Friday, November 25, 2005

Don't Be Like Milo

Back in 1985, I had an experience which really was a set back for me. It was at a time when a lot of pressure was building. I wasn't sure which direction I wanted my stained glass art to go. We had experienced a house fire and I needed to concentrate on rebuilding. I had sold the video rental part of our business, which was also the part that brought in income on a consistent basis. But I still loved stained glass, it was just that the shine was starting to wear off, it wasn't as fun anymore.

Someone once told me that anything you do to earn your living will eventually become a job. And I guess that was happening to me, my art was becoming my job and I spent more time trying to make money, than trying to make good art.

But it was still fun, there was always a renewal of excitement when we began to teach a new series of classes because the students would bring their enthusiasm with them and Jeanne and I would be reminded all over again about what a great and fantastic art form stained glass construction was.

Then Milo came and took classes. He walked into the studio in his "Missouri Tuxedo." That's a pair of bib overalls. He wore no additional shirt over his quite large frame and he was barefoot. He looked a little like Santa Claus on vacation with his white flowing beard and round tummy. He began to ask us about stained glass and he caught the excitement of the vision of being able to create his own work of art. So we invited him to join with us during our next class and he came. We were happy to have him, but we cautioned that you have to wear shoes in a stained glass shop and that a shirt was also a good idea.

Milo showed up at the appointed hour, full of enthusiasm. He brought his wife along, just to watch. That was a common occurrence in Missouri, a way to get good value from your dollar and give your spouse a chance to get out of the house. Milo chose a very nice round pattern of a scene with ducks in it for his first project. He enjoyed the process of selecting the glass and really understood the concept of cutting out his pattern pieces and tracing them out on glass. Then he began to cut his glass.

Now, we had already taught him how to cut glass before he laid a cutter on glass which he had purchased and he had done okay, but as he began to cut his pieces out, he varied from the instructions we had given him. I told Milo, he should push the cutter away from himself so he could see where the wheel on the cutter was going, but Milo felt is was easier to pull it towards himself. Then, I had taught Milo to tap under the glass to get the score to run so that he could tap directly under the score and get a nice, clean break. Milo figured it was easier to turn the glass upside down and lay it on the table and tap it from that side. Consequently, his tapping was often not directly under the place scored and his glass often broke in the wrong place.

Mistakes happen when learning a new skill, but Milo wouldn't listen. As hard as we tried, Milo was going to do it his own way. I said push, he pulled, I said tap from the bottom, he tapped from the top. When he broke a large piece of glass which would be the sky in the window, I offered to give him a new piece of glass. But of course, Milo refused, instead he just jovially said, "No, that will just be another lead line." And so his project went, one badly broken and shaped piece after another, with "new lead lines" springing up whenever a mistake was made.

Milo was having so much fun, he decided to take his project home and foil and solder it there. At that point, I figured it couldn't hurt, he didn't listen to a word of advice anyone gave in class.

I was wrong.

A day or two passed and Milo returned with his completed project. He had foiled and soldered it at home. Of course, he hadn’t had a stained glass type solder iron, so he soldered his window with a soldering gun. He asked if I could help him with some of his lead lines and I agreed, but when I looked at the panel, I was appalled.

In the course of soldering a stained glass window together, the builder will solder one side completely and then turn the window over and solder the other side. Occasionally, you might miss a place or two, but for the most part, most folks do a pretty good job of covering their window and making it a solid piece.

Not so with Milo's window. There were holes all over it where not only hadn't it been soldered on the front, it hadn't been soldered on the back as well. I was dumbfounded. I really didn't know where to start. Usually when I'm asked to help with a solder job, it's just to help smooth the occasional rough spot and teach the student how to improve their technique. No solder joint on his project was right or good or complete. I had to start on one side and re-solder everything. When I finished, I left the backside for Milo to redo and showed him how the right tool was important for the job. For once, he listened and bought his own iron.

A few days later, Milo drove up and climbed out of his truck. He parked right in front of the store so he could get his finished project from the passenger side and bring it into the store. He had worked on the soldering at home and if anything, it was worse than when he had left days before. I offered to help him with his technique, but he didn’t need help, Milo was happy with his project as it was. In fact, he was there to buy more supplies and another pattern so he could build another window.

Over the next few weeks, Milo built four or five stained glass panels. They were certainly originals, but try as I might, I couldn't get him to vary his techniques. He was fine with his poor construction. What really go to me was that Milo carried his windows in his pickup wherever he went, not caring that they got cracked sitting there on the seat as they bounced up and down over rural back roads. He happily went from town to town, proudly showing everyone who would listen that he had built these "stain glasses" himself and that that David Gomm over in Pierce City was his teacher. My reputation suffered and I was mortified, as Milo went about enjoying his love for glass crafting, my love for it dwindled and soon was gone.

Milo had done me in. My love for the art was at an ebb anyhow, but to have this big lug go about telling everyone that I was his teacher was just more than I could bear. I just snapped and gave lamp bases away to students. I took all my glass and supplies home to a small workspace, gave away extra grinders and tools. I didn't want to look at another piece of glass!

And I didn't for about a year. Then slowly, my interest began to return. It started as Jeanne taught a local youth group about stained glass. Then we got a commission for the city park and as we began to build and design, life became good again and my love for stained glass returned.

But nowadays, when I have a student who won't follow directions, I tell them the story of Milo. Their eyes grow wide with disbelief that there could be someone who wouldn't listen at all to instruction. And they try to at least give it a chance when I ask them to push not pull and tap from the bottom, not the top.

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