A Glass Act

Dale Chihuly’s program in Taos

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When Kathy Kaperick was growing up she lacked anyone in her life to give her direction — much less inspiration. All that changed when she met Dale Chihuly.

Now Kaperick is director of an innovative program designed to make a difference in the lives of young people. Modeled on the successful Hilltop Artists-in-Residence program she and Chihuly founded in Tacoma, Washington, a new studio which opened in May 1999 in Taos, New Mexico, is yet another effort to show young people there is a better path in life than toward drugs and violence.

Ryan Romero

Glass school instructor Ryan Romero
teaches his father, Patrick Romero,
how to make a coffee mug.

"I am like a lot of the people we work with," Kaperick said. "I was from a low income working class family and not really given opportunities. I grew up in Southern Illinois, south of St. Louis. I had no mentors. I had no role models. I can't name one person during my youth into my late 20s that I could look back and say really inspired me to do anything-until I met Chihuly."

She credits the world-renowned glass artist with having "turned on the fire and opened up the doors and started showing me there were leaves on trees." He is one of those rare people who "inspire us to go further . . . Dale did that. I watched him. I emulated him."

So influential has the Hilltop program been in turning around the lives of urban youth, it was awarded a $10,000 Coming Up Taller Award during ceremonies at the White House in Washington, D.C. Both Chihuly and Kaperick were on hand for the October 26, 1999 presentation. The award is given to outstanding arts programs that are committed to supporting communities, families and youth. Although it was the Tacoma program recognized by the award from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the new Taos program shares its visibility.

Tony Jojola

Tony Jojola of Isleta Pueblo,
which is linguistically linked to Taos Pueblo,
was instrumental in bringing glassblowing
to this northern New Mexico community.

"It was my pleasure (in June 1999) to visit the youths (in Taos) enrolled in this program and to watch them work," said United States Senator Jeff Bingaman on hearing of the award. "When I saw how much pride the youths took in the glassware they craft with their own hands, it was easy for me to see why this program is so successful."

Not only is it successful, but when implemented as a program for Taos Pueblo Indian youth, it may chart an entirely new course for Native American artists. Lloyd Kiva New, former director of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe who attended the opening in Taos said it may change things forever.

"I think this is the beginning of a new era for Indians, in terms of new materials," New said. "I think it's terribly important, because the first adoption of a foreign material were beads from Italy and Czechoslovakia, and of course it swept the Indian world. Then we jumped from there, I think, to the next major adoption of a foreign material when the Navajos picked up on silver, and that became a national expression for Indian people. I think this is the third major material. Now we're into glass and I think we can't predict where it will go. Because there are geniuses amongst the Indian people, and what they will do with the new material is just hard to predict."

The Hilltop program started out in 1994 as a series of summer classes, Kaperick said. They had about 30 kids that first session, but it became so popular and grew so fast that now it offers full-time year-round classes serving about 100 kids a day. Kaperick was put in charge of that program which she shepherded until the idea for establishing another facility came about.

Actually, the Taos program has developed with a two-fold purpose. Initially, a single studio located on the Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation was envisioned. But due to various delays, Chihuly decided to send down from Tacoma a "hot shop" — a furnace with several "glory holes" along with the tools necessary to begin a glassblowing operation — so the momentum wouldn't be lost. That studio, which opened May 29, 1999 to great fanfare, was set up in the Taos County Economic Development Corporation's business park in the Town of Taos. Right away classes were organized. But instead of concentrating only on Native American students, who also were included, the focus was broadened to include students from the Taos Municipal School District.

Preparations for all that were already underway even before the "hot shop" was in place. Three young men from Taos Pueblo: Ryan Romero, 18; Henry Martinez, 19; and Ivan Concha, 18 were sent to Tacoma so they could learn glassblowing. Upon their return, they were set up as student-instructors under the supervision of head instructor Tony Jojola, himself a renowned glass artist.

The school's location in Taos came about as the result of several fortuitous circumstances. Jojola was a former Institute of American Indian Arts student from Isleta Pueblo, which is linguistically related to Taos Pueblo. In addition, Jojola, said his godparents are from Taos and is very familiar with the community. He said he wanted to come back to New Mexico for some time. When he and Kaperick approached the Taos Pueblo tribal governor in late 1997, the man they spoke to was John Cruz Romero, who also is a well-known sculptor and former IAIA student. It was Romero who helped persuade the tribal council of the school's viability toward helping youth on the reservation.

That was more than two years ago. Since then, a two-acre site was set aside by the tribe on which was envisioned a 15,000 square-foot glassblowing facility. Construction is set to begin in March 2000, with the facility slated to be ready about one year later.

"You've got committed people here who are willing to take as many young people as are interested in being here," Kaperick said. "We don't have preconceived notions that these kids are going to come in the door and not have problems. We expect them to have problems. That's the mission of the program."

Kaperick predicts it will take about 10 to 15 years for the program to show its worth. "It can start returning things to the community immediately, but to really develop it into what it's supposed to be, it's a long term program. And I don't have any vision of taking it anywhere else. I think there's plenty to do here."

With a long list of potential Taos glassblowers who can't wait to start working, Kaperick's vision may take shape sooner rather than later.

For information on hours and location call the Taos Glass Arts School at 575-758-0835.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque - Volume 14

Related Pages

Favorite Places in Taos article
Fused and Slumped Glass article

Glass Art in New Mexico article
Glossary of Glass Terms article

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