Oral history interview with Bill Glass, Jr.

OOHRP, Oklahoma State University
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search This Transcript

Little Thunder: My name is Julie Pearson-Little Thunder. Today is Wednesday, February 16, [2011]. I'm interviewing Bill Glass for the Oklahoma Native Artists Project, which is sponsored by the Oklahoma Oral Histories Research Program at Oklahoma State University. We're outside of Locust Grove in Bill's house. Bill, you originally became known for your beautifully glazed pottery and ceramic sculpture. You're now moving in some new directions. You've been designated a Living Treasure by the Cherokee Nation, and I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Glass: Thank you.

Little Thunder: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Glass: I was born in Tahlequah. At the time, my dad worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but he was a welding instructor at Haskell [Indian Nations 1:00University in Lawrence, Kansas]. So we lived at Haskell for about eight years after I was born. Then he wanted to follow the chain and try to get promotions through the Bureau, so we went to Fort Defiance, [Arizona], stayed there for a couple years, then we went to Flagstaff, and stayed there for about four years. Then we went to Tohatchi, New Mexico, and I went to high school and junior high in Gallup. We came back and he ended his career at Concho Boarding School outside of El Reno, OK.

Little Thunder: Living different places in and out of state, what are your earliest memories of art?

Glass: My earliest memories were my mom doing things. She was kind of the artist 2:00of the family. She could draw and do things for church. Posters. She was very creative. She could sew and she was the one that inspired me to be creative. I think that's the deal--you get your creative bug. I feel like it's also a gift. When you're born, you kind of get something and then you realize it. At some point, you realize it.

Little Thunder: When did that realization happen for you?

Glass: Well, I was in college at Central State University there in Edmond, and I got involved in some art classes as electives. I was in the ceramics department in the drawing part. Then T.C. Cannon and Sherman Chaddlesone came and enrolled 3:00down there. And once I saw their work--they were leaving the Institute to get their degrees at Central State--and once I saw what they were doing, I decided that I'd go to the Institute. So [I'm] kind of a late bloomer, really, because I was already in my twenties, early twenties. After I saw what they were doing, after leaving the Institute, I decided to go from Central State to the Institute.

Little Thunder: I want to back up just a minute, and then we'll come back to the Institute. What kind of art experiences did you have in public school, in the primary and secondary schools?

Glass: None.

Little Thunder: No classes at all?

Glass: No.

Little Thunder: Were you interested in drawing at that point?

Glass: I was always a doodler, and I always could kind of do things with my 4:00hands, too. But I wasn't really thinking about art. I wasn't really thinking about much of an art career at that time. I wasn't concentrating on it.

Little Thunder: When did you see your first example of Indian art? Would it have been with T.C.?

Glass: No, my first example I remember was when we lived out at Fort Defiance. We'd go to the tribal fair, Navajo Tribal Fair at Window Rock. I remember one time--I was still fairly young--and I remember walking into the exhibition building and seeing a huge Navajo rug hanging on the end of that building. It almost took the whole end of that building to display it. And it was just overpowering to think that somebody could actually make that. I think that was 5:00my first time

where I really thought, "Man, somebody made something that beautiful and with that much intricacy." I still remember that. In my mind, that probably was the very first thing that I remember as artwork.

Little Thunder: I read that when you went to Central State, you were planning to go into computers, and you ended up taking a ceramics class. Was that the class that Sherman and T.C. Cannon were taking?Glass: No, they weren't taking any of the classes I was taking. They were just coming down there, right at the end of a semester. And I had to decide what I wanted to do, either to stay there or 6:00move on. I told one of my professors that I was starting to have inclinations into art, and he said that maybe I should consider the Institute, and I started checking it out. Then I made that decision to go. Connie's cousin was working for IBM at the time, and this is back when IBM was still punch cards and all that. But early on, I had a job interview. So, I had to decide. Do I want to jump in here and try to do this? Or do I want to become an artist? So, I chose art. I don't know. I'm glad now, but that was a big choice.

Little Thunder: [Were] you and Connie already married?

Glass: We were already married and had our daughter, Tara. She was with us when 7:00we went to the Institute.

