February 3, 2012

The Windhook Interview—George Jercich

We met George Jercich before we moved to San Luis Obispo County. Back then we had no idea what a multifaceted guy he was. In fact, we didn't really get the broad picture until we sat down for this interview. Glassblower, professor, fisherman, motorcylcist, surfer, sculptor, world traveler, gentleman farmer, husband, and father, George is a multifaceted, funny guy.

Michael: George, tell us a little bit about who you are and how you got to be this way.

George: I was born in San Francisco California, and lived there until my father fully retired. The family permanently moved to a small acerage near Watsonville when I was 8. My mother was an artist, and I credit her for my artistic inspiration. Living in a semi-rural environment, my mother was very adept at entertaining me with creative projects. So from a fairly young age of five through my teens, I was drilled in a number of things she had me involved with. Everything including dying fabric to drawing, to using carving tools to carve various small wooden statuary. My mother even supervised the building of a small tent cabin for me in the yard. Primarily these things were her hobby, so that was my rudimentary beginning I suppose.

Peggy: Where was it in Watsonville?

George: My father had purchased property on Freedom Lake, which was near Five Mile House. The back of our property was flooded by Freedom Lake. So I grew up on the edge of a lake. I attended Freedom Elementary school, and later, Watsonville High School. My father had a stroke in 1967, and we moved to Capitola By the Sea. I transferred to Soquel High School, and graduated high school from there. Other than my mother, I had no previous introductions or interests in art, per se. But I think she was where my original interest in arts and crafts came from.

Peggy: You said she died fabrics, and what else?

George: She died fabrics—after my father passed away, she took up oil painting. She was very active with the Santa Cruz senior citizens group. She also did hook rugging. She had wood carving in her background, and she made all my clothes when I was a youngster. Darned my socks. I was her life, and she put a lot of time into it.

Peggy: Only child?

George: Only child.

Peggy: There are a lot of Jerciches in Watsonville.

George: Yes. My father and his two brothers emigrated from Croatia around the years of 1908 until around 1912. My father was 55 years old when I was born, so in effect there was a generation missing in a normal genealogy. My mother also was later in life when I was born. That may explain me being an only child. But my parents met later in their lives.

Peggy: I remember seeing Jercich mausoleums at one of the cemeteries in Watsonville.

George: My parents are interned at the Live Oak Cemetery, which is closer to Santa Cruz. But my uncles Antoine and Mitchell and their families are more centered in the Watsonville area.

Peggy: Were they in farming?

George: Yes. My father and his 2 brothers were partners in an apple orchard in Day Valley.

Michael: How did all of this end up with you being a galactically famous glass blower?

George: My father passed when I was seventeen. At that point I was considering going to college after I was ready to graduate from Soquel High school. I spent a couple of years at Cabrillo Community College and worked with a man named Holt Murray, who was my sculpture professor there. At the end of my two years earning my AA degree, I was encouraged to transfer to San Jose State as a general art major. I discovered a class in glass blowing on the general roster of classes, and I decided to take it. My luck would have it that my professor at San Jose State was named Robert C. Fritz. He had attended one of the very first workshops for studio glassmaking in the country in 1964 in Toledo, Ohio with two seminal figures in American Glassmaking named Harvey K. Littleton, and Dominick Labino. Dr. Robert Fritz brought the information from that workshop back to San Jose State, where he built a small glass studio. So that's where I met the man, and I was introduced to the medium.

Dr. Fritz had no natural children of his own. He had raised, with his wife Fern, five foster sons. The boys were all out from under their wings by the time I was in Dr. Bob's class. One day, Dr. Bob asked me the question, "What are you doing here?" I said I was trying to learn this glass blowing thing. He answered, "No, what are you doing with this for the rest of your life?" I frankly had no answer. I said, "I have no idea. You mean someone can do this for a lifetime?" He said, "Well, I do." [Laughter] He planted a seed in my mind that still exists to this day. Basically, he suggested that I consider teaching, and pursue my career that way. So he helped me a great deal. He helped me earn a position at San Jose State as a technician. Later he helped me get into graduate school. Eventually he wrote letters of recommendation for my job at Cal Poly. Basically, I feel that he was sort of my adopted father, even though we were never formally attached in those ways. Dr. Bob died in 1986 at an international Glass Art Society (GAS) conference. I think it was the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. At the conference Dr. Bob was recognized for his contributions to studio glass as an art form. I was there at the event, and ironically the event ended with him passing away of a heart attack. I've always held Dr. Bob very high in my regard. I've always felt that he was the seminal figure in my career.

Michael: You know, I think a lot of people have that kind of relationship with someone. It's interesting to hear those stories when they come up. You worked at San Jose State. Did you teach there?

