The Collectionist in the Classroom | Bullseye Glass Co. | Bullseye Glass Co

The Collectionist in the Classroom

Drawer #3, 2010. Kilnformed glass. 5.5" x 8.5" x 1.25" (assembled)

“The human act of collecting is a way to relate on a personal scale to the vast, mysterious and ultimately unknowable place that we inhabit.” – Ursula Marcum.

From a day of research in the Bird Collections at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh

In a clumsy effort to pigeonhole the careers, former careers and personalities that make up the stories behind the twenty “Act 2” artists who shared a kiln-glass residency at Pilchuck in 2009 and 2010, I almost labeled Baltimore artist Ursula Marcum a former “exhibitionist”

I admit, the made-up term “collectionist” isn’t much better, but somehow “museum exhibit designer,” while it may accurately describe a stage of Marcum’s career history, just doesn’t capture the focused intensity behind the artist’s engagement with the collective impulse and what it says to us.

But exhibitionist is not entirely inaccurate.

Pilchuck kiln studio, night.

Isn’t this what an artist does? Baring it all, and in the process risking to let others in? And aren’t we then fortunate voyeurs to this process?

Is the small odd thrill we get in nighttime glimpses into strangers’ windows so dissimilar from the curiosity piqued on poking through those mildly disturbing Victorian collections?

More satisfying even than the purely voyeuristic – which for me has been richly fed by the many process, group and inspirational photos provided by the Pilchuck residents – has been watching the diverse elements come together, as they do in Marcum’s work.

Within a single small assemblage Marcum hints at and records evidence, history, inquiry, explanation – frozen on multiple layers of time and space. This is what glass does well and Marcum works it skillfully from sketch, through model, to finished work.

Marcum has chosen glass wisely. Not for its beauty – although it is certainly that – but for its preservative qualities, its ability to hold permanently, as if archived, a sense of passing moments and deteriorating objects.

Collection #1, 2010. Kilnformed glass. 6" x 6" x 1.75" (assembled)

This tendency to conserve and to safeguard is also at the heart of teaching, another career in the artist’s background and one that she continues through her work at the noted Beltsville, Maryland studio Vitrum.

In this material, Marcum’s twin career tracks of museum exhibition and teaching merge and continue. Lucky for us. Lucky for glass.

To read more on Marcum, the artist, the work and her teaching, click here.

To see more about Marcum’s classes and the full kiln-glass program at Vitrum, click here:

For details on the upcoming “Act 2″ exhibition at the Museum of Northwest Art, go here.

6 Responses to The Collectionist in the Classroom

  1. That little glass bird head in the last photo almost turned me to a life of crime.

  2. Lani says:


  3. Ursula cast and polished it during the first PAiRS. She managed to infuse it with an air of importance larger than the object itself. The idea of collecting it not only feels right – it feels necessary. During the residency, I told her to keep a close eye on it or I would “collect” it for myself. Since then, I’ve convinced myself I was only kidding.

  4. Ursula says:

    “Collectionist” rolls off the tongue more easily, too! Thanks for the new term, Lani.

    When I worked with “real” collections, curators, historians and designers, too, were all trying to piece together an understand of an object with, in some cases, not much to go on. That tireless desire to make sense of things is also a part of collecting, I think.

    Glass is the ideal material for this work precisely because of the ability to layer it, peer into it, place scraps of information in it to be held for your observation, or, sometimes, obscure your view.

    And Paul, you may find a glass bird head in your collection one of these days!

  5. Lani says:

    Ursula, thanks for commenting. That chance to hear – directly from the maker – about the ideas and experiences behind the work has always been such yummy “icing” for me. I hugely appreciate that so many of you were so generous with your words and process images. I hope you’ll consider coming out for the exhibition. (And if Paul comes too, maybe he can make a deal. Or mug you. ;-)

  6. Judith says:

    It was an amazing week, watching that first piece during its gestation, and then attending its birth. Repeated testing, model-making, and questioning were such a very important part of the entire process/piece.

    And a BIG tip of the hat to Steve Immerman, whose photographer’s eye spotted photo opportunities that might have slipped away, unnoted and unremarked.

Leave a Comment