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Blowing your own glass

A look at Wilson High School's glass shop and its effect on its students

WILSON HIGH SCHOOL GLASS SHOP: Chris West in the heat of things. Photo credit: Alicia Pak

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A smart man once told me that one should never pass up the opportunities to do the strange and unexpected.

"It is the strange things that we all regret not doing," he said, in an aged and stoic voice, "and if you ever have the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, why not? At the very least you'll get a story out of it."

Taking this advice in hand after putting it off for a total of three years, in my senior year of high school I decided to venture into an elective of which I had no prior knowledge and would never have the opportunity to take again. This elective happened to be a class teaching the students the art of glass blowing.

Throughout my four years at Wilson High School, I had heard from a large number of people, teachers and counselors included, that having the ability to take a class of this subject was extraordinarily rare and a chance that I would be mistaken in passing up. I had known for a long time that Wilson's glass shop was not to be taken lightly and was not something that every school has. Yet only after taking the class for a semester do I realize the importance of having such a unique program.

For 12 years, Wilson has offered this exciting program for those who want to experience a unique and fulfilling style of art. The program was created by Patricia Davidson, or as her students lovingly refer to her, Pat, after volunteering for the Hilltop Artists in Residence program at Jason Lee Middle School. Initially the program was designed for students struggling in school, and would provide for those students a creative outlet as well as tutoring and other academic support. The program was moved to Wilson during the remodeling of Jason Lee, and the Wilson administration quickly took note of the number of students not struggling in school who wanted to take part in the class. The Career Technical Education approached the Hilltop Artists in Residence in search of developing a curriculum based on glass blowing. Davidson saw her opportunity and took it, and single-handedly designed the glass shop and the class's curriculum.

Twelve years have passed, and through the tenure of the program, the glass shop has provided a unique and extraordinary opportunity for young students who have taken it, and for some, an entirely new way of life. Two such students are Chris West and Austin Piercy, two fellow classmates of mine. Sitting down with them at lunch, I was able to have a conversation regarding the impact that Wilson's glass shop has had on them.

During their time in the glass shop the two have advanced through their lessons and are now on the path to becoming professional glass blowers. Both have used their talents to go above and beyond the requirements of the class and both are currently enjoying positions as teacher's assistants and teaching students how to make basic pieces. Of the two, Austin has a more prominent place in the shop.

Austin spends all five days of his school week blowing glass, spending three periods straight in the shop. In addition to his time spent there during school hours, he spends an hour and a half after school in the shop every day, and he works production at Jason Lee on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

WEEKLY VOLCANO: Gentlemen, let's start with this question. What drew you to glass blowing? What made you want to do it?

AUSTIN PIERCY: It seemed interesting, like a good opportunity. Plus my brother, Eli, had something to do with it.

CHRIS WEST: I guess I was just sort of drawn to it. I mean it's not every day you get a chance to blow glass in high school.

AUSTIN PIERCY: Photo credit Alicia Pak

VOLCANO: You both have blown glass at the Museum of Glass; can you tell me what that was like?

PIERCY: Well, it's a different environment. It's way different than the glass shop, but it's cool.

WEST: It is very different. It makes you nervous as everyone keeps watching you, but at the same time, it makes you want to show off. You know, show off what you can do. So it's pretty cool.

VOLCANO: You two have made a good number of pieces in the glass shop; do you have one that you're particularly proud of?

PIERCY: Not really. I don't really look at something I've made and think "Wow! That was amazing." It's more about the process of making the piece. I just love seeing the way something turns out; I love the process of just making things.

WEST: Everything I make is just so different from each other, so I think I'm proud of that.

CHRIS WEST: Photo credit Alicia Pak

VOLCANO: Do you have a certain piece you like to make?

PIERCY: Ornaments. Definitely. I mean you've seen me make those before, I just sit around and make those all day.

WEST: Tear Drops. For sure.

VOLCANO: What's it like blowing glass at Wilson? Can you explain to those who haven't taken it before?

PIERCY: It's truly amazing, and it's such an extraordinary experience. When you walk into Wilson and see a glass shop of this size, it's just, amazing. I mean you've been in the class now, and you get to work with some of the greatest glass blowers in the world. Like we just had Pino Signoretto in here last week all the way from Italy, and we have Raven Skyriver come in here a lot. It really is just amazing to be surrounded by that kind of talent, and this shop every day.

WEST: It really is a once a lifetime opportunity.

VOLCANO: What is it like to teach your fellow classmates?

PIERCY: I enjoy teaching quite a bit. I really enjoy helping them and getting to the point that everyone can help each other. It's really rewarding to see that.

VOLCANO: Alright guys, what are your plans for after high school? Big question.

WEST: An internship for glass blowing, but I'm also looking for opportunities. I'm applying for the Pilchuck scholarship.

PIERCY: College, but I want to get into a job involving glass blowing and I just want it to be in my life ... Always.

While looking back at what she and her students had accomplished, Davidson smiled, and said how proud of all of her students she was.

"I think it's important to know that students who have graduated from Wilson after taking the class have gone on to become professional glass blowers themselves," says Davidson. "It's just so amazing to see that. On top of that Tacoma is such an awesome community, it really is. You have so much talent in this one city, and so much more in the entire state. I guess I'm just proud of the students who have gone to have glass become such a piece of their lives. And even after twelve years, I still love teaching. I still love teenagers. It's been fun."

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