George: I was a technician in the glass studio and ceramic studios in the SJSU Art Dept. for a period of three years. It was during that time that I earned my Master of Arts degree. Then in 1976 I applied for a job at Cal Poly, which was part time, for a summer course. I came down, and I put together what my colleague at Cal Poly, Henry Wessels, had started as a facility to offer glass blowing classes. I was very lucky, in that they hired me back. I remained part time for eight years at Cal Poly until a full time position was offered.

Peggy: I would imagine that as a technician in the program, you learned all kinds of things, helped a lot of students, and had access to great facilities. Did Dr. Fritz have all that in when you got there?

George: Yes. Dr. Bob was very mechanically oriented. He had taught automobile mechanics at some point in his previous background, I think it was in Wisconsin, where he came from. I also had a very high interest in mechanical devices myself. While earning my Art degrees, I would self enroll in technical classes at night at San Jose City College to learn how to run fabrication machinery, auto shop, and welding. I've always been a motorcyclist. My first legal on the road vehicle was a motorcycle. My career as a motorcyclist is as long if not longer than my career as a glass blower. I'm pretty much a wrench-head. I like to make things run if I can. Building furnace equipment was not that far of a stretch from getting a cylinder head put back onto a parallel twin and getting it to roll down the road again.

Peggy: Was the glass studio on the main campus, in the industrial arts building, or off campus? It was separate from the bronze casting facility, right?

George: The glass blowing and ceramics facilities at San Jose State were in the industrial arts building Industrial Arts Building. They were up stairs, second floor. They had a long history before I arrived in the late 1960’s and early 1970s for turning out students who had gained considerable reputations in the fields of ceramics and glass both. The colleagues that I followed were names such as David Hopper, Doug Boyd, Boyce Lundstrom, James Lundberg. These were glassblowers who formed their own companies pretty much right out of San Jose State.

Peggy: I know Lundberg from Davenport and Santa Cruz.

George: There were others. Paul Manners, Kim Newcom, Rick Strini. But I actually followed them and was there a couple of years after they had graduated and begun their affiliations with their own companies. I focused on teaching. I enjoyed it. Being an only child, I felt that teaching was a way of building a family of contemporaries around myself. I felt a sense of camaraderie with my peers.

Peggy: Your MA was in art?

George: Yes. It was in sculpture but at the time, glass was one of the categories they could group under the umbrella of sculpture.

Michael: You were at Cal Poly for how long?

George: My first class in glassblowing that I taught was a full summer, one single class. I couldn't find a place to live because of Cal Poly's shortage of student housing, so I ended up renting a motel room for a period of a month and a half at the Motel Inn, which was one of the first motels between San Francisco and Los Angeles in Califonia. I had kept my position open at San Jose State and at the end of that summer I returned to resume as the technician in ceramics and glass. Four days before the fall quarter began at Cal Poly, I received a phone call. It was an offer to come back and teach two classes. So that was basically a pay upgrade. I looked at it as a possibility of a career move, so I moved to San Luis Obispo.

Michael: Well, it seems like everyone I know in this county knows George Jercich. You know, various artists, and especially the sculptors and glass people. We first met you in your other life as a motorcycle guy. I'm not a motorcycle guy. Let's get that straight right here. But we had a mutual friend who had a very massive and unexpected heart attack, and we were both at his memorial service. His wife knew my interests, and she knew your interests, and she basically put us together. We were in the process of moving this direction, so soon after that, I started seeing your name again. But everybody knows George Jercich.

George: Yes, you are referring to Chris and Joe Chase.

Michael: That's right.

George: I met Joe Chase on an organized motorcycle ride for a club we used to both be part of called The Concours Owner’s Group or COG (The Kawasaki Concours was the brand label for this group of enthusiasts). Right away Joe and I hit it off. Joe was exactly the same age as I was. I think we were both 50 right then, just a couple months off in birthdates. His enthusiasm for adventure, and wanting to get out and breathe the fresh air of the open road was something we shared many times. I felt a real affinity for that person when I first met him. We were just buddies. We'd call each other, him from Gilroy, me from San Luis Obispo, meet each other on the road somewhere half way, ride around for half a day, and head for home. We did that for a couple of years, plus many other riding adventures. It was a great experience.

Peggy: So you'd meet in King City...

George: Yeah, King City. Then we'd ride out to Fort Hunter Liggett, or over Nacimiento/Ferguson Road to Highway 1, have lunch at Lucia, then he'd go north and I'd go south to our respective homes. Or we'd ride Highway 25 to Hollister or 198 over to Coalinga. One day we got mixed up. Joe came all the way here. I couldn't find him, I was wandering around Hunter Liggett somewhere, and I get a cell phone call and it's Jan from home saying, "Joe's sitting on the deck." They had never met before.

