Yep, you read that correctly: this past weekend, I taught a glass-making class at the local cemetery, Maple Grove, in Queens, NY.
Maple Grove was established in 1875 and is on the list of National Register of Historic Places. It's a non-denominational cemetery and among the many notable people buried there are singer Lavern Baker, aviation pioneer Charles Manley and Jacob Riis' wife, Elizabeth Riis. My good friend, Suzanne, who died in 2014, is also there.
Friends of Maple Grove (FoMG) offers various cultural programs, such as concerts, classes and even a murder mystery dinner, all which honor the history of those resting there or the Victorian Era. I was invited to teach glass-making as part of the latter. Decorative glass was trendy during Victorian times and many of the old homes in our area are adorned with elaborate glass windows.
Maple Grove isn't that big, but has two buildings: the old administration building and the large, modern art center. Concerts are usually held at the Center, but I had the class at the older building.
The place is amazing! The home is filled to the brim with historic knickknacks and costumes. FoMG puts on performances where players dress in old clothing and there's plenty to choose from.
We didn't dress up, but the organizers, Helen and Carl, set up the event so it was a class/tea party. We used beautiful China and snacked on an assortment of tiny cakes and cookies. Carl suggested we work in the back room, which is larger and a bit less cluttered than the entrance area. We were surrounded by historic pieces, including a Civil War-Era tea set.
Helen picked up two microwaves for me so I could fire multiple pieces at once. I also purchased a second kiln, which is about four times the size of my other one. There were nine students in this class, but I was able to fire six pieces at once and save a lot of time.
Since this was a beginner class, I had my students make simple mosaic pieces. I pre-cut the glass shards and black bass pieces, but I let each woman try her hand at cutting the glass herself. I love working with the seniors, but there's only so much they can do. These students were much more involved in the process.
Once each made her glass pendant, I taught them some very basic wire work and showed them how to make a spiral necklace bail. So they learned two skills for the price of one class.
I couldn't believe how quickly the two hours flew by! At one point, I was running back and forth between the two rooms as I checked the kilns and was also trying to help the women with their wire structures. I actually broke a sweat! We all had a wonderful time, though, and everyone was very pleased with her piece. I always enjoy watching my students' faces as they see the glass turn molten for the first time. They never quite believe me when I warn that the microwave kiln heats to 1500- degrees, but when they see the glowing, red glass, they get it.
A couple of funny things happened during our time there. Carl brought his little dog, Sky, along. He's adorable and was well-behaved, but at times, it seemed as if he wanted to join us in making art. Also, at one point, a couple of other Maple Grove members stopped by to check out costumes for a future event. I was by myself in the front room as I checked the smaller kiln and turned around only to see the two guys dressed in velvet robes and ornate crowns. "What do you think?" one asked, with a grin. "Too much?"
I was a little nervous about teaching this class, but no one was burned or cut (always a possibility when working with glass) and everyone had a great time. The students kept telling me how wonderful the class had been and a couple purchased pieces from me. One said that she might have another job for me, teaching glass to her church group. And Carl and Helen have invited me to return! The ladies were asking if we could do a class once a month and if we could also do a wire-wrapping session. I'd love to do more, but I'm not sure if Maple Grove had the time or space. I'd be happy to teach a few times a year.
It's funny because both of my parents were teachers and I swore I'd never follow in their footsteps. You know what? I love teaching. I'd never want to work in a traditional classroom, but I enjoy sharing my art with others. It thrilled me to see these women fall in love with glass.