When a real somebody (like Robert DuGrenier) gives a nobody (like me) their genuine time and attention, it gives me hope and swells my heart with joy… that sometimes people are wonderful to others they know nothing about… that a life-changing adventure may be truly right around the next corner… and that there are people out there like Robert that are truly worth looking up to forever.
I never wondered who redesigned the Statue of Liberty’s torch, who billionaires call when they need an entryway or a library chandelier that will cause their billionaire friends to stumble with awe? What army of elfen wizards builds those glass chandeliers above the super exclusive collections at Tiffany & Co. or Harry Winston? Would you believe me if I told you this same person placed the orange blimp mock-up of Nickelodeon’s Kid Choice Award in my 3-year old’s hands so M could experience a kaleidoscope for the first time? Robert DuGrenier, you are easily one in a billion!
We had just spent our first night among the cows and wild turkeys at Misty Mountain Farm [camping in the pasture, not the Tiny House] in Vermont. With our new aroma of cow patties, campfire, and wild, we were on our way to find some adventure and a picnic spot when we saw this open studio sign.
Pushing through the escaping heat of the studio, we watched someone have their first experience working with hot glass. I was extremely envious and tried to hide it well — my ‘broke goggles’ were on, and the boys definitely couldn’t wait hours before they were running and yelling. While I stood entranced, Kerry was already working it in the background. She tapped me on the shoulder — “20 minutes for $35, and you are up next! I’ll take the boys into the gallery and pay. Have fun!”
A few minutes later, I pushed the steel rod too far into the glory hole and Robert corrected me. I walked directly into the steel rolling frame unable to walk and gaze at the glowing glass at the end of my rod, but Robert saved me, the glass, and commented that he does that 30 times a day. I twisted and poked, coated it with clear, started throwing sparks from the wooden roller because it wasn’t wet enough, and overall had a great time. I knocked the paperweight off into a ceramic pillow, and off it went into the 960F kiln to anneal overnight.
In the midst of this, I asked a few questions about COE and frit size, and he asked a few of his own. It seemed much more like two old friends out for a walk than the academic alpha jousting I’m normally wrapped up in. With a “please take over as I give this guy a tour” to his assistant, the craziness really began.
Robert sat at the picnic table, and seemed surprised after he asked my 4 year-old son “What do you think of the glass?” and R replied that there was too much blue and they don’t look much like flowers (see them in the picture). He gave a belly laugh, and followed up with several more questions about how R would make his glass display better.
Robert then toured my family through the adjacent barn with stories, one-off molds descriptions, and lots of illustrations of projects that didn’t work the 1st or even 5th time. Robert then walked me through his gallery, describing the personal pain underlying the pieces of his gallery. His 3 story barn had burned to the ground, and as a way to move on from the experience, he was now merging the impossible — glass and metal (lantern, shovel, scythe, etc.). His gaze told me he wanted to guess at the technique, and I pitched one about ceramic fiber blanket and boron nitride, but he shook his head with a smile. Taking me over to another room, “Boron nitride leaves a whitish coating on the metal after firing like this” pointing at a sickel, “and look at this… the metal has fused to the glass but there isn’t any white residue. Try again.” I guessed wrong again. He eventually told me, but you will have to learn that technique from him.
The next day, I was afraid to go back and pick up my paperweight. Robert had been so kind, so humble, so inspirational — even his stated flaws made him seem more perfect. What if he was a total jerk now? I hate that I think this way, but it flooded my every thought as we drove back to the studio.
Robert couldn’t have been nicer. He talked me through a project he and friends had been working on for more than 20 years, building glass shells for hermit crabs and coconut crabs (the smooth surfaces make it possible to record their sounds – upcoming Scientific American article about how they communicate). He gave me a hefty box of silver iridized black glass after I described one of my recent experimental projects. He walked me to the car, told Kerry and the boys that he sincerely hoped we would come back again and visit his new baby lambs, and left us all smiling as we drove away.
My most sincere thanks Robert! I’m scared to ever return, but it warms my heart to know there are people like you out there in the world.