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Friday October 2, 2015 | by Lindsay Woodruff

EXHIBITION: Museum of Glass unveils work made by soldiers and veterans in therapeutic program

Recently opened at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, the exhibition “Healing in Flames” features work produced by the spring and summer 2015 instructors and students of the museum’s "Hot Shop Heroes: Healing with Fire" program, an educational project to offer glassblowing and art-making experiences to soldiers and veterans. The exhibit showcasing this life-changing program will remain on view through March 2016.

Hot Shop Heroes was established at the Museum of Glass in 2013 in partnership with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis McChord. In two years, the popular program has expanded to include veterans and soldiers outside of the Warrior Transition Battalion in these 8-week beginning and intermediate classes in glassblowing and flameworking. Classes are offered three times per year, with a capacity of nine students per session. The program has been particularly therapeutic to those suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress can affect up to 18-percent of soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. For many, the use of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) can be helpful in treating this condition, but the addition of art therapy has shown to be invaluable to an individual’s recovery.

"Many believe that art therapy uses imagery in a way that effectively accesses traumatic memories safely, promotes verbal processing, and encourages active construction of a trauma narrative, all of which is understood to support healing and recovery,” the AATA stated in their 2005 call for increased research into the effectiveness of art therapies for PTSD. Art therapy fits into the process psychiatrist and trauma specialist Judith Lewis Herman has outlined for healing from traumatizing circumstances, which includes re-establishing safety, remembering the event and mourning losses appropriately, and reconnecting with daily life. Through Hot Shop Heroes, participants avoid social isolation by interacting with others in similar positions. They are encouraged to create their narratives using their newly acquired skills, empowering them through their recovery process by sharing their stories through this work. Perhaps hot glassmaking techniques are especially therapeutic, as fire is symbolically a cleansing force and indicative of a new beginning.

Many of the participants take the introductory and intermediate class in sequence, and some are continuing their glassblowing and flameworking education at other studios. Program Manager Greg Owen says, “A couple have the chops to go onto production glassblowing jobs if they so desire.”

While some of the work on display expresses upbeat themes or is technique-based, there are also sculptures that are representative of loss and emotional scars. Two works dealing with monuments to those lost include Taste of Blood and Tears (2015) and The Final Goodbye (2015), a sculpture of a glass gun, dog tags, and a helmet in between a pair of boots, representing the ritualistic tower soldiers make in the field to show respect for fallen comrades.

By implementing this program, the Museum of has truly helped these soldiers work through the adversary they have faced and reintegrate themselves into civilian life. Greg Owen is currently writing a letter of recommendation for one of the participants who is in the process of applying to the California College of the Arts graduate program in glass. “She was speaking to her mother about the work she had been making, and how she was taking the steps to get into school. Her mother started crying and when she asked her why, she said, ‘This is the first time I have heard you talk about the future since you got back from Iraq.'”

Active duty personnel, veterans, and WTB soldiers can request more information about joining the program through the Hot Shop Heroes page on the Museum of Glass website. Prospective participants should be aware that heat, loud noise, bright lights, lifting of up to 20 lbs, and some walking and standing is part of the Hot Shop Heroes experience.

The opening reception for "Healing in Flames" will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon on Sunday, November 8th. The reception takes place the day after the museum's annual celebration of National Veterans' Glassblowing Day on Saturday, November 7th, an event many glass studios throughout the country participate in that offers free 45-minute glassblowing sessions to veterans.


“Hot Shop Heroes: Healing in Flames”
Through March 2016
Opening reception: Sunday, November 8, 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM
Museum of Glass
1801 Dock Street
Tacoma, WA 98402
Tel. (253) 284-4750

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