Little Thunder: What was that when you first got there?

Glass: Back in that time, Rhode Island School of Design was managing it, was in charge of it. And I never realized what the art profession really could be, or being around a bunch of artists could be like. I just enjoyed it. It was the student body and friends you made. But they knew they only had you for two years. That was a two-year deal, so they were there to try to let you find your own direction is what they always said. "Develop your own style." They knew they just had you for a short span, so they wanted you to try to work towards some 8:00style if you could. That was the goal. I always felt I was lucky to get there before Allan Houser retired. And I got to be a student of his while I was there, so that was good fortune for me.

Little Thunder: You took sculpture from Allan?Glass: Yes, and my ceramics teacher was named Ralph Pardington. The two studios were close to each other, just next door to each other. So, that was real convenient, too.

Little Thunder: Were those the areas that you gravitated towards from the beginning, ceramics and sculpture?Glass: Yes, and I took some drawing classes, some basic design things that most of us do. But at that time, too, you could just do studio all day. You didn't have to have other classes if you didn't 9:00want. You could be in the ceramics studio or the sculpture studio all day. I thought that was cool, because coming from a college setting where you had to take requirements, there was very few requirements, because they knew they just had you for that short time. They wanted to let you get connected with your medium. So, it was really nice.

Little Thunder: You mentioned good friendships that you made. Who were some of the friends you made while you were at the Institute?

Glass: Well, I was lucky in that part, too. Mike Romero, he's a Santa Clara, Taos guy. He's a good painter. Mike Zillioux, he's from Gila River. So they were painters, and then Doug Hyde happened to still be there. Clifford Fragua, he was 10:00a classmate, and Earl Biss was there. Just happened that when I got there, there was still some older guys, because I was a little older, too. I wasn't just an eighteen year old guy. There was some older guys my own age and everybody kind of fit in. After that first semester, after that first year, those older guys had to leave, some of them did. They were just hanging on and wanting to be artists, so they kind of got rid of some of them.

Little Thunder: You [had] spent some time in New Mexico previously. Did you consider staying there after you graduated?

Glass: I did. I thought about that for a while, and I just--I think Connie 11:00wanted to get back to Oklahoma. I could have probably enjoyed staying around there, and a lot of the student body did stay, and became the next group of artists to come through.

Little Thunder: When you came back to Oklahoma, the Indian art scene was starting to take off. Do you remember what it was like? When did you leave the Institute?

Glass: I left the Institute in '75, and then I came back and I worked for the Cherokee Nation for about two years, or two and a half years, as a field worker out in the Cherokee community, setting up arts and crafts classes. I did that, but then I felt like I was drawn back to my own work, instead of working for 12:00somebody. I wanted to do my own artwork. So in about '78, I became a full time artist. That was still at the end of what I'd call the turquoise craze when turquoise jewelry was popular, so that kind of helped. When you'd go to the art shows, there was a good following at that time. It was a good time to try to break in because you could make some sales and stuff. There still was a nice popularity for Indian art.

Little Thunder: When you were working for Cherokee Nation, you weren't necessarily just teaching ceramics or sculpture--

Glass: No. The community could--I gave them a list of classes they could take or could request. Whatever they requested, I'd provide the teacher and the materials, and we'd set up a six-week class for them. Basketry and beading. We 13:00even had leather making, leather tooling.

Little Thunder: Do you remember when you sold your first, what you'd consider a major piece? Were you selling a little bit after you graduated from the Institute?

Glass: Actually, my first sale of what I'd consider a major piece was while I was still a student at the Institute. I entered the Heard [Museum] show, and they bought one for their permanent collection. The next year, I entered at Philbrook and they bought a nice piece. It got first place in sculpture and it 14:00sold. Those were two pieces that I did while I was still a student at the Institute. One was a stone carving, one was a ceramic. I thought it was going to be a nice occupation, because I didn't know [much about the ups and downs].

Little Thunder: A great auspicious beginning.

Glass: Yeah. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: So once you decided to make that transition to doing art full time, did you look for a number of galleries to represent you, did you do a combination of galleries/booth shows?

