Making and knowing. The two go hand in hand at the Bard Graduate Center, in academic practice, in the Gallery through exhibitions, and most recently in the Mellon initiative—Cultures of Conservation.

How else might students come to appreciate and begin to understand the still murky process behind a silicate masterpiece like the Portland Vase than to work beside a hot fire, working molten glass on a pontil? That some of the tools have not much changed in the last several centuries speaks to the sameness in such techniques that have existed for millennia, as well as to the importance for historians in grasping an understanding of those material processes.

Students experienced this approach firsthand during a visit to the Brooklyn glassworks UrbanGlass with a tour and workshop session led by master glassmaker and instructor Suzanne Peck. Given the chance to make two objects (a paperweight and a work in blown glass), students came to recognize both the excitement and the difficulties in the medium in all of its stages of production, from the collection of glass, to the working of it before it has cooled, to the sensation of heat radiating, to the amount of breath required to alter its shape. Each took a turn sitting at the bench modifying the glass with tweezers, maneuvering with the block in order to shape the piece, and using the blowpipe to create their very own objects.

Ms. Peck even tailored the experience to the course that had brought us to UrbanGlass, explaining the production of millefiori, which students had just learned about in class in the context of antiquity and bringing it into the contemporary context.

The UrbanGlass experience is a valuable chance to work with materials—something that some other master’s programs overlook. As a starting point for students to experiment with making on their own, they can come to their own conclusions about the creation of the very things that are central to Bard Graduate Center’s curriculum and mission.

~ Martina D’Amato