I think the big shock to me in losing Joe was that we were the same age, and I had not realized my own mortality at that point. I immediately missed Joe. Later, my wife had met Joe's wife Chris, and we'd all become strong friends, just one of those things that happens in life where you find someone who's a kindred spirit. [At this point George's wife Jan came into the room. She had several interesting comments, which we include here.]

Michael: My story with Joe was a little different, since I wasn't a motorcycle guy. His son and my daughter were in sixth grade together, and our families hit it off. Funny how those things happen.

How long were you at Cal Poly?

George: I'm a 30 year veteran of teaching at Cal Poly, and then I accepted a five year faculty employee retirement program assignment which was part time after my retirement. So if you add up all the years, it would come to 35.

Jan: 37.

George: My wife corrects me, It's 37. Because of the additional years served at SJSU.

Peggy: Was it a FERP [Faculty Early Retirement Program]: you retire and then come back to teach one class?

George: Yeah. It's actually up to half time. You can come back for half your ranks and salary and teach for two quarters a year rather than three, plus you have no committee work. They get you for about 3/5 of the full time job assignment, and they pay for half. So they do pretty well. But I always appreciated the students. I had no trouble with the work load, as long as my workload was teaching the students. I had a fairly technically involved discipline, so I always had a lot of maintenance and scheduling and ordering materials and things of that nature that I did for years. It was really an extension of my classroom duties. In effect, I sort of maintained my original job as a technician at the same time that I was a teacher/professor. It was a great job, and I wouldn't turn it down if it came at me again. It was a great opportunity.

Michael: One of the other places where we have seen you over the years is running and assisting in demonstrations out at Chris Anderson and Will Carlton's place. We interviewed them several months back. There's a pretty tight knit group of glass people in this county.

George: Will Carlton was a person I met when I first came to San Luis Obispo County. He had taken a class from Henry Wessels, and he had built himself a studio with a previous partner, and when I met him, I was looking for a place to work part time. My assignment at the university was part time then. So I would rent additional time from Will. Hopefully, I helped him with his expenses and rent, during the time when sales were rather meager. It gave us both the opportunity to continue to develop our respective craft. Until this day, I feel that Will is my contemporary. He's always been there for me, and I feel that I've helped him equally.

Peggy: You were teaching and running the glass program at Cal Poly. When did you find time to do your own artwork while doing all that?

George: For me, teaching was a full time job. It was a 40-50 hour a week job. There was a lot to do. I mentioned that I did a lot of the maintenance and repair on the equipment, besides putting together my curriculum for the classes. I think I taught 12 different classes over my career. I never really found a way to focus my career as an artist until I retired. One of the things I've always done is that I've tried to continue the development of my own studio. Moving out here to our country location has allowed me a space to house all the collected tooling and various elements of the studio. I used to use some of the equipment in a portable fashion, on a trailer. Will Carlton and I were actually partners in one of these endeavors where we would do demonstrations for the public, not just in San Luis Obispo, but around the state. My longest stretch using the portable studio was at the California State Fair in Sacramento, where over a ten year period I would blow glass each summer for three weeks. I would discuss the process with passers by and maintain art in action studio. That was really good for me. It put me out in front of the public. It built a kind of market for my work, and over the years I met many students who discovered me and came to Cal Poly from that exposure. Unfortunately, I found that experience to be very exhausting as I aged, and these days, it's certainly a lot easier to walk out to the barn and have everything set up in one spot.

Peggy: How long have you been in Los Osos?

George: Jan, myself and our 2 children moved to this location where we are now in 1986. We had a friend in the neighborhood who was building a house. Jim McGlaughlin and I had worked together at Cal Poly. I happened to be driving by to see what he was up to, and I saw a for sale sign being driven into the ground at this location. I thought, "Wow, that looks interesting, and oh my gosh, there's a barn." So the barn immediately drew me to the property. I almost didn't look at the house. I went back to San Luis and told Jan, and she said, "Well, let's go look at it." That's when we became partners in this endeavor. We bought the farm, so to speak. This place is not easy. It's rural, there's a lot of maintenance. Without my tractors and yard tools including chainsaws and weed whackers, I really couldn't live here. We've tried to employ animals to help with yard maintenance. We’ve had horses, sheep, and goats on occasion, but I still have to get out there and do the yard work. People ask sometimes, "How is it now that you are retired?" I have to say, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of it is still yard work. the other 20 to 30 percent is when I actually get to go out and do something creative.

Michael: Speaking of something creative, talk a bit about how you have managed to keep your art career going, especially since you retired.