Glass: At first I did mostly galleries, and probably like a lot of people, [showed with] Doris Littrell in Oklahoma City and then Linda Greever in Tulsa. 15:00They were always just extremely good to the artist. I just can't say enough about those two ladies. They've helped countless artists get started. I tell you, every time I was just [about broke and] didn't know what to do, I'd go see one of them and they'd always help me get through a lean time. They did it for a lot of artists. Those two ladies, I think, were the two main ones in Oklahoma.

Little Thunder: Some of those early shows were fun, too, weren't they?

Glass: Oh, yeah. They were the best. I remember one time, we were at Doris's, and there was--who's that guy, Wright? What's his name? The architect?


Little Thunder: Frank Lloyd Wright?

Glass: Yeah, [a] Frank Lloyd Wright chair at Doris's. And we were sitting there. Ben Harjo was sitting there, and Connie was sitting there and me. And that chair broke. One of the legs broke off, and that chair slid down this way. I was sitting on the end. When I heard that thing break, I jumped up, but when I did, it tilted and Ben, he just laid his head over like [Gestures]. (Laughter) And everybody was there, all the artists were there. Man, that was funny. I jumped up and he was just leaning on Connie's shoulder. Times like that are what you remember.

Little Thunder: How early in your career were you looking to the Mound building 17:00cultures and ancient Southeastern designs for inspiration?

Glass: Well, after leaving the Institute, researching there, I was going to come back to Cherokee country and get around my people. I had hoped that by doing this field work, I'd run across things and be able to do more research, even out in the field. But [I] found that there was really very few people that was doing the Southeast style, and that kind of amazed me. Anna Mitchell, Cecil Dick were the two key people that I remember that were trying to promote more of a Southeast style, but people were just going their own way. The basketry was always traditional, but some of the beadwork designs and things like that were off a little.


Little Thunder: Not many people were doing pottery aside from Anna Mitchell.

Glass: No. There wasn't a lot of potters at that time, either. But at that point, I just tried to get the people that I was in contact with to research more Southeast, because that's our cultural [heritage]--from Removal times, that's where we were located. From then, I took it on into my own work and [I've] been doing that theme ever since.

Little Thunder: Did it involve book research or were you traveling to some places?

Glass: Book research and visits to mound sites and things like that.

Little Thunder: I was wondering--and you've kind of answered that about Cecil 19:00Dick-- [about ] other people exploring some of those designs.

Glass: Yeah, getting to talk with those guys, actually talk with them and visit with them and have a drink with them. I live in this town, Locust Grove. This is the home of Willard Stone. Getting to go over and see Willard. They were always [people or ones] who I looked up [to] as the generation before me. Those guys were always really open to helping you and doing what they could to encourage you, and that was a good thing. They were good people.

Little Thunder: So you would go and visit Willard Stone fairly often. You guys had a friendship?

Glass: Yeah, I'd stop in and visit and he always had a good joke--

Little Thunder: Were you doing any ceramic sculpture yet? Had he seen any of your sculpture pieces?


Glass: Yeah, I was still trying to do some of my own work and stuff, but he had kind of an open door policy for artists. They could stop by and visit him and see what he was up to. Or just go and visit. Usually [he'd just] talk about gardening, and like I said, he always had a joke. He'd start off the conversation with a good joke. Then you'd look around, see what he was doing. By visiting him, I kind of learned how to do the eyes on my sculpture. I studied his wood carvings and that helped me. I was kind of stuck on the eyes and he helped me--I figured it out from looking at his work.

Little Thunder: I know [eyes are] a challenge in painting. I hadn't even thought about sculpture--

Glass: Yeah, he's really good. You know that show at Gilcrease this last year? 21:00That was excellent. The most Willard Stone pieces that I'd seen.

Little Thunder: You and Connie and Demos went?

Glass: Yes. It was a nice show, nice show.

Little Thunder: Were you doing both pottery and ceramic sculpture from the beginning, or did you start with pottery?

