[PA-NJ Glassblowers] GAS News: School Profile: Tyler School of Art: Glass Program
gaffer at glassblower.info
Sun Sep 29 14:19:36 EDT 2013
If you are not a member of the Glass Art Society (GAS), I would encourage
you to consider joining.
More information is available at: http://www.glassart.org/why_join.html
The article below is from the GAS Newsletter, about one of our local
Philadelphia Glass programs.
Above: Tyler School of Art faculty members, Jessica Julius and Megan Biddle
working with a team in the hot shop
School Profile: From the Outside In: an interview with Sharyn O'Mara
of Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia
By Debra Ruzinsky
GAS News FALL 2013, VOLUME 24, ISSUE 3, Pages 20-23
Please tell us a little about the path you've taken in your professional
life that has led to this role as head of the program.
After teaching for seven years (at the Kansas City Art Institute and the
Rhode Island School of Design) I came to Tyler in 2000 to build the
Foundation Program, and I needed a department affiliation. As an artist who
worked across disciplines, sculpture was perhaps the most likely place for
me. But based upon my work in glass and non-traditional approach to the
medium, Jon Clark asked me to join the glass area. I had a choice, and I
chose glass; I was tenured in the area in 2006. During my time as Chair of
Foundation, I would teach my 3D classes largely in glass, and I also taught
a grad class each semester. When Jon retired in 2009, I became head of the
program. This coincided with the opening of our new facility. We had gone
from Elkins Park and a very small facility where curriculum was necessarily
limited by space and equipment (as are all programs to some degree), to an
urban 10,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility with great potential for
flexibility and experimentation.
Some refer to you as a non-glass artist (even though you have used glass
in your work) and question why you were chosen to lead a media-specific
program. Others celebrate this fact. Can you share any thoughts on your
teaching philosophy and approach to artwork in general?
Personally, Im more interested in talking about work than trying to
classify things like this. At the end of the day, I am an artist and an
educator. The conversations that Im interested in are about the work
itself: ideas, influences, materiality, process, the impact of culture on
the work, and the impact of art on culture. I want to give my students the
most intensive conceptual and material education possible, and that happens
not through any one single person me or anyone else but through the
commitment and collaboration of an amazing faculty.
I am fortunate to work with an incredible faculty: Dan Cutrone, Megan
Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius and Kristen Neville Taylor. They
are amazingly talented, diverse, and gifted teachers and artists. We work
together as a team and have a great time. After twenty years of teaching, I
am well-aware of how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to work and
collaborate with such an outstanding group of artist/educators who share
mutual respect, and welcome challenges and new ideas. We have an unusual
synergy that is exciting and inspirational.
Glass is a significant part of my studio practice, and I love it.
Ironically, I have worked less with glass since becoming head of the
program. There are two reasons for this. The first is that when Im at
Tyler, I am there for the students. I want to be available to them. Our
studios are in action 24 hours a day, seven days a week; its beautiful and
crazy, and there is not a moment of quiet. When I try to work in the
studios, they are so active that there is always something that I could be
doing for my students: projects to discuss, questions to answer, or things
to troubleshoot; it isnt realistic for me to try to make work there when I
would rather focus on the students.
The second reason is that Im a pretty solitary artist and thrive on quiet
when Im working. Perhaps it has to do with spending so much time talking
about art/doing critiques/etc., that I crave and need my own space: mind
space and physical space. My studio is on the first floor of the carriage
house where we live, and even my husband doesnt come in unless I ask him
to; its really an oasis for me. I have spent the last ten years creating
this place of peace and calm; I have all of my books, my tools, images and
influences, and a comfy daybed where I can read and dream and make notes and
drawings in my sketchbook. Oh, and of course there are the dog beds! This is
the place where I make work. Just last weekend we finished building out the
flameworking area in my studio; Im in love with my new Carlisle!
Who are your heroes in the art world?
This is a tough one; the term hero is applied so broadly in our culture
There are a ton of people in the art world that I admire and respect
tremendously, but to be honest, these days my heroes come from other places.
My friend, Lindsay Condefer, started an animal shelter (Street Tails) where
she saves dogs and cats that are in desperate need, often with serious
medical issues. Thats inspiring to me. Another, Marion Leary, runs an
organization (Sink or Swim Philadelphia) that helps uninsured and
underinsured people with medical expenses via social networking and medical
crowdfunding. Thats amazing to me. Service dogs and the people who train
them are high on my list
Who have been your mentors?