Jan: Talk about Thailand and travel.

George: One of the adventures I've been involved with is that I have done quite a bit of traveling. I attended an international symposium on glass in Czechoslovakia in 1988 called The Interglass Symposium at Novi Bor, which was a fascinating leave that I took from teaching. I met many international glassblowers at that particular convention. That also was a trip where I introduced myself to seven or eight European countries on a Eurail pass. It served as a strong base for my growth artistically.

In the mid 1990s I had the opportunity to travel to Thailand. It was my first trip to southeast Asia. Cal Poly had a very good linkage with a university over there that was very studio fine arts oriented. I took quite a few of my students and colleagues to visit Thailand. Over a period of ten years I think I traveled there seven times. I'd taken over 100 students there, and I'd been involved in half a dozen art exhibition exchanges between Thai artists and American artists. Part of my function was to facilitate these exchanges. So I felt very lucky to be involved in these and very enriched by the experience. The university in Thailand is called Silpakorn University. It's one of the top 9 in the country. Silpakorn University is the premier fine arts and humanities university in Thailand.

Peggy: So was the program sponsored by the University or another organization.

George: We developed an Asian Studies Program at Cal Poly. Once we had a core of administrative functions put together called Asian Studies, then we could more easily make connections with the necessary preparations for travel which eventually meant that we would be taking student groups. I had added another activity to my Cal Poly responsibilities to help facilitate these teaching exchanges.

Peggy: So it was all media, not just glass.

George: I took glass to exhibit in Thailand but primarily what I taught in Thailand was drawing and sculpture. I developed a survey course in Thai art through a westerner's perspective. In this course, I was able to introduce to the student to what they were looking at in a temple or museum where many of these Thai images of Buddhist, mythological and historical significance are housed.

Jan: You also encouraged your students to learn some basic Thai.

George: You can order Thai food.

Jan: How to ask for directions, food, basic Thai.

Michael: Any other secrets we don't know about you other than speaking Thai?

Jan: He's not even sharing half, seriously.

Peggy: What are some good ones Jan?

Michael: Spill the beans.

Jan: George is a fisherman, he started fishing when he was 3. He still goes out deep sea and lake fishing. He was also a big shot surfer. We have trophies all over the place. George got sent all around.

George: You exaggerate. International surfing is such a crap shoot. The waves have to be there, you travel half way across the world and it's dead flat or blown out. I was quickly disillusioned with the competitive aspect of surfing as a sport.

Jan: Channin Diffenderfer surf shop, supported him by shaping his boards to his design for cost of materials in exchange for his help to rep their surfboards.

Peggy: When was that?

George: Late 60's early 70's, before I began my interest in glass. Surfing is an interesting avocation, It's something that requires very much of a personal skill set that where you're not really competing in a game or team sport, you're competing against yourself. You're trying to make yourself as good as you can be in that particular realm or medium (if you want to think of surfing as an artistic medium in some way). I guess my interest in glass originally came from my interest in surfing. I never really thought of glass as competitive, I thought of it more of a personal challenge. It's the best you can be if you can be that, I mean whatever it is you're trying, try to do it as well as you can. I guess by my own personal standards I'm trying to become virtuous.

Michael: It'll come to you.

Peggy: So what was the draw for you to glass.

George: I think I was drawn by the fluidity of the molten medium, the fact that the material moves when hot is more like dealing with a liquid. When it cools and stops moving it becomes a frozen moment in motion. Often you're dancing with this thing that's moving around on the outside of a long pipe. In glassblowing the whole medium is an art of sticks. You're wielding a stick and you're trying to make something off the end the stick. It's really unlikely that anything of its likeness happens in very many other places in human endeavor. You're often trying to coach the molten glass into something that you want it to freeze into. If you're successful then you have a piece, if you're not then it's still successful as it was the experience of having dealt with it during its fluid state. So in a way, catching a wave is a lot like that. I guess that's the analogy that I'm trying to make.

Jan: In 1971 when we were together originally, George was a metal caster, he cast bronze and aluminum. He did hot metal casting, big stuff. And he said because I knew some glass blowers, he asked if I thought he’d like glassblowing? Absolutely I suggested! You like the heat, you like the fluid experience, you like the trauma of zooming around because there's this issue, that issue, stuff we have to deal with. So ever since 1971 George has been doing glass.

Michael: Well glass is like that. There's this whole group of arts that involve a lot of fire and heat and I think glass is the one most of all that really deals with the liquid nature of things that are normally at room temperature.

