By: Bryan Geary
Sitting in a ceramics classroom turned glass fusion studio, Sara
Thibeault ’23 pondered a truly existential question: What is art?
“Art is everything,” she replies with a smile. “How’s that?”
In this space, and in this class, the evidence to support her answer is all around. It started when Arts faculty member Tyler Goodwin polled the student body to gauge interest in new elective classes for the upcoming year. Glass fusion was listed along with additional possibilities like Art History and Printmaking.
“I just threw out some classes I was interested in teaching,” says Goodwin. “The responses from the students were like: ‘Yeah, Art History? Snooze. Printmaking? Yeah, we’ve tried that before. Glass fusion? Well, that’s cool. That’s different.’”
Despite his interest in bringing a glass fusion class to Tilton, Goodwin hadn’t gone through the formal training yet. So, he signed up for a weekend intensive three-day workshop which mostly covered the basics. Glass fusion is the process of taking (typically) three-inch sheets of glass and stacking or arranging them together to make a design. Students use special tools to break the glass sheets into different shapes, allowing them to create an illustration or just a pattern.
The glass is then placed in a mold (typically a bowl or a tray) and fired in a kiln. The temperature varies
depending on what students want the end result to be. For instance,
at 1300 degrees, the glass mostly stays as it is, but softens around the edges as it pools together. Raise the temperature to 1400 degrees and the components melt out further and begin to mesh with one another. Inherently, there is a lot of creativity and experimentation in the process— multiple means to different ends — and that’s how he sold students on his first attempt at teaching the class.
“From the start,” Goodwin says, “I told the kids, ‘Look, I have limited experience with this, but I’m excited to see what we can do.’” What he got in return was a group of students who were excited to take risks, to try something new, and to not always know how it was going to turn out. “I decided to approach the class without a set curriculum,” he continues, “and our experience was much richer because of that.”
One example of this fluidity is the added wrinkle of teaching the course with the perspective of a ceramics teacher. Rather than limit the students to the basic molds he had used during his workshop, Goodwin challenged students to incorporate their ceramics skills into their glass work and make their own molds out of clay.
“The possibilities really become endless in terms of what we can do by making our own molds,” Goodwin says. One student has used this part of the process to make pendants of different shapes and size, while other students were creating custom molds to use as pieces of larger glass compositions. “We always talk about healthy risk taking and trying new things. This is a perfect example — the worst thing that happens is that the glass cracks and we find a creative way to re-use it. That’s really cool and freeing.”
Talking as she works on her latest nautically themed composition, Thibeault deftly breaks her glass into the desired shapes. In her hand is a piece that had broken off another student’s project. “I saw it and thought, hey that’s really cool. I could totally use that on mine,” she says. “You have a few things to work with and with those you can do literally anything.”
It’s the last period of the day on a Friday as Thibeault quietly goes about her work. While she’s choosing to be here, it’s important to note
that she’s doing so without any academic credit at stake. The Glass Fusion class ran during the Winter Trimester, but for Thibeault and at least one other student, that wasn’t nearly enough time to get their fix, so now she comes back two days a week during her free period to keep trying new things.
“It’s not a normal class, it’s more like an experiment,” she says. “It feels more worldly — you’re using skills and thinking about things that you wouldn’t use in a math class, but you would in real life.”
In here, art can be anything she wants it to be.