At this point in my career, there have been several over the years and Im
afraid that I will leave someone out... In terms of glass, of course Jon
Clark (who created the Tyler Glass Program and headed it for almost 40
years); his support for my work and interdisciplinary practice was very
important to me and my career as an artist and educator, and certainly set
the stage for me to head the program upon his retirement. Both Bruce Chao
and Dan Clayman were very instrumental at different points in my career with
glass and I am very grateful to them. Ruth King is a role model for me for
her incredible vision; the programming that she did at Pilchuck was truly
inspirational and I believe defines the future of glass. In the broader
sense of my practice as an artist and work as an educator, I would have to
say Amy Hauft (former Chair of Sculpture at VCU and former faculty at Tyler;
currently a Research Professor at UT Austin); Winifred Lutz (Professor
Emeritus of Sculpture at Tyler); Nick Kripal (Chair of Crafts at Tyler); and
Cary Esser (Chair of Ceramics at KCAI). They have been incredible mentors,
critics, and friends. I am inspired by them and their work as artists and
educators, and they have made me a better artist and teacher.
What influences you most?
As an artist, I am very influenced by issues of fairness and equality, and
am a bit of an online news junkie. I am fascinated by language, for its
ability to say so much and yet so little at the same time. Both of these
things have long been present in my studio practice, and have ties to
notions of landscape/textscape.
More recently, I have begun to work with the bond between humans and dogs.
My dogs have always been a huge part of my life and they are always in my
studio with me. I had been doing a ton of reading about dog behavior and was
volunteering at the PSPCA helping to teach dog training classes, and I found
some crossovers with my interest in language. In addition to our shepherds,
my husband and I do shepherd rescue, and more and more I found myself
wanting to integrate my love of dogs with my studio practice. The work is
new and evolving and Im not sure where it is going, but Im excited about
The last thing I will add is that as an artist and an educator in the
past few years, I have become really preoccupied with the notion of joy.
We spend a lot of time talking about work, critiquing work, and analyzing
work. Our everyday worlds are full of news of everything from war to
wildfires to student loan rate increases. If we are present in it, its
intense. So I have been very consciously aware of bringing more and more joy
to what I do as a teacher and a maker, and working with my students to hold
onto the joy in their work.
Tyler has a number of excellent faculty including yourself is there any
kind of team teaching that takes place?
I do have an amazing faculty and am very fortunate in this regard! We do a
lot of teamwork together in developing curriculum, special projects (our
Blow-athon, for example), and the Visiting Artist Series. While we dont
team-teach per se, we have a ton of crossover between classes. We often have
shared critiques with two classes joining together, or one of us will invite
other faculty to join for crits. Our seniors are required to have a BFA
Exhibition, and all faculty sit on an evaluation panel twice during the
semester to evaluate the work in progress.
We also meet together all faculty and students in glass every Wednesday
for about an hour before class. This gives us a chance to talk about what is
going on in the studios (everything from new info to problems with
equipment), discuss student and faculty exhibitions, present opportunities
like scholarships/internships/exhibitions/etc., and then have a lecture or
demo. This has been really great for us as a community because it is the
only time that all students and faculty are in the same place at the same
time with no other agenda but to catch up on things, so we have a very
strong sense of working together and supporting one another and thats
Can you describe how courses are structured for grad students? For
Tylers BFA program is somewhat unique in the sense that students do not
officially major until their junior year. The freshman year is taken in the
Foundation Program. The sophomore year is an all-elective year for studio
courses, so this is when students will try Intro to Glass and then
Intermediate; these courses prepare them for the major. Both Intro and
Intermediate take a broad approach to glass in order to give the students
the opportunity to define their own direction; students study blowing,
casting, cold construction, kiln casting, and flameworking. Assignments are
idea-driven and involve varying degrees of conceptual inquiry, visual
language, and material/technical acuity, depending on the intent of the
project and level of the student.
For the BFA majors, we strongly emphasize research as a vital component of
the process. We are constantly contextualizing the work in relation to the
practice of a professional artist as a means of both introducing them to the
world beyond the institution, and as a means of helping them to prepare for
their futures. All students take a Professional Practices course that
addresses the practical issues of everything from how to research grants,
exhibitions, and residencies, to handling taxes, applying to graduate
school, and having your own studio. We take a lot of field trips to see
artists studios, nonprofit collaborative spaces, alternative gallery
spaces, and a professional photographers studio (where we then demo
photographing 2D and 3D glass works).
A solo BFA Exhibition is required for completion of the degree, and students
devote their final semester of study to this show. Its very intensive with
a great deal of research, writing, and planning in addition to executing the
work. So the semester is both about the work, and about giving the
work a life outside of the studio.
The general overview of the graduate curriculum is that students take 15
credits per semester. Nine of them are in glass (Project, Research,
Seminar), although we share critiques and seminars with ceramics and fibers.