George: In glassblowing and in surfing, and in art in general, I like to see work that's extremely virtuous in terms of its effort and endeavor. It not only has to hold together as an idea, or concept, but it needs to be executed extremely well. I think virtuosity comes from constant practice, it just comes by rote, you do it again and again and again until whatever you've gained is second nature. You stop thinking about each step. In fact you can see where the step can go wrong ten steps before it goes wrong. Once you've made that mistake many times you know when to avoid it before you make it.

Michael: I like it. Very good.

Peggy: So it's a constant challenge, it's always new.

George: Yes absolutely. Well there's always mistakes. Every piece has a flaw in it that you would like to repair but unfortunately you don't get a second chance with that piece. You have to start a new one all over again, go through everything until that moment when you knew the mistake occurred, so you can can steer around it next time. That's a kind of discipline that glassblowing is for me. I happen to be one of those people that has to hyperfocus I think. I'm not a very good multitasker. So my whole experience is based on hyperfocus. In my glasswork, I have to go to one project and keep that project in mind all the way from beginning to end.

Jan: And when he drops one on the floor no one would ever know.

George: As long as the glass piece doesn't shatter on the floor, why not try to save it? Just tag it and bring it back up, get it warm again and see if you can stretch it out and make it the thing you were trying in the first place. Don't let it die. So I've actually become pretty good at saves. Some people go "wow" he picked that up off the floor and he actually struggled it into the thing he was trying to do in the first place, that's amazing. Well it is amazing but I knew that if I left it there it would be dead, a failure, so let's just try.

Michael: What have you got to lose?

George: People think glass is really precious. This is a bottle [plinks a wine bottle] I make bottles too. But I'm not going to sell them for four cents a piece. My point here is that the primary substance of the material is just sand, but what do you do with it? That's where the value comes from in this particular discipline. It's what you've done with it in the period of time that you've dealt with it.

Jan: And some people will say how long did it take for you to make that piece? And he will say, twenty minutes and thirty years. He could not do that in twenty minutes had he not had experience. So it may take him a slim time to make something and he makes it look easy. Somebody else comes along, and good luck, it's not going to happen in 20 minutes.

George: I think virtuosity is really the key.

Michael: This is more of an observation that I'm going to let you jump in on if you want to, and that is, glass is one of those things where you can take it primarily for its function or you can take it primarily toward art and I think you've done a lot of both.

George: Right, considering function, there's something very true about making something that works and functions as it's intended. There's a truth to that but there's also truths in studying nature for the attributes of what forms exist in nature. I mean you may never have run across a form on your own without discovering a seed pod or a skeleton of a small critter in its afterlife or you may just discover the shape of a cloud in the sky. Those images are things that don't necessarily need to become functional, they are more of a study in the realm of how things look, how things are formed, or how they form up. At least half of my interest is studying from nature what forms lend themselves to a structure that can be made out of glass. So that's the challenge, what can I make out of glass? There's certain things that really should never be made out of glass because glass has certain properties that primarily allow it have a volumetric form, or a hollow form. Glass is strong in compression, terrible in tension, I mean various structural attributes don't lend glass as the medium of choice for every form that you want to try to attempt. On the other hand for some kinds of forms glass is ideal. For me, I've found in the years I've been able to make things in glass, I've begun to eliminate things that I don't think are really within my capability of changing them into glass. Sometimes there is a better material choice that would better fit.

Michael: I think a lot about your trap series, I love those pieces. And there's a whole bunch of them.

George: The traps are a series of objects that started when I actually bought some traps. I went to a hardware store and I thought, wow, these are tools. They self-activate, now what would happen if I can take this glass medium, and I put it into this self-capturing object a bubble to see what happens if the pressure of the trap is activated by this soft material until the glass becomes rigid. So the first experiments were like an extension of traditional glassmaking tools that I use in my hands. What if I could capture that moment of the tool making the thing in the tool itself. So in a way I went about setting a trap for some glass form, that I didn’t really know exactly what was going to look like. When the trap sets itself there is this thing, and that's the art I was searching for. It’s not an art that I could predict exactly. It's more of a happy accident. My task became one of a trap maker, to be able to set up the situation to create that accident.

Michael: So this is a technical question about making those pieces. Do you actually use the trap to form the glass?

George: Sometimes. Originally I bought pe-made traps. I bought fox traps, and mole traps, and gopher traps. I even have a bear trap. But then I started to realize that I could set a trap for something by making the trap myself. And I could set up a situation where I could make the bubble look like it was trapped by the finished object without it actually being made in the object itself. Parts of the trap may have been used to make the bubble deform originally, but they weren't in same configuration in the final assembly of the trap and bubble for the viewer. Lately, the traps became more like abastract assmblages. But the idea, remains that I don't know what this is all going to look like exactly. I'm just going to set a trap for a bubble and see if I can achieve in the final object the moment of it being trapped or formed by the trap.

