In the big lobby of the Museum of Glass, a Lucite case holds a familiar memorial to fallen soldiers: an inverted rifle, topped by a helmet and wedged between a pair of combat boots. The big difference? The rifle is made of clear glass, filled tellingly with spent casings, and handblown by local soldiers as part of Hot Shop Heroes, a program that teaches glassblowing as a form of healing for soldiers and veterans, and now on view at the museum in “Healing in Flames.”
An opening reception on Sunday, Veterans Glassblowing Day on Saturday and free veteran admission on Veterans Day complement the exhibit.
“(When you’re glassblowing) you put your cares aside and just focus. You’re not worried about things at home or a job,” said David Tucker, a retired Army major, in the five-minute video documentary about Hot Shop Heroes that’s framed by the glass art in the lobby.
“Yes, we are soldiers, but it’s amazing to see what we create,” adds Sgt. 1st Class Peter Bazo.
The two soldiers were among 36 chosen by lottery to take part in the Museum of Glass-Joint Base Lewis-McChord program this past spring and summer. Most had served a tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, and some more than one. All learned the basics of blowing glass in weekly classes, creating standard learner pieces like vessels as well as more artistic concepts like the rifle.
The 2-year-old program, said instructor Patricia Davidson in the video, offers the chance for camaraderie and collaboration, as well as the rare opportunity for soldiers to be vulnerable.
Using arts to heal those in military service is nothing new: The concept began in 1941 with arts and crafts classes introduced to bases across the nation, and is now the subject of extensive research and funding. The third summit of the National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military was held in February. Art can give healing from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and depression, and this much is very evident in the video that’s part of the “Healing in Flames” exhibit.
But what “Healing in Flames” does is open up that healing to the public eye. There aren’t many works on display, but those that are speak volumes about the soldiers’ experience and the way it affects how they view the world.
“The Final Goodbye,” with its inverted rifle of clear glass, imparts a shocking fragility to this image we’re so used to seeing; a transparency about the death and emptiness held inside.
Next to it, “Nasty Surprise Underfoot” is a powerful metaphor of risk, death and patriotism: A pair of boots walks over a shelf filled with sand, and underneath is a glass bomb in red, white and blue, ready to explode without warning.
On the other side of the video screen, “Taste of Blood and Tears” is a more abstract metaphor, with layers of meaning. Inspired by a Baghdad monument commissioned by Saddam Hussein in memory of Iraqi soldiers, then also used by U.S. forces, it’s a smooth, opaque, blood-red teardrop housed protectively in a transparent blue shell and set on a mixture of iron shavings (blood) and salt (sweat, tears). The work is skillful, the implication surprisingly ambiguous.
Alongside the main wall are cases with more light-hearted works: vessels and Chihuly-esque sea creatures, a mustardy camel spider facing off against a black scorpion in a reference to a popular soldier’s desert pastime, and a pair of clasped hands.
The exhibit opens officially with a reception Sunday morning featuring presentations, hot shop demonstrations and appearances by Lt. Col. Terrell G. Morrow, battalion commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at JBLM, and museum co-founder and glass artist Dale Chihuly.
The museum is also offering its fourth annual Veterans Glassblowing Day on Saturday, with free glassblowing workshops for veterans to create their own float or ornament. Admission is also free Wednesday to active duty military, veterans and their families for Veterans Day.
HEALING IN FLAMES
Where: Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays through March 16.
Cost: $15 general; $13 AAA members; $12 seniors, students and military; $5 ages 6-12; free for 5 and younger.
Reception: 10:30 a.m.-noon Sunday (free with admission).
Also: Veterans Glassblowing Day, every 45 minutes from 10:15 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Free for veterans; registration required at 253-284-4713 or firstname.lastname@example.org.