Interview with the Glass Artist

Back in August of this year, my family and I went on a vacation to the northern midwest states of Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. While we were in Michigan, we decided to visit Kalamazoo, basically just to be able to say we’d been there. We found a brochure for this interesting place called West Michigan Glass Art Center and decided to check it out. We met this really nice guy, Jesse Baker, who gave us the grand tour of the Center and told us about the different types of glass art they create there. Today, I’m excited to host Jesse here at Writing to Inspire. He’s agreed to share a little bit about his favorite form of art and what it means to his community.
West Michigan Glass Art Center in downtown Kalamazoo.
Andrea: Welcome to Writing to Inspire, Jesse! I’m so happy you could join us today. Glass art is quite a unique art form. Was there a moment when you knew, “Now THAT’S what I want to do with my life!”? How did you get started in this particular art? Was there a particular person or event that inspired you, sparking your interest in working with glass?
Jesse: My introduction to the torch was a crash course in the form of an advanced lampworking class with Loren Stump. I would have to say it was that week, studying under Loren, watching his frenetic pace and the amazing things that he does with glass, when I knew this was something I wanted to try and do. He showed me that working with glass and the infinite possibilities of creation are limited only by one’s imagination. The things you can do and create with glass are truly endless. 
Andrea: While browsing your website (www.wmglass.org), I learned that the West Michigan Glass Art Center, located in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan, is a non-profit organization that teaches, creates and promotes glass art and artists. How did you get involved with the West Michigan Glass Art Center? How may the public get involved?
Triangle Paperweight
Jesse: I first became involved many years ago, taking a hotshop class with my sister. Though it wasn’t then that glass fully sank its teeth into me, I should’ve known then it would. Shortly after that I moved off the mainland for a couple of years, spending that time living and loving life in Maui. Soon after having returned to the mainland I received a job notice in my inbox from the West Michigan Glass Art Center about a studio manager job position open. I applied, got the job, and haven’t looked back since, increasingly embracing glass as my hobby, then art-form, now, arguably, as my addiction. Glass is indeed addictive, if you like it, it’s likely you’re gonna LOVE it! We are a public access organization, focused on teaching the community glass art in all its forms, offering classes for the beginner looking to try making beads for the first time, to the advanced glassblower looking to hone their particular skills in the hotshop.
Andrea: When my family visited the Glass Art Center, you explained to us that there are many different types of glass art, including: glassblowing, kiln casting, cold working, flameworking, stained glass, bead making and kiln fusing. Which type is your favorite to work with? Which is your favorite to teach?
Jesse: Same answer to both of those questions, Hotshop, Hotshop, and Hotshop. I’d work in the Hotshop every day if I could afford to. And though I truly enjoy teaching classes in other studios, the hotshop is where I would prefer to teach as well. 
Andrea Cox and Jesse Baker in the glass art gift shop
Andrea: West Michigan Glass Art Center (WMGAC) has partnered with Bronson Children’s Hospital in a program called Journey Beads. Can you tell us a little about this program and how it inspires children who are battling cancer? How has this program affected you and the art you create?
Jesse: The Bronson Journey Beads program is a new collaboration this year between WMGAC and the Bronson Children’s Hospital, providing beads for kids at the hospital who are going through treatment for cancer. Different styled and colored beads are made by local glass artists for various treatments that the kids are enduring. All of us here at the Art Center are taking a lot of pride in the work we’re doing in support of this program, volunteers having donated nearly 800 hours, creating and delivering about 3500 beads to the hospital thus far. The beads act as both a tangible reminder of the steps in the treatment the kids are going through, as well as a tool for telling the story of all that which they are enduring during the process. 
Andrea: How many years have you been creating glass art? How long does it take to become a master at it?
Jesse: I’ve been playing with glass for about 3 ½ years now and am far from considering myself a master of any aspect of it. Although I think the answer to your second question may vary greatly depending upon the individual and the time and resources that individual has to devote to glass. It’s my belief that it takes a lifetime to earn that title, as a master, or maestro in the glass world. 
Andrea: Of the pieces of glass art you create, what are some of your favorites?
Coral Reef Sculpture