Michael: So you're trapping art.

George: I think so. I've tried to find references to where traps have been used in art in history. There aren't too many clear references to traps being used but I think traps have been a contrivance of humankind for centuries that have been employed to provide food, discourage varmints, set-up as personal protection used to frighten prey. What is it to set a trap? I suppose traps could be set without even any contrivance at all, I mean a trap is like an idea, it doesn't really have to have physical form to become a trap. I think we all fall prey to those things all the time. Somebody emails you that you’ve won the sweepstakes from Great Britain, all of a sudden you're going to be sent 100,000 pounds. You just have to respond to this email. Right!

Jan: You said a trap can be anything. It can be alcohol, it can be something in the mail, something that is trying to lure you in. Anything that is luring you in can be a trap. And you kind of took off on that.

George: Here’s what Wikipedia offers; A trap is a device or tactic intended to catch an intruder, enemy, error, or substance.

Michael: I have another direction I want to go for a minute. You did a small installation at the McMeen Gallery at SLOMA last year. It involved a fishing pole and a hook and stretched fabric. I notice some little stretched fabric models on the table here and I'm wondering if that reflects some current movement along your path.

George: I'm working on the project for the new Botanical Gardens/Frameworks of SLO for the 2013 ECOArt exhibit. These 2 stretched fabric models represent environments that are basically snowscapes. They are like the fish hook project but the scale 1/12 and the mdels are one foot square. The project currently is called "Patagonia" or the glacial end of the South American continent, the borders are shared by Chile and Argentina. It's where penguins come to shore. Penguins are on exodus right now because their habitat is shrinking, the Antarctic is melting so they're headed north. I made 24 penguins out of glass, before my neck surgery and they're all boxed in the studio. The models attempt to depict a snowscape of the edge of the glacier where the penguins will be standing on the edge of the water. This is the step one model /no lake. This is the step two model /with a lake. The Step three model I realized after talking to Mike Bush of the SLO Boatanical Gardens that the retaining wall location that I wanted to select for my istallation features a cruved retaining wall, so these square models have to be cut round changing the landscapes in these models. The third model is underway outside in the studio.

Michael: So the work we've been talking about has no glass, there is your lake, oh and the penguins themselves are glass.

George:  This is just a stage to set the, the environment, the south of America.

George: I was looking at a Huell Howser “California’s Gold program on KCET a month or two ago, and he visited this Panorama down in LA near USC, the Panorama at Union City Theatre.

George: In this theatre they built an arctic scene in the mezzanine upstairs that would normally be the balcony. It's a view of the arctic (North Pole) that was built as a faux environment. It takes people from the normal hustle bustle of the city and let's them into this quiet, cold, blue space that's just different than their normal interaction with the city. It's weird because the Union Theatre was a real theatre but it was retired and became a meeting hall for the Tile Makers Union. And then this Panorama thing was somewhere up near UCLA in Brentwood, so they somehow made a deal with the union of the tile people to take over the lease. So this Union City Theatre is now the home of the new Panorama. And I wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't seen it on Huell Howser.

Michael: I see kind of a connection through that piece in the installation because a fish hook is definitely a trap.

George: Yes the intallation at the SLO Museum of Art was entitled “Gone Fishin’ and was also white. Something about the whiteness, the starkness of it. The stretched canvas wall was supposed to be feathered into the actually gallery, so that the viewer wouldn't even know that that wall wasn't the real wall. But, too many little things about dealing with the Art Center and feathering a bunch of plaster into a corner that was going to have to be chipped out and restored was getting to become a nightmare. So I did the "el cheapo" and just stretched canvas and set it there. Ideally it was supposed to be the real wall of the space that was hooked. Yes, fish hooks are like kinds of traps, right?

Michael: So my evolution for this is, the fish hook is the trap, then it's caught the fabric and now the fabric is a piece of this without the fishhook.

George: The fabric idea has become a landscape.

Michael: So it's an evolution of the stretched fabric from the fish hook trap concept into something different.

George:  Do you remember any of the art professors from San Jose State?

Peggy: I met Dr. Fritz and I remember some of them. I was there from 1976 to 1980 something.

George: Do you remember Sam Richardson?

Peggy: Yes, I do remember him.

