In July, I had the great opportunity and honor of teaching at the Corning studio with Mr. Jiri Harcuba. It was my first time there and Jiri's last, after 15 years. Over the near decade that Jiri has been my teacher, I have learned innumerable lessons on life, art and engraving. After teaching our last class together, I am faced with an undertaking that I have been anticipating since I became a dedicated engraver and student of Mr. Harcuba's. That undertaking being to help keep engraving alive by passing on the lessons that I have learned, to make engraving contemporary and for our time and not to forget to forever be a student of life.
When I first learned how to engrave, Harcuba very smartly said to me, ‘Forget the details’. At the time I did not understand this sentiment but have later come to fully appreciate what he meant with that short phrase.
Wheel engraving onto glass is an age-old craft that has changed little since its inception. Historically, it is a craft largely used to embellish functional glass objects with decoration. Traditional wheel engraving is taught in apprentice style schools and takes years to learn. Students are taught how to replicate decorative patterns and intricate fables and are encouraged to stay within the boundaries of tradition. When Harcuba told me to, ‘Forget the details’ he was telling me to forget the finest engravings I had been inspired by and rather to find my own way of expression in the sculptural cuts of the wheels. His lesson to me was that by stepping away from tradition (in the subject), a glass engraving could be considered contemporary art and perhaps even modern!
So in an age of rapid change when many traditional crafts are being lost, I choose engraving as my voice. I am slowing down and focusing my energy on a craft that has been practiced for millennia but on one that may not be around in 100 years time. And perhaps that is a bold statement, but in a world that is quickly becoming dominated by digital technologies and when time is perceived as a race against itself, I feel it of utmost importance to continue on the traditions of our collective past. Even if the practice of engraving does not keep up with the pace of today and is in a way, against the very grain of our society, it makes me feel like I am doing something meaningful in the larger scheme of things. If I do not help carry on the tradition, who will? Is it not the past that we learn from to avoid mistakes in the present? For me, the very act of engraving feels like a protest against our time. Or at the very least, a question posed to the pace and direction our technological advancements are changing the course of humanity as we know it.
What are the things that you do, to make your life feel meaningful?