Glass: I was always doing both. There at the Institute, I took a different approach to ceramics from some of the other traditional people. I always used a potter's wheel. And I use an electric kiln. I got a little bit of training before I went to the Institute in ceramics. Frank Simons taught us about glaze 22:00recipes and things at Central State. So, I, at least, knew how to mix formulas and stuff. I wanted to put color into my work. I've got some formulas of my own that I mixed up and--

Little Thunder: You went on to experiment with those glaze formulas at the Institute?Glass: Yes. And developed new ones all through my career. I've developed more and more.

Little Thunder: What kinds of subjects were you doing early on in ceramics? Were you exploring more male figures, female-- Basically what you do now?

Glass: Basically, the same. Male and female both. Mother and child has always 23:00been good--probably for any artist. Seated, standing. Now, I've noticed my work [is] more refined and I'm happy with it. An artist will go through [a phase] where he develops. I've come to the point where I'm not really afraid to tackle much now in the ceramics media. I know its limitations. Truth of materials. There's limits to every material, but it doesn't scare me. It doesn't make me back away from, shy away from some odd projects. So, I like that. I've just done 24:00it long enough, I think.

Little Thunder: For a while, I think I remember at Trail of Tears Art Show, people didn't know what to do with ceramic sculpture in competitive shows, sometimes it would get put in the wrong category. Did that ever happen to you in the early days?

Glass: Well, what I've seen is--take the word "ceramics." When you say "ceramics," people automatically vision in their head these little molds associated with old ladies making these little ceramic chickens or whatever. And casting them. Really, the term "ceramics" just means anything to do with clay. 25:00Mine are one-of-a-kind, hand-built. Or not hand-built. I use machines to make some of the [parts], but a lot of it is by hand. It's a mixture with me. I use the machines I have in different ways, techniques. But there's a lot of hand work involved, and I use an electric kiln. So, I'm a contemporary ceramicist, is all I can say. I'm on the contemporary side.

Little Thunder: When did you start doing Indian Market?

Glass: Right after I left the Institute, I went back and I did Indian Market for about five years. Then I waited a few years, maybe six or seven years, didn't 26:00go. Then I went back in for another stretch, for about five or six years. And right now I'm not going. I'm just kind of hanging out here in Oklahoma.

Little Thunder: You're busy enough. Do you remember some of your awards?

Glass: I think I got a few awards there. I don't think anything major. Third place or something a couple times. There too, at that time, contemporary ceramics, you're going to get beat by traditional pottery. That's their tradition. And it's [the] Southwest, so it's okay. At least I was maybe able to open doors for other artists that want to go on to contemporary art.


Little Thunder: They're much more careful about their categories now.

Glass: Yeah. I kind of see myself as being able to let other people go in any direction they want in ceramics, really.

Little Thunder: What kinds of changes did you see in the Oklahoma Indian art scene during the '80s?

Glass: Once that turquoise boom ended, it got harder times. Really harder times. And that's where I think people like Doris and Linda were able, as professional gallery people, to get their clientele to collect your work and help you survive. That's how it worked for me, anyway. I had to depend on them to draw in the clientele. Then I started doing more independent booth shows where I'd rent 28:00my own booth and retail my own work.

Little Thunder: What were some of the shows you did?

Glass: I did Red Earth for, oh, I don't know, ten, twelve years in a row. And then I was going to [Indian] Market every now and then, during that little stretch. Really, whatever fit into my schedule, my production. Whenever I could produce enough work, I'd start looking for a show.

Little Thunder: So, relying more on the galleries in the '80s was a change. How about the 1990s? Do you remember some of the adjustments in terms of the Indian art scene?

Glass: Just the struggle, I think. Just keep plugging. A lot of ups and downs. 29:00It culled out a lot of artists is what I remember. It kind of separated men from the boys, almost. If you were really going to do it, you'd hang in, and if you were going to pass it off, you'd have to pass it off. That's how I remember that.

Little Thunder: Also, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act was passed in 1990, requiring artists to provide proof of enrollment or be certified by their tribes. Do you remember the impact of that bill on galleries and individual artists?