George: Do you remember his landscapes? Look him up on the internet. Sam Richardson's work is also something I've always had in my mind. In fact it was Sam Richardson that I originally built that fish hook wall for. It was part of my graduate thesis project. Sam was hugely influential on students of my era. Sam was a landscape painter. He painted the stark landscapes from an aerial perspective, he was a pilot and for he flew over California and he loved how California looked from a -above. He developed this sculpture partly from his painting background but partly from flying. He was a dynamic teacher. He would have us build these stages, see this one (looking at the internet), a piece of the sky above the land. It's just sitting there. But the piece is about the quadrant at that moment cut through and then presented. The other one is really beautiful too. An iceberg coming up through blue water and this is all cast resin. Sam was an impeccable craftsman. One thing about Sam, it could not have a scratch. If he was going to polish something it was perfect. You could search with a magnifying glass and you could not find a scratch. Any default in his work, he was a virtuoso in resin casting. But he never did anything with glass. He said glass, was "too hard, that stuff is like impossible." You can't control it. He just thought it was an immovable object so he didn't want to have anything to do with it. But I did. I said to him, "I don't want to breathe all these fumes that you deal with all the time. You're going to kill yourself." Nobody could ever say anything bad about Sam. He was just a totally respectable individual that was one of our role models a great artist, a great person, you know that you wanted to be like somehow in some small way.

Michael: You've been answering this question all afternoon, but I'll let you fill in any gaps. The question is, who are your big influences?

George: Well Sam was definitely one of them. I've always really liked the work of a sculptor named H.C. Westerman who taught at the San Francisco Art Institute for awhile but was primarily from the Chicago area. He was a Naval war hero and if he hadn't shot down a Japanese Zero on the aircraft carrier where he was on as a gunner on the tail of the ship, that plane would have probably taken the whole boat down and a 1000 men would have died. He was the kind of a guy who was a hero, a military hero but he decided to become an artist. I just always liked the story of H.C. Westerman and I just like his work. He's a woodworker. I don't always pick people that have the same media interests that I do. H.C. Westerman, they called him Cliff. He was kind of a seedy character in a lot of ways. He carved, assembled and fabricated a lot of nautical objects, He did pretty some hilarious, funky things but also he was a virtuoso. That guy could do anything with wood and other materials. He was really good.

Michael: Anybody else?

George: Sculpture wise I always like Richard Serra because of the scale of what he does in iron. It's just insane. I love Magritte, the painter. The surrealist, not only his his whole sense of humor but again, his incredible virtuosity with paint. The guy was a excellent painter! His Painting would often look like a photographs, it was amazing, the imagination of what he would paint would be just mind boggling. It was before computer, photoshop and all of that. He just had to do it, he made a model and he painted it in perfect lighting. He was really good.

Dale Chihuly was a friend of mine actually and I've always, admired his work. Huge abstract forms bright colors and lots of them. Dale's energy is just phenomenal. If you're ever around the man, you get swept up in kind of a whirlwind of activity that is nearly impossible to keep up with. It's like he's never going to run out of steam, never. And now he's in his 70s it still seems that way, I’m sure he's slowed down a lot and he has a lot of physical ailments but just the energy of his creative imagination is just plain overwhelming to be around it.

Michael: How did you become acquainted with Dale Chihuly?

George: I was a student at San Jose State in 1972 and was studying with Dr. Robert Fritz. It was at the end of my first semester and I decided that I really was interested in glass and I wanted to go somewhere where I could learn more. There was this funky flier, it looked like a piece of an old center section of "Living Today," on newsprint. It was all dog-eared. Stapled crookedly up on the door of the glass shop studio, and it had been there for months before I actually got around to reading it. It was a ad flyer advertising or students to attend this peanut farm school called Pilchuck for glassblowing up in Washington State. So I decided I wanted to go. I had about 5 slides of some pretty early glass pieces from my first class so I sent them up there and I got accepted. I think everybody got accepted. It was so young that nobody got rejected cause they wanted all the money they could get.

Michael: That's changed by the way.

George: Attending a summer at Pilchuck was hugely important in my education and in fueling my interest in continuing with glassblowing. Many of those people that I met in 1972 are like me. They're still doing this today. There's a dozen at least that we could look them up online still doing this, who never considered a life of doing anything else.

Michael: So there you go, never considered a life of anything else, that's our kind of people.

George: I think the biggest single thing that happened to me in my lifetime was that my timing was pretty good. I was spot on when I needed to be. I didn't take advantage of as much of it as I probably should have. When I got my teaching job I really didn't think that much about developing a commercial career. I accepted my job is teaching. And as a consequence I kind of avoided marketing myself. I just thought these students that I'm trying to push out into the world need all the help they can get. If they're all looking at me as if of course he's going to be good, he's got a job. It was a lopsided equation in my view of it. If you have a job, you've got a job, do the job. If you've got a job and you're also trying to be the greatest whatever, who needs another hero?

Peggy: Well put.

