miércoles, 30 de abril de 2014

Ben Ahlgrim talks about the art of glass blowing

Before white settlers arrived Columbia, Pennsylvania, the home of Through the Fire Studios, was a beautiful wooded area on the shore of the Susquehanna River populated by the Susquehannocks—an indigenous group which John Wright subsequently tried to evangelize. Now it is known not only as a tourist attraction due to the beautifully preserved buildings on its narrow streets; it also houses the Center for the Creative Arts, home of the Through the Fire glass works. Jaquematepress chatted recently with one of the owners, Ben Ahlgrim.
“We blow contemporary glass and anything you can think of in glass,” said Ben after a class on glass blowing.
You are quite young. At what age did you get started in this activity?
About ten years ago, after attending Harrisburg Area Community College.
What led you to get involved in glass blowing?
Well, I never even thought about working with glass but I took a class on glass blowing, liked it and told myself to give it a try. 
Did you bring to your work any training in art?
Yes, I had done drawing and things like that. But actually my background was a bit rudimentary before I got involved with glass blowing. However, we consider ourselves to be artists; whereas a lot of people who work in glass think of it as a craft. We prefer to think of what we do as artistic. 
What happens during the process of creation? Do you work on the basis of a previous idea or do you improvise?
Well for me it has gone through changes. When we first started we didn’t have much knowledge of the techniques we now use. We have a general idea but then as you start your piece something develops. So in the process your original idea goes through modifications. When you first start out with the raw material you can’t predict what it is going to do. So everything is going to change. You might have a preconceived idea of what you want but it isn’t going to turn out that way—at least when you first start out. But over the past five years or so I have been thinking out an idea previously and then carrying it out. The difference is that now I think of something and know how to get there.
Do you draw out your idea? 
Yes. I believe that every artist should have a sketch book. That way you can go back to your notes if you are going through some kind of writer’s block. 
You work with very brilliant colors. Is that a recent development?
I haven’t always worked with colors. Some glass workers consider working with colors as taking away from the natural beauty of glass and perhaps that is true: if you have a beautiful form you don’t need colors. When I started out I worked mostly with clear glass. And then in the process you learn a lot of techniques. You can work it after it is done, carve it, sand blast it…things like that. 
Is Through the Fire Studies a cooperative, a company…what is it?
Well, the Center was established by Jeremy, myself and Milt Friedly. But there are about seven other artists who also work here. There’s also a band that comes here to practice. Everything that has to do with creative arts: dance, art, music…if you like the space you can do it here. 
What about your own activity?
We base our activity on education but we are also artists so we sell our glass works and teach…
Does what you ear get you to the end of the month?
The months are sometimes pretty long, yea, but we make it. As long as we can keep the furnaces going and the doors open we will keep going.
What kind of feedback do you receive from your buyers, students and visitors?
Yea, well I think people are fascinated with glass, especially when they can actually see it being made in front of them or even make their own piece. Everyone who comes in the door gets very excited with what we do. 
Do you have any other projects up your sleeve?
Oh yes we do. I have been updating myself on Venetian style and technical aspects of the trade, that’s probably what I’ll be working on throughout the summer. The unique thing about glass blowing is that you are always learning something. If someone says they say they know everything about something, don’t believe them because that is impossible. And there is always someone you can learn from. 
Ben Ahlgrim
452 Locust Street
Columbia, Pennsylvania 17512

jueves, 17 de abril de 2014

The Resurrection of Hamlet

The Resurrection of Hamlet

A solo performance by Alfred Hopkins

May 4th at 7:30pm at The Seed, 52 North Queen St., Lancaster, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

viernes, 4 de abril de 2014

Breathing Life into Aging Bodies

 Routines for senior citizens aimed at enhancing vitality, strengthening resistance to disease and accidents, bolstering the spirit and improving self-esteem.

Aging necessarily involves the gradual loss of strength, energy and coordination; bones become more brittle, muscles lose their tone and the physical decline affects mental attitudes. However, the effects of these degenerating effects can be retarded by breathing drills and physical movements oriented around the use of core energy.

Standing more erect, moving more effortlessly, raising our chin and eyes, improving our equilibrium and enhancing the perception of the world around us improve our image of self and redirect our minds towards positive thinking patterns. Every person is endowed with a charge of inner energy which can be likened to the electric current in a battery. We can “recharge” that energy by doing daily routines. Many of our maladies are due to bad circulation. The solution we propose in these encounters is to use breath and soft physical drills to reactivate the circulation of energy in the body.

The pains in the extremities, in the joints, the elbows, the knuckles, the toes, the head aches, the stiffness in the back and in the neck are all signs of a short-circuit in the circulation of inner energy. We complain about them and in doing so we activate negative thought patterns which worsen our suffering; the doctor prescribes pain killers—but the essence of the problem persists.

Proposal: As an initial step we propose two weekly encounters of two hours each during which we will practice relaxation techniques, breathing drills, gentle physical movements of all parts of the body, imagination and visualization exercises and games aimed at stimulating creativity and self-esteem. 

martes, 1 de abril de 2014

Let air fill your body with life, love and vitality

Our bodies can get “clogged up” if we do not practice breathing and coordinate our body movements. We all need to be kissed and caressed. Practicing breathing is a caress which allows the body to generate the kind of energy it needs for the task we want to perform. 

