The small town of Jerome hangs 5000 feet above sea level, in the Black Hills of Yavapai County of Arizona. In the 1920’s, when the town was famous as a copper mining centre, 10,000 people roamed the streets. When the copper ran out so did the people until, in 1953, less than 100 people remained.
It remained a virtual ghost town until some heirs of the hippies decided to settle and make the abandoned town a platform for art. Now resurrected as a centre of creativity the renewed Jerome is the third most visited site in Arizona.
Tracy Weisel, a potter and glass blower, is one of the contributing forces behind the renewal.
Three flights of stairs beneath the Raku Gallery, which Weisel built, sits his workshop/studio, renovated from the ruins of La Victoria Market. Like many people whose work is a craft, the studio appears to be a scattered tribute to disorganization, except to the creator in the midst of it.
After the sale of the Raku Gallery, the Glass Blower is officially retired; yet the studio remains part of his day. A blue and white bandana binds his white, pony-tailed hair and a protective sleeve shelters his right forearm. His hands are bare. Like a dancer warming up he moves around the space, arranging his tools before he picks up the blowpipe. Soaking a wad of newspaper in a bucket of water he testifies as to why feeling the glass is so important; hence his preference for the strange, and potentially hazardous, method of grasping the molten glass with only the wet newspaper covering his hand.
While he works Weisel explains the composition, role and history of each tool, the general framework of glass blowing and the role of the furnace and different ovens. He acknowledges other techniques, explains why some blowers work in teams and how that impacts the process and the product. Historical and current linkages between various schools are noted - Murano, Italy; Santa Fe and Seattle, among others. Raw material, scattered in bags and containers on the floor, comes from all over the world. He details origin and cost and how the changing economics impact the trade.
Other glass workers and the technically curious may absorb the detail. I do not. My fascination is fuelled by his passion and clarity.
Clearly, the Glass Blower loves not only the product but the craft. While each piece may be designated a delight or a failure - “look at the broken glass in that bucket over there!” - the next piece presents the opportunity to create again. He embodies the “quirky eccentricity mixed with excellence” that Diane Sward Rapaport, in her book Home Sweet Jerome, attributes to many Jerome artists.
“I haven’t worked a day in 30 years,” he says. The joy of creation, the sense of discovery and the power of the discipline continue to captivate him.
Sitting, observing both the creation and the craftsman, I catch a whiff of the Holy, the scent of the Creator. Those in the room exhibit many of the appropriate responses - a sense of respect, humility, awe and gratitude.
On the way out of the studio, he urges the small congregation to drop a contribution into an old coffee can. The money goes to support the care and medical expenses of stray dogs and cats.
What so captivates you that it produces in you and others a sense of respect, humility, awe and gratitude?