George: Now a lot of my stubborn reluctance to advertise comes back at me the wrong way. I have people who I know who are the ones who went through the grunt work of building a career and they just go, “George, you're never going to get anywhere, look at you, you're not in the history books like I am.” And I say, ”Well, maybe over a period of 35 years, you didn't have 8,000 students like I did.” When I calculate, I taught in 105 quarters, 80 students per quarter. If you multiply that out, that's a hell of a lot of students that I was responsible for. On the other hand, artist’s who are working along in their studio’s making nice things and selling them are commendable in being able to do that. Don't get me wrong, to make it happen, you have to be a certain kind of a person and wear many hats. When you are wearing your production hat, you have to want to be in the studio all the time. When you need to sell your work then You have to be in your marketing/salesperson hat. I never really liked either of those last two hats. Those aren't the kind of hats I'm comfortable in. I'm much more comfortable maintaining my yard and when I have a creative thought and the studio is beconing I can go to work creatively for an hour or three or sometimes all day but I don't want to necessarily repeat the next day like that. That's not me, I don't have the energy somehow to do that. To me, I can hear the lawn growing. The sculpture can wait. It's not that important. It takes time for an idea to mature and maybe my ideas aren't completely thought out yet. I have to give it more time to steep like good tea. The idea has to brew. So I never was one of those who crank it out, crank it out, crank it out, because I want to have an idea before I do something. I don't want to just crank it out. Sometimes I think that the people who succeed that way end up in kind of a formulaic routine where they know that something sells so they'll make more of it the next day. Eventually, change will occur, it does occur, and inroads and new stuff evolves but the new stuff sometimes takes years to get started. I actually really enjoyed teaching because the problem was different with every student. Every one of them had to have their own little attention in one aspect or another. Some students cry for discipline, but others have to be encouraged to go the other way, because they're so anal. An example would be where the end of the paper is here but look the brush can brrzzzz.... go all over the table beyond the end of the paper, you're not going to wreck the table. We're just going to wash it off. It'll be ok. We'll work with it tomorrow. Some people are so compartmentalized it's like, how do you get this person to loosen up.

Michael: It was a big deal for you to be able to help people through that stuff as a teacher.

George: I used to try to read people, try to psych them out, try to figure out what they needed and sometimes I was completely off base but in 8,000 tries I probably had a few hundred that worked out pretty much as planned. That's a big law of averages if you're faced with that many numbers so eventually you touch a few people.

Michael: 8,000 tries might achieve virtuosity.

George: Yeah I might actually know what I'm talking about to a few of them after awhile.

Michael: What advice would you give a young artist before they consider making art a career?

George: I think the most important thing to do is to always have a space that you call your studio. From now until forever. Some people like myself are overly studio fanatical, but a studio can be a table like this right here. But you can't let anything else land on it. This has got to be the space that you set aside for your creativity and no one else can put anything on it. This is your studio and you're going to keep this going for the rest of your life. You're not going to let anything else encroach on it because as soon as that thing starts to wane and disappear and become something else, you don't have it anymore. And then it's very easy to get swept up in the other things and you'll never come back. So I think the thing to have first before anything else is you make a commitment that your life is going to be a creative life and you're going to have a space that you're going to dedicate to your creative activity and never let it disappear. I learned this advice from another lady who taught at Cal Poly, Ruth Fash. Ruth was very influential to a lot of people. She was from Illinois. Her husband was a clinical psychiatrist, I think he was in charge of the Atascadero State Mental Hospital. Charles wasn’t an artist but he had been around artists all his life, he was a creative guy in many ways but and he understood artists. Ruth was the disciplinarian of art in the family and she would say; “I love Charles, but if Charles ever tried to tell me when we moved to a new house that I couldn't have that room that I'd had set aside for my studio, I would have left him. “She was strong, but she was right, I think. My Mom was very good at that too. My Mom's house was a mess, She'd have bags of old coats and bags of bark and lichen that she'd find from trees. She'd take the old coats to cut them with her noodle cutter into strips combine the strips with lichens on the stove and boil this up in some green bath that was going to end up hanging up on the line outside. After dying and drying was complete the colored strips were going to be some fabric thing she was going to make.

Michael: So she was using natural dyes for the fabric.

George: Yes, I'd come in the house from playing outside and I'd go to the stove and I'd lift the lid on the boiling pot and sniff it and I'd get a spoon and start to drink some and she'd go, "nohhhh that's my green dye don't eat that!" It was like that all the time. "Oh my god is this food or is this art? What is this? What was that red stuff in the fridge, Mom?" She would say, "Oh you didn't drink that did you? That's the sucrose for the hummingbird feeder." "Oh Nuts I thought it tasted awfully sweet."

Peggy: Lucky it wasn't toxic.

Michael: Any last thoughts?

George: No, it was a lot of fun.

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