“Bringing the mobile shop in the middle of the battalion headquarters here is just this sort of a random act of artiness that I love.”
Project manager, Hot Shop Heroes
Even outside in a fairly open space, the heat of the more than 2,000-degree furnace hits not only the new artists and the experts guiding them, but anyone who gathers around to watch service members learn to gather and shape glass.
They keenly concentrate on gathering molten glass on the end of a long metal pole, rolling it in colored crystals, shaping it and then carefully putting it back into a furnace to keep it hot enough to be malleable. Nearby other new artists do the delicate work of firing small glass beads under the watchful eyes of other instructors from the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.
About 60 service members and veterans got to try their hand at creating glass art in the Warrior Transition Battalion quad on Joint Base Lewis-McChord from June 22 to 24.
“Bringing the mobile shop in the middle of the battalion headquarters here is just this sort of a random act of artiness that I love,” said Greg Owen, project manager for the Hot Shop Heroes program, which teaches service members and veterans how to create glass art.
The event marked the second time that the museum was able to bring the mobile hot shop to the heart of where WTB Soldiers heal and live.
“We’re doing hands-on workshops and not just demonstrations; everybody has the chance to work and try things out,” Owen said.
Private First Class Agnes Song, a logistics specialist who joined the WTB this spring, tried out the art form for the first time when she created a paperweight.
“It was way harder than I thought it would be … just working with melted glass,” Song said, who hopes to join the beginner’s course this fall. “If I don’t constantly move it, then I lose it and have to start over.”
Other participants were veterans to the art form who stopped by to once again create glass art. Specialist Heather Forbes, also with the WTB, took both beginner and intermediate classes with Hot Shop Heroes earlier this year.
“There’s a lot that you can do with glass and I think that’s really cool,” Forbes said, who was already an artist who painted with acrylics and watercolors before she joined Hot Shop Heroes, where she started off creating simple forms like vases and later helped create a more complex glass pirate ship.
Veteran glassblower Sgt. Maj. James Anderson brought his friend, Pete Quintanilla, to the mobile hot shop; both are former Army Rangers. For Anderson, who joined Hot Shop Heroes a year and a half ago, creating glass art reconnects him with an artistic side which was muted during his nearly 24-year military career.
“When I was younger, I was very artistic … getting into the glass definitely brought that appreciation for art back,” Anderson said.
In August, he’ll medically retire from the Army; the rough life of an Army Ranger — 135 jumps, getting hit by a vehicle and more — resulted in a series of surgeries to include a lumbar fusion and two neck fusions.
The pure concentration and focus required when creating glass art help to provide a temporary escape from his injuries.
“When you get on the bench or you’re standing in front of a furnace that’s blowing 2,700 degrees, you’re not really thinking about your neck pain or your back pain, and you’re sole attention is what’s on the end of that blow pipe,” Anderson said.
Somewhere during the program, he fell in love with the art, he said.
Finding relief from physical or emotional pain, or simply the stresses that come along with injuries, illnesses and life transitions, is a common experience for Hot Shop Heroes participants, Owen said. Since 2013, he and the team of instructors taught glass art to somewhere between 250 and 300 service members and veterans. The next two beginner classes start in September, and are open to service members through the Warrior Transition Battalion or veterans through the Veteran Affairs’ behavioral health program.
Even when would-be students tell Owen that they’re not artists, he assures them they don’t need to make art — “let’s make a thing.” The art and the healing, follows.
“These classes are just so powerful for everybody involved, the instructors and the students,” Owen said.
He talks about one service member who told her mom about her art, sharing her excitement about a project she’s working on and what she planned to do with it the next week in class.
“Her mother started crying on the other end of the phone … she said, ‘I hadn’t heard you talk about the future since you came back from Iraq,’” Owen said. “For us as instructors, those are the very moving things.”