The Instructors on Sabbatical | Bullseye Glass Co. | Bullseye Glass Co

The Instructors on Sabbatical

Teaching is risky business. Standing too long at the head of the class can stunt one’s growth. Hence the long-established practice within universities of sabbaticals. Getting out of the trenches to investigate the new and unknown is essential for all of us, but for teachers, even more so.

Two of the participants in Pilchuck’s 2009 Professional Artists-in-Residence program and also in the current Act 2 show at MoNA are not only teachers within our field , but also kiln-glass resource center owners. And if you think that running a teaching studio is a walk in the Art Park you might want to meet Judith Conway and Paul Tarlow.

Conway, who operates Vitrum, in Beltsville, Maryland just outside DC, (with partner Kevin O’Toole) and Tarlow, who runs Helios (with his wife, Karen) in Austin, Texas, head up some of the best commercial teaching programs for kiln-glass in the US.

Both programs are staffed by highly competent resident instructors while also hosting respected visiting artists of national and international stature. Conway and Tarlow both teach extensively themselves and refresh their curriculum with considerable research into new methods and products.

Judith Conway, "Marsh at Daybreak," 2010, 12 x 25 x .5 inches

Conway’s investigations into reactive glasses have been ground-breaking and yielded some of the best course work in the field today. Tarlow’s internet presence is a constant source of invaluable and accurate (sometimes rare on the Web) material that he generously shares on his website.

Paul Tarlow, "Okay, You Convinced Me," 2009, 24 x 4 x 6 inches

I haven’t spoken to Judith or Paul about the challenges of running their teaching programs, but having been raised in a household headed by an overworked, underpaid, perpetually paper-grading, meeting-smothered university professor, I know first-hand the point at which love of the discipline starts to morph into faculty funk. If one is lucky, a sabbatical is close at hand.

That’s how I saw the Pilchuck residency for Conway and Tarlow.  Looking at their latest work that followed upon their Pilchuck time, I’m increasingly convinced that Time Away – especially with peers – is critical to continued development in any field. The best teachers do it. It shows in the work – that is worth watching. Conway’s here. And Tarlow’s here.

PS. I’m delighted to see that Judith is again taking a few days away in June to join us in Portland for BECon 2011. Maybe if I needle Paul enough, he’ll consider another mini-sabbatical too.

Okay, Paul, have I convinced you? ;-)


PPS. As always, the great peeps-pic of Judith & Paul is compliments of our Surgeon with the SLR, Steve Immerman.

7 Responses to The Instructors on Sabbatical

  1. Hi Lani,

    I shot a little (very amateur) video footage of Judith Conway’s piece, which gives a sense of the surface qualities in addition to the wonderful colors that are visible in the still photo.

    Mary Kay

  2. Lani says:

    Mary Kay,
    That clip really takes me back to the day of the Opening. The surface of that piece so nicely reflects the energy – audial and visual – of the museum gallery. I want that day back!

  3. Bob says:

    Well deserved recognition for two people(and their studios) who are committed to improving the art of kiln formed glass!

    But Paul wasn`t really on sabbatical… more like a busman`s holiday. I sat behind him in 2009 and watched Paul engage with other participants. He spent much of the residency working on mold making and challenges for other people`s projects. He tackled the problems with the enthusiasm and rigor as if it was his own. What a generous spirit!

  4. Ursula says:

    Bob is right – generous spirits, indeed. If you spend any time with either Paul or Judy, it is obvious that they care about a high standard of quality, both in their own work and in the information that they provide through their teaching. Their tireless efforts are applause-worthy!

  5. Bob says:

    Yeah… don’t let the cool shades and happy smiles fool you. These two are hard core educators.

  6. Lani – thank you for generous words. When Karen and I decided to open Helios, our one sentence description for our goal was to be the “Vitrum of the South”. Judith and Kevin have, imo, set the gold standard for education in fused glass. For you to discuss Helios and Vitrum in the same context really is the highest compliment. That’s not modesty :-) – just simple truth.

    While I agree that standing in front of a classroom can stunt one’s growth, I don’t think it has to. When student’s are encourage to break rules and embrace failure they do some pretty amazing things. I’m fortunate that I learn something new every time I get in front of a classroom. If I didn’t, I don’t think I could teach as much as I do.

    As for the 2009 Pilchuck residency, I can assure you I got much, much more out of it than I gave. Steve and Richard did an amazing job assembling a group of artists who were able to feed – and feed off – of each other. That week was one of the best of my life. If that sounds like hyperbole, I promise you that it isn’t.

  7. Lani says:

    Paul, of course, you’re right (on all counts).
    But it’s got to be tough to be expected to have Answers all the time.
    That’s the thing I love about art: it’s the Questions that matter.
    But you know that. It shows. Thanks for writing.

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