ll cajole the others one way or another. Eventually. But as much as I wanted pictures, I needed words. In the middle of the shoots, I’d tell people that I planned to interview them. Most nodded obligingly, likely aware of how often I drop balls and confident they’d never hear from me again. After four shoots and over a dozen portraits, I’ve conducted 1.75 interviews. So here I am. Looking through proof sheets, thinking up questions. Doing my own convoluted Factory Tour. Coming up with more questions than answers. What’s the plan? What am I doing? It takes a factory So far we’ve captured 14 people in half a dozen departments. Surface and head barely scratched. I got a message from Human Resources last week asking me to explain my portrait project. “People are wondering why some are getting photographed and others not.” If there had been a carpet I’d have felt called on it. “Can you give us some information on what exactly you are doing?” This is one of the things I love most about Bullseye: no one hesitates to ask the tough questions. Even of the owners. I’m planning on having A Plan by the time I have to explain myself at the next Company Meeting. In the meantime, I’m feeling grateful for the factory tourist who asked me whose coveralls were hanging outside the production office. I don’t know today. I will by the end of the project.