A Conversation wtih Mary White

DT: While many of our members are familiar with you, we do have some new ones that would appreciate an introduction. Please give us some background to share with our members.

MW: First, thanks very much for this opportunity. GLANC is a wonderful “flux” for our community and I appreciate all of the hard work to keep the organization alive, vibrant and growing.

Here is a little background. Growing up in a family of scientists, I thought I would be a sociologist. As I entered my teens, however, my artistic roots took hold and I realized combining art, craft and science was where I was meant to be. 

Inspired by Viola Frey, I moved west from NY, where I was working as an art waitress, waiting on Andy Warhol’s crowd, to study at CCA, where I earned my BA in ceramics and my art/English secondary teaching credential. In 1968, I began studying glass with Marvin Lipofsky and Ruth Tamura. In 1974, I was one of the first women to set up an independent glass hot shop, and one of the first women to run a university program. In 1982 I went back to CCA to earn my MFA in Glass. I spent 19 years running the glass program at SJSU, where I expanded the curriculum and visiting artist program. We invited artists from all over the world to come to SJSU to share with us, and that interaction was critical for both learning and developing a sense of community. Lipofsky, who had organized the California Great Glass Symposiums and Dr. Fritz, who founded the California Glass Exchanges, both served as role models for bringing in extraordinary talent from around the world as one of the best teaching tools.

After retiring from SJSU, I have spread my time amongst various activities, staying true to my love for the environment, and my passion as an educator, first as Co-Head of the Crucible’s Glass Program, as a Fulbright Scholar at the National College of Art and Design in Ireland, and more recently as an adjunct at St. Mary’s College teaching Eco Art. In 2011, I completed a collaborative project designing and building an 18-foot-high glass and stone Flood Level Marker for the City of Boulder, Colorado. I continue to search for ways to link art making and environmental issues.

2012 - Mary standing next to her recently completed flood level marker in Boulder, Colorado,
her head next to the 50-year flood level


DT: Let’s talk a little bit about your Historical Project. You showcased this in an exhibition at the recent Glass Art Society Conference, at San Jose City College. It has been quite an undertaking to compile and exhibit this information.

MW: The project was a great success, due to the wonderful collaboration with ACGA/Jan Schachter, SJCC staff and students, the exhibiting artists, collector Forrest L. Merrill and designer Ted Cohen. We created a glass exhibit to educate viewers about the history of glass in our state, and to showcase how critical California was to the growth of the studio glass movement. We assembled a group of work from 50 institutions and organizations which made contributions to this journey, starting in the 1950s. This was showcased through physical pieces, some on loan, as well as an enormous visual timeline, displayed on the gallery wall.


Sept 2015 - GLANC visit to Petaluma art center with Mary describing the time line
shown for a second time at the All that Glitters exhibit

From my early years, I was very aware of the California glass movement, and its place in history, particularly here in the Bay Area.  San Jose State and UC Berkeley were the first two glass programs on the West Coast, both started in 1964, two years after the official 1962 start of the Movement in Toledo, Ohio. As an educator, I feel a responsibility to students, to understand history and those that came before them and ask the question: What can we learn from history and bring into what we are doing in the present and future? As more and more glass programs have closed, it became even more important to me, to keep that link to our past alive. The glass movement in CA is a testament to the many public domains: schools and non profits that have supported it, and I felt a responsibility to bring it to the forefront so it wasn’t forgotten and so that the value of public education is acknowledged and highlighted.

This coming year, I want to keep this information alive and accessible by starting a Wikipedia page, where this information can be easily accessed and shared. I am looking for Volunteers who know about scanning, archiving and researching to join the project!
DT: I can see that the past holds a special connection to you, which comes alive through this process.  What things in particular, foster that passion for the history of glass?

MW: When I studied glass in the late 1960s, and saw the new glass world really taking hold around me, it was an extraordinary, exciting time. I could see that this movement was beyond me, beyond the US, it was all over the world. The pioneer mentality was so exciting to me, and something I knew I had to be a part of. “Craft” is an action word, and the glass movement was a “melting pot” of science, technology, artmaking, fine craft technique that attracted all kinds of people of different political and social backgrounds. The new community was a “melting pot” to finding better understanding of how to get along with each other.

While my degree was in ceramics, I loved the experimental nature of glass, and my heart knew this was my place. It was a way to learn about the rest of the world, develop a wonderful community of friends, and it was something I could contribute to. Teaching has been a crucial part for me, for building this community. I have learned so much from my students and am very grateful to them all. They have strengthened and encouraged my desire for collaboration across the greater glass community.

DT: Glass is going through major changes once again, with the advent of new technologies, and collaboration with other media. What is next for you?

MW: I look forward to staying a part of this community, and more collaborations. In the last 2 years, I have been working on several large scale commissions. I am now working with sculptor Vickie Sowell, to create three 18 ft. high glass and steel sculptures, to commemorate the birthplace of Silicon Valley. It will be installed on San Antonio Road in Mountain View, in 2017. I am also working on water resource related collaborations and am active with the Board of WEAD (Women Eco Artists Dialogue), continuing to explore opportunities for community engagement. I will be teaching Stained Glass at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico with Marty Meade July, 2016 for two weeks, and hope to work with the ranch to develop plans to build a flood marker to educate visitors of the watershed and flood risk.

Mary and Szilard from Super Solar, on the roof during the solar panel inspection

This week one thirty-year dream came true. I installed solar panels on my roof to use for kiln usage grid feedback for my five glass kilns! I am looking forward to using the kilns more now!

As a last note, I encourage all the readers to consider going to the Glass Art Society meeting in Corning, NY next June. It is a rare opportunity to see the Museum and get a sense of the international history. Hope to see you there.

Thank you for this interview.

DT: Thank you, Mary, for taking the time to speak with us. California holds such a significant place in glass history, and we are grateful to have someone like you, to keep that connection alive and visible in our community.

To see more about Mary, visit http://www.marywhiteglass.com.


[Demetra Theofanous]