“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
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
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
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
So here I am. Looking through proof sheets, thinking up questions. Doing
my own convoluted Factory Tour. Coming up with more questions than
What’s the plan? What am I doing?
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.