There is great interdisciplinary crossover in this curricular structure that
overflows into the studio practice, so we see students exploring beyond the
boundaries of our studios alone. In addition to that, they take one art
history course and one elective each semester. I always recommend the
critical theory classes and Sculpture Projects since these courses best
complement what we are doing in our own curriculum. Our grads have the
opportunity to study in Rome (Art & Culture) during the summer for several
weeks, and this is an incredible experience for them. I always encourage the
grads to go to Rome if at all possible, as I have seen this class and
experience have a truly profound impact on student work.
Is there anything in particular that you'd like to highlight about what you
are achieving with the program, and any thoughts toward your long-range
I think that the thing that we emphasize most as a faculty is that we work
very hard to cultivate each student as an individual. We believe very
strongly that each student should develop his or her own vision with our
guidance, input, challenge, criticism, and support. Thats why the work that
you see doesnt have a particular look to it, and there is a great deal of
variety in concept, form, and technique. This is challenging for us as
faculty because it takes us out of our own personal interests and into
realms that we might not otherwise consider, and thats great; it keeps the
work true and fresh and exciting. My long-range vision for the program is to
continue to nurture the incredible community that we have, and to foster
increased experimentation with glass beyond our pre-conceived notions of
what it is supposed to be. This vision is shared by the faculty, and we work
as a team to implement it. We are integrating 3D technologies into our
curriculum, both to generate molds and to print actual works. We have
developed coursework focused in image and glass; this is great because it
crosses over into photography, printmaking, ceramics so many other
disciplines. We like to bring in artists who have not worked with glass in
the past to see how they imagine the potential of this material in their
work, and then we help them to realize their vision. We are constantly
asking what else we can do, and how to do it. Its a very exciting, lively,
ongoing conversation we dont always agree and thats when the really
interesting things happen. Rather than one discreet idea, through
exploration, disagreement, batting things around, we come to something truly
significant as a direction/idea/etc., and yet we never would have arrived at
that point without the process.
Can you describe the ways in which the Tyler glass program has changed since
Irvin Borowsky and Laurie Wagman donated more than $1 million to the
program? Did much of the money go toward equipment or was the space expanded
as well? I understand that it funds a visiting artist program also? Who have
you hosted in the past year?
The donation from Irvin Borowsky and Laurie Wagman was an incredible gift to
Tyler Glass, and we are in awe of their generosity. As you know, we are very
fortunate to have state-of-the art studios that are just four years old, so
in terms of the donation for now our focus has been on implementing the
Laurie Wagman Visiting Artist Series in Glass in the Irvin Borowsky Glass
Studios as a very immediate way that we can impact our students. This past
spring was the first semester in the series, and it was incredible. Through
Irv and Lauries generous gift, we were able to host Boyd Sugiki and Lisa
Zerkowitz, Ché Rhodes, Erica Rosenfeld, Eunsuh Choi, Gianni Toso, Jamie
Carpenter, Rob Wynne, Ruth King, and Therese Lahaie. It is amazing to me
that our students had the chance to see/hear/work with all of these
incredible artists in just one semester, and the impact on their education
has been profound. We love that Irv and Laurie often come to the lectures so
we have the chance to see and talk with them; their enthusiasm and
excitement are so evident.
Are your benefactors involved in any other ways as well? They seem very
motivated when it comes to promoting glass working in the region (having
donated to the University of the Arts glass program as well as having
founded the Liberty Museum.)
Irv and Laurie are tremendous supporters of both visual and performing arts,
and through their generosity have helped to define Philadelphia as a center
for excellence in these areas. Through their vision and generosity, they
really have created an outstanding glass community here in Philadelphia, and
we feel really fortunate to be a part of it. We are very inspired by their
love of glass, and are really grateful not only for their support, but for
the opportunity to contribute to this vibrant community.
Perhaps one of the most important things to me is to have a sense of
openness, collaboration, and all-around welcoming in our studios. For people
who are new to glass, walking into the studios can be very intimidating. At
Tyler, we encourage and invite people in so that they can contribute to our
conversation and community. This plays out in a number of ways, but often
through having grad students from other areas come over and work in glass as
a part of their studio work. We thrive on this kind of crossover.
In general, art students can become quite myopic in their studies, feeling
that there is less value in the liberal arts courses than the studio
courses. I disagree vehemently with this, as does the faculty as a whole. We
emphasize the importance of being outside of the medium in order to have
interesting things to bring into it. I tell my students that the three most
important classes that I took in college were Statistics, Constitutional
Law, and American Sign Language. Each of these classes influenced my work in
some way, and to some degree still influences my work today. I stress that
content comes from many places, but rarely from the material itself in
isolation. I think that this is a really important thing for them to get as
undergrads, because there is never again a time in life when it is possible
to study so many different things, and explore such a wide range of issues
and topics, all in a supportive environment where the only goal is to think,
learn and make.
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