by Thea Daniels

How can art illuminate what science cannot?

Mary installing monument in Boulder Creek, Colorado.

In July of this year, The Crucible’s Glass Department Co-Head, Mary White, concluded an ambitious eco-artistic project six years in the making. Five thousand pounds of foundation concrete, stone, and 144 panels of drilled glass now rise 18 spired feet alongside a gushing Boulder Creek in Colorado.   At night it glows but in the day it chills, as one glances up and takes in the significance of the 100 and 500 year flood water levels of the Creek that as recently as 1976 killed 140 people and caused thirty million dollars in property damage.  The piece moves people, far more potently than words or statistics, to conceptualize the towering water levels when they will have only 45 minutes to leave before flood conditions prevail.

The sculpture is part community education and wholly a monument, a product of a partnership with scientists, the designer, the Boulder artist Christian Muller, Elizabeth Black, Marshall French, admirers, friends, family, of Gilbert White.  Mary’s geography professor father was known as “The father of floodplain management” and won numerous honor and scientific prizes before passing away in 2006.  The City of Boulder agreed a plaque in his honor would not honor his contributions adequately.  Mary got to do what she loves best, which is to work collaboratively to develop a piece deeply connected to her and to issues of the environment.

Mary working on the Boulder Creek monument.

Mary was meant to be a scientist.  She grew up in a Quaker family of scientists and thought she’d be a sociologist. But by the time she was in her early teens, she was drawing portraits, winning art prizes, and she realized she was at her best with the creative process of object making. By 19, she was on Park Avenue South, in NYC, working as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City serving the likes of Andy Warhol and John Chamberlain and knew she had found her milieu.  Although she began her formal education at Earlham in Indiana, Viola Frey’s work compelled her to move west where she ultimately got her BA and MFA at the California College of the Arts. 
She headed up San Jose State University’s Glass Program from 1985 to 2005 and upon retiring, went on a Fulbright to Ireland. There she co-taught a seminar on The Landscapes of Aesthetics and Design, with 19 students utilizing glass, ceramic and textile, with the aim of sharpening their critical thinking on art.

Teacher, Artist, Collaborator, Fulbright Scholar, Symposium sponsor, Environmentalist – There are many sides to Mary White.  Much of her work connects to earthy roots and is often done with others and out of found objects. Solar powered glass birdbaths dot her Berkeley backyard, a glass watering hole emerges from the landscape at the Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature conference, glass homes have perched in numerous galleries and installations atop recycled metal materials, bottles from an early miner’s era are repurposed to form a chandelier.  Glass suits her as an artist for it, like her, is a complex medium and can have many purposes.  Glass can be opaque or transparent, reflect brilliantly or not at all, sharp or dull, colored or clear with the ability to transform to many forms.

Mary’s Artwork: Reclaimed window glass and steel series.

Mary began working at The Crucible in 2000 at the founder’s invitation.  She loves The Crucible for the opportunities it offers to share and learn from others.  The Crucible allows students and faculty the forum to feed one another’s creativity.  A class allows one to one to accomplish an object but she feels the richest part might not be the end product.  The deep creativity growth will most likely be from the process.  Students lucky enough to work with Mary get not just her years of technical skill but her keen insight and experienced teaching in discovering more about their own creative process.   She is proud of being able to give students the freedom to develop and the expertise to emerge with the product they want.  In addition to the fusing and slumping classes, she is looking forward to starting a collaborative mosaic project and an Independent Project with Instructor labs.

Mary’s Students from The Crucible

For those out there who are artist wannabes, Mary encourages you to put yourself in a place where you can discover and be surprised.  She has noticed that many have a judging voice that needs to quiet its analytical side for a while and learn to be more supportive.  Whatever the art form, we, aspiring artists, need to allow our thoughts to evolve into action via our hands and to share the work, in community.  She continues to push herself by setting up deadlines to meet, collaborations to engage in, and working every day in her home studio.  There, in the garden, with flocks of birds taking swooping turns in crystal like baths and the walkway lined with found iron shapes ever more fantastical, lies material for the next potential work.