He gazes around my studio with wide eyes, taking in the art hung on the walls, the pendants pinned to the black velvet drape suspended from Oliver Wendell Kiln’s gantry, and me, covered in plaster, making a mold. “Grandpa said you were doing some kind of art show and I wanted to see.”
Andrew’s the grandson of my next-door neighbors. Grandma Jan calls him the personality kid and she’s right; bright, inquisitive and unfailingly kind, he’s one of my favorite people. He’s 10 or maybe 12, and has been having monthly sleepovers with his grandparents pretty much since I moved in. It’s been fascinating to watch the mind of a little boy turn into the mind of a young man, and in the process we’ve become friends.
This weekend is Portland Open Studios, where 100 Portland area artists open their workplaces to the public. Me, my family and even the neighbors have been frantically prepping my garage for this event, and I’ve been making work like crazy. It DOES look cool. I’m pretty proud of it.
I start the spiel: “This kind of art is called pate de verre–it means “paste of glass” in French–and was pretty popular before World War II but kinda died out…” Andrew listens attentively as I lead him through the process and the result, asking questions in all the right places and ooohing when I let him stroke the hand-sanded lead crystal. It feels like silk.
He takes in the silicone masters, thumps the hard plaster/silica mold appreciatively…but it’s the shift glass that gets him going. I show him how the blue glass turns purple and the green glass goes gold in incandescent light, and his mouth drops in astonishment. “Wowwww,” he breathes, and makes the colors change again and again.
Then he turns serious, “Uhm, Cynthia, may I ask you a question?” Sure, I reply, but at that moment a tour crowd streams in and I’m momentarily diverted. “May I give them the grand tour?” he asks, and I nod, surprised.
“Welcome,” he says to the newcomers, bowing them into the garage, “This is Cynthia’s studio–she’s over there–and she makes glass. Its’s called–I can’t pronounce it–”
“Pate de verre,” I supply helpfully.
“Yeah, paste du vair,” he says, “and that means ‘paste of glass,’ in French. It was really popular before World War II but it died out and Cynthia’s bringing it back.” Aside from crediting me with the single-handed revival of pate de verre, he pretty much has the whole patter down, from history to moldmaking.
Boy, that kid listens.
“Hey, watch this, this is cool!’ and he does the color change trick with the shift glass. His audience oohs appreciatively. I help him out here and there, but Andrew could make a soft living as a museum tour guide.
Finally he settles his guests in with mulled cider and cookies, “Be careful, because the cider’s hot,” he warns, and turns back to me. “Uhm, Cynthia…how much do those necklaces cost?” and he points to the color-change glass pendants, “I was thinking my mom would really like one for her birthday.”
After that performance I’d gladly give Andrew a pendant. Years of hanging out with my sisters’ kids, though, have taught me that Andrew’s proposing a serious business transaction, not to be sullied with patronizing freebies. “Weeeeell,” I say slowly, “they’re $50 to $90….”
His face falls. “Oh, gee,” he says, and for a second he looks unbearably tragic, the way only kids can, “That’s a lot more than I thought.”
“….but,” I continue, “That’s the price for strangers. I give a discount to friends and neighbors. What about $20 for one of the small pendants?”
“OK!” he says eagerly, and digs into his pocket, “I just made some money doing yard work for Grandma and Grandpa. Three dollars! Can I give that to you on account and pay you the rest on my next visit?”
“Hmmmm,” I say consideringly, “You do yard work?” (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I do NOT do yardwork unless threatened with…well, I can’t think of anything bad enough.)
“Sure,” he says, “And I do a good job.”
“OK, so here’s the deal,” I offer, “If you’ll clean off all the leaves on my front walk and driveway, I’ll trade you a pendant. What do you say?”
“Oh, wow! It’s a deal!” And we shake hands.
Carefully, we go over each of the pendants. He examines them for flaws, holds them under the light to make sure they change color adequately, and finally makes his selection. The little silk pouches that house the pendants come in all colors, too, so we spend more time deciding on a black one with pink trim.
My side of our bargain completed, Andrew heads back to his grandparents’ at a dead run, returning with a rake and broom…and Grandma Jan and Grandpa Rick. We greet each other, they look around–Andrew shows them the color-change glass–and Rick nods to his grandson. “Time to get to work,” he says briskly.
The two men trundle down the driveway; Andrew starts raking while Rick points out spots he’s missed, shows Andrew how to handle a rake that’s bigger than a boy..and finally starts doing some of the raking himself. Jan joins in with the broom.
My neighbors are now cleaning up my yard. “Guys?” I say, embarrassed, “I didn’t really mean to make this a family job…if Andrew does just a little leaf-raking that’ll be fine…”
Rick gives me a long look. “Nope. Andrew has made a bargain–and I think he’s getting the better side of the deal–so now he’s going to do the job right. Only way to learn.”
I back off and watch the three of them, cleaning the leaves out of my bushes, sweeping up the pine needles, dumping it all in the yard waste bin. Andrew’s rake keeps getting caught on the weedy driveway and he moans in frustration.
“Well, if it’s not supposed to be there, Andrew, pull it out,” says Rick matter-of-factly, and so Andrew wraps his fingers around the weed and yanks. It’s stubborn, and Andrew’s panting and a little sweaty by the time he has it all out.
“What is this stuff, Grandpa?” Spurge, Rick says.
“Well, I’ve decided that I hate spurge!” says Andrew, and we all agree it’s pretty nasty stuff.
It’s kinda humiliating, having the neighbors do what I’m sure they wish I’d been doing a week ago, but a deal is a deal. Under Rick’s exacting eye, Andrew picks up every dead leaf in the front yard. Finally, the job is done.
“That really looks great, Andrew,” I say, “You’ve SO earned this pendant.” I offer him the little silk pouch, and he takes out the pendant, strokes it, holds it up to the light and smiles at me.
“Usually all I can give Mom is a card or maybe a little thing the teacher told me how to make,” he says happily, “But this was my idea and I got it myself. That makes it more personal, you know?”
“Yep,” I say, grinning back, “I know EXACTLY what you mean.”
“Your grandpa’s making fish and it’s almost ready,” calls Jan, “Come wash up, Andrew!”
“OK,” he calls, “I really like your stuff, Cynthia. If you need more work done, maybe I can have some just for me next time.”
And, silk pouch clutched tightly, he dashes down the hill to dinner.