Jesse: Aquatics are what I have been drawn to increasingly over the past few years. My favorites would be some of my most recent pieces I’ve produced. A beautiful jellyfish paperweight, a coral reef sculpture and my jellyfish pendants which continue to get better with each made.
Jellyfish Paperweight
Jellyfish Pendants
Andrea: Has a piece of art you were working on ever broken? How do you overcome the disappointment when that happens?
Jesse: Ahh, broken glass, the part you often don’t want to talk about, at least for quite some time after it happens. I have, indeed, had many pieces come crashing to the floor (or table), both hurt equally. When it comes to glass you just have to accept that as a part of the game. I once worked on a very ambitious roll-up project in the hotshop, putting about 30 hours in to the prep, layout and design portion, then a couple of hours of production time in the hotshop with two assistants only to have the piece crack at the very last second, as the piece was being put away in the kiln. Bitter disappointment doesn’t quite sum up the feeling I had at the end of that process. But, much the same as life, what are you gonna do, give up? You pick up the pieces, learn from your mistakes and try to do it better the next time!
Andrea: What events or classes does the Glass Art Center host around Christmas? Anything that children may participate in?
Blue Christmas Ornaments
Jesse: Twice a year, in May and November we offer EGAD, or Explore Glass Art Day, offering students as young as seven the opportunity to come in and take a taster course in any or all of our studios here at the Glass Art Center. Being a non-profit, this is held as a fundraiser for the Art Center and a great opportunity for the community to get their hands on glass at a very affordable price. All of our instructors volunteer their time on those special EGAD days, helping to make the courses more affordable for those who would like to try glass as an art form. We also offer ornament making sessions, sold on Groupon just before the holidays, which is always a hot ticket. Last year we had over 600 people come through our hotshop, teaching them how to make their very own ornament to place on their tree or give away as a very special gift to a loved one. 
Pink Christmas Ornaments
Andrea: How may my readers and I help support you and the West Michigan Glass Art Center, to help keep this art form around for future generations?
Jesse: There are many ways individuals can help support both the West Michigan Glass Art Center and glass art as a whole. I think your article, enlightening others who may not know anything about glass is a great way to help, increasing the glass world’s exposure. As far as supporting our mission here at WMGAC, being a non-profit, any cash donations given to the Art Center are tax deductible. To make a donation to WMGAC, follow the link, http://www.wmglass.org/Support/Donate.aspx
Another way to support us, indirectly, is to support the Bronson Journey Beads program, either by getting involved in the program or by making a donation to the program. Donations towards the Bronson Journey Beads program can be made at the Bronson Health Foundation’s website, found here: https://www.kintera.org/site/c.6nJKJQPnEgKUE/b.8682073/k.C0DC/Donate/apps/ka/sd/donor.asp?c=6nJKJQPnEgKUE&b=8682073&en=lmJRL7OWJmJVI6OSJkIWJ7OTInLbIqNZIcJTJaPUKoK8KgO1IAK
Andrea: What is something you’ve learned from working with glass that can be applied to other aspects of life?
Glass Tree
Jesse: Sometimes other aspects of life only need just a little more, or, a little less heat applied to get it to the right, working temperature.
Andrea: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to pursue the dreams and goals they’re passionate about?
Jesse: When we dream, generally, we dream BIG! Don’t give up! They wouldn’t be dreams if they were easily attainable!
Andrea: Jesse, thank you so much for your generous time and sharing your experiences with the West Michigan Glass Art Center.
Readers, when have you tried something new? Did you enjoy it or find that it wasn’t for you? Have you ever made your own Christmas tree ornaments?
The next time you find yourself in Kalamazoo, Michigan, stop by the West Michigan Glass Art Center. They’ve got a neat shop where you can purchase pieces of glass art created by local artists. You won’t want to miss it!

2 thoughts on “Interview with the Glass Artist

  1. Glass art is so cool. Loved this interview, Andrea!To answer your question, I tried something new in college when I studied abroad. I loved campus life and had never really spent significant time away from family and friends…but still, I somehow found myself traveling to London my junior year. It ended up being one of the most amazing experiences of my life. And it awakened the travel bug in me.

  2. Ahh, love that travel bug! Glad you had a fun time. I hope to travel abroad one day. My journeys in the states have been filled with joy and adventure. I'm certain there are lots of things to explore beyond the borders of our beautiful country.Glass art is definitely cool, and I was really blessed to get such an interesting tour. I'm glad you liked the interview!

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