Quite a few folks ask how I got involved in making glass beads and what is it about creating glass beads that keeps me at the torch after all these years.
I started making glass beads in 2000 after watching a glass program on PBS that featured a guest beadmaker. That snowy January afternoon I fell in love—with the process of making glass beads. I had to learn how. I even dreamt about holding the mandrel and glass rod, turning it in the flame and laying down the first layer of glass.
It took four months, but I finally found someone in the Omaha to teach me. What I found at the torch was profound. Yes, I struggled with control, with technique, with process; and many times still do. But there is something unending in the creative process of melting glass. I can make glass beads, glass marbles, glass sculpture, glass parts for assemblage. There is always something new to try, to learn. There is always something to return to—working to better my skill, my eye.
Below is a poem that I wrote towards the end of my teaching time that attempts to explain my creative time at the torch. It is truly a magical time.
From 2000 to 2009, I was teaching secondary English full time (the last 9 years of a 30-year career). I had found my creative outlet prior in writing—poetry, story, creative essay—as well as teaching writing. But learning to melt glass changed my creative outlet. I still wrote with my students—I firmly believe a writing teacher needs to write as well. But my creativity was focused on the glass and my time on torch.
The Write Time–The Glass as my Alternative Pen
by Margie Shanahan
Writing hides in the blue flame of my torch–
that crucible of heat and light and gravity–
that hot sweet spot where the glass melts so smoothly
it feels as if I could do this forever–
as if I could add unending layers of more glass
and metal and powders and frit
building a fantasy–
as if the glass stringers were my pens
and the stroking of flower petals, leaves, vines, berries
create a special language–
as if the whole world moves to the flow of that hot glass–
as if I am the melting glass rolled onto the mandrel,
slowly finding center,
until I harden
into that perfect sphere.
And when time and gravity pull me off center
as they will,
or that perfect sphere is dropped and cracked
as can happen so suddenly,
I go into that crucible again–
melt all the layers smooth,
slowly spin and rotate,
then center, center
until I am whole again.