For many centuries in oriental countries breathing drills have been used not only in the martial arts but likewise to alleviate pain. Stress and tension are the “culprits” not only for many diseases, but also strongly influence our ability to do creative acts. Painters, writers, dancers, actors and singers need to empty their minds and bodies of tension before they engage upon a creative activity. It sounds like a contradiction but the emptier the mind the more creative we can become.

The following list of breathing drills may be of great help either for those involved in creative activities or those who suffer physical maladies. There are many more, but they illustrate the basic intention. Do them slowly, almost in slow motion, while you allow images to float in your mind. Do not try to control your breathing; just allow it to find its way as a river finds its way to the sea. Although they can be done in any sequence, you may find one that suits you best. However, it is best to do your “routine” at the same time and place—with as little outside disturbance as possible. You may like to add soft music as you do them.

1)   Lie on your back, on the floor or a hard surface. Try to push the small of your back against the surface. Spread your legs and arms at 90° angles, your finger tips and toes spread out. Imagine breathing in from your left toes and sending the air across your body to your right finger tips. Do the same with the right toes and left finger tips. Then take in the air from your right toes and finger tips and expulse it through your left toes and finger tips. Reverse the action. Take air in from your head and expulse it from your sexual organ. Reverse the action. It is important to breathe slowly, as if you were smelling your favorite perfume or dish. Also, you might want to do this exercise with some soft background music.

2)   Sit on a chair. Be careful not to use the back of the chair. Align your back column in a straight but not stiff way. Allow your arms to fall to your sides naturally and weightlessly. Take in the air gently from your abdomen—actually from the “chi” the center of your body, an inch above your belly button. Close your eyes and regulate your breathing as you fix your mind on an image such as a flower. Remember in all of these drills it is important to expulse all of the air you have inside your body.

3)   A variation of the previous exercise: drop your jaw at the back in a soft, relaxed way. Place the tip of your tongue just behind the upper teeth as you inhale. Now drop your tongue and curl it behind your lower teeth as you exhale. Remember to do this exercise slowly so as to produce pleasure. You may imagine a candle: put out the flame as you expulse your breath.

4)   Stand on the floor with your feet slightly spread at about 45° and your knees just a little bit bent. Check the alignment of your back column: straight but not stiff. Raise your arms as if you were holding a ball, at shoulder length. Spread your fingers and point each one at its neighbor on the right or left side. Send the air from the “chi” up your right side, to your shoulder and across the empty space to the fingers of your left hand.

5)   A variation: using the same position as in 4, do an inventory of all of the bones in your body.  Start, for instance, from your left toes, then go to your  arch…your shin…your hip bone, etc. Then reverse the action.

6)   Assume the same position as in 4. Imagine that you are stacking a pile of books as you take in air. Remove them from the pile as you exhale. Do the exercise softly and with your eyes closed. You can imagine also the color and weight of the books. Remember to try to remove all of the air when you exhale.

7)   Stand with your feet aligned with your shoulders, your knees slightly bent. Allow your chin to fall upon your chest. Keeping it in that position, inhale gently through your nose (taking the air from the “chi”). Then inhale it slowly as you raise your neck and stretch it to the limit (without forcing it!). Repeat several times.

8)   Using the same basic posture, raise both hands high above your head as you inhale; bring them down softly as you exhale. Remember to always inhale through the nose; you may exhale through the mouth.

9)   A variation: use the same starting position. Point the tips of your fingers at each other. Turn your torso to the right as you take in air and form a bow and arrow with your arms, swinging your body as far back as possible without moving your feet. Try to fix your eyes on a fixed point. As you return to the starting position expulse the air and rest in the initial position. Repeat the same movement, but to your left. Each time you twist your torso your eyes should fix on a point slightly further to the left or the right—according to the sequence you have chosen.

10)                     Again using the same starting position, bring your heels together. Raise them simultaneously as you inhale. Hold your breath for a count of four; then bring them down slowly to the floor as you expulse the air.

11)                     Back in the starting position, bring the air in through your nose in short bursts, removing it likewise in short bursts but being careful to push all of the air out of your body. You can do this with counts: two rapid intakes, two rapid expulsions prolonging the last. Then try with 4, 6, 8, 10…

12)                     In the initial standing position, and with your knees bent, place both of your hands to the left and the right of the “chi” filling lungs and abdomen with fresh air. Then let your arms fly in both directions in an explosive burst as you send all of the air out of your body. The explosion should take all of the air out in a volcanic burst accompanied by the sound of the air passing rapidly. Before initiating the explosion, be sure the tip of your tongue is touching the inside of your upper teeth. Do that several times. That is the low breathing area—the chi, the abdomen, adequate for creative activity. Returning to the same position place your hands on your lower ribs, right and left, and also explode. This position is also good for singing and projecting your voice. Finally, place your hands on your chest and do the same. This position is not suggested for creative activity because it puts pressure on the vocal coils.

13)                     Return to the standing position but place a ball or a stick (it could be a broom stick) in your hands. Rotate your body right as you inhale, allowing the torso to do the turning rather than your shoulders. Return to the center position expulsing your breath. Repeat to the left.

14)                     Place both hands on the stick and put it near your butt. Inhale as you raise the stick as far as you can. Keep it there for a count of four; then return as you exhale.
15)                     With your feet separated at shoulder length, raise the stick far above your head as you inhale. Hold your breath and remain in that position on a count of four. Then bring the stick down to your toes, keeping your knees straight but not locked. Then relax, swinging your body and the stick to the right and to the left. Repeat.