Glass: Well, how I remember that is, it really divided our tribe, because there was a lot of guys that had been doing art for twenty, thirty years that I come 30:00to find out weren't recognized, or weren't on the Dawes [rolls]. That's the whole fallacy of the deal in our tribe. That Dawes roll was a flawed system of trying to register. And they could have kept registering after that, even, and try to make corrections, but the Cherokees didn't do it that way. And I think some of the best artists got kind of shunned out, and I believe they're Indian. To this day, I still believe they were Indian people. They just weren't on the Dawes roll, so it was a big mess for me.

Little Thunder: Your work has traveled abroad to different collections. Have you done any traveling outside of the country with your artwork?


Glass: No. Shirley Wells took a show once to London, wasn't it?

Little Thunder: I think it was France.

Glass: France, yeah, Shirley. Other than that, I haven't participated in anything outside of the United States.

Little Thunder: The last ten years or so, you've been moving in the direction of larger works and public art, and your son, Demos, is a sculptor who focuses on metal and wood. Can you talk about how it came about that you and Demos first started collaborating? Were you already looking towards doing bigger pieces, or did that come out of the collaboration?

Glass: Well, one of the last things, when I left the Institute, Allan Houser 32:00told me, "Try to think towards doing monumental-scale works." He said, "It's going to come about in Oklahoma, too. Try to start thinking about that." All those years, I kind of felt like I was just surviving as an artist. But I was also honing my skills and my ideas. I always had that in the back of my head to do something larger. So when Demos got a wrestling scholarship--he wrestled [at] Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville [and majored in Fine Arts]. But when he left school, he came back. I'd always told him if he wanted to come back here and become an artist that I'd expand the studio, and we'd share this studio together. And he finally made that decision. When he did, that helped me go to 33:00the next scale size because he was able to build armature systems out of metal, and I was able to fill in spaces with my ceramics, and that helped me go to my monumental- sized works.

Little Thunder: Did Demos get any formal art training or was it mainly from watching you work?

Glass: I kept him around as much as I could in the studio. He went through his athletic phase. He was out playing ball and doing things like that, but pretty much, yeah, I was hoping--I didn't know whether to throw him in the fire or not, but I was kind of hoping. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Can you talk about the public art commission that you did for the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee?


Glass: That was our first one, the first thing. Luckily, we had our facility enlarged, our studio was enlarged to handle a bigger job like that. The RFP, the Request for Proposal, wanted you to develop an art team. They were looking for Cherokees or Creeks because right there was the point of embarkment for the Trail of Tears journey. Right there at that site was a swing ferry, and they used that to swing across the river, and then they had to start walking on the Trail of Tears--it had a historical reference. So, we came up with our plans. I developed a team: Robbie McMurtry, Ken Foster, Gary Allen, myself, Demos and 35:00Wade Bennett. Knokovtee Scott, too, was on there. Then we went down and went through the process. And they selected. We went for an interview and explained our project, and they chose us. We got the job and started working.

Little Thunder: What was your part of the project?

Glass: I was kind of like the manager. And the head ceramicist.

Little Thunder: And what ultimately ended up being installed on the Riverwalk was--

Glass: We did seven, six-foot stainless steel rings with clay insets in them. 36:00We'd never seen anybody do that before, but that was my vision. We had to go and do some research with the kind of adhesives that they use on skyscrapers, that the construction industry uses on their outdoor--like for window panes. We used that kind of caulking and those kinds of industrial glues and things to set the ceramics in, because it was going to be outdoors. But through it, we developed a process of attaching clay to stainless and now, we still use that technique that we developed in my own work, so it was kind of cool.

Little Thunder: Wonderful breakthrough. And the ceramic pieces are bas-relief. Is that right?

Glass: Yeah. I'd purchased an extruder and I never got to use it much. And 37:00finally, on that job, I really used that piece of equipment.

Little Thunder: Were they mainly symbolic designs?

Glass: Yeah, we did a time period thing. The earliest down to the last one to disappear from that region, the last shell-type of work. And different symbols along the wall. So, that was the timeline.

Little Thunder: Have you been back since the [installation]?

Glass: I've been back a few times. The engineers hadn't stabilized one of the walls that our work was hanging on, so a year ago, we had to go down there and remove our artwork, and they went back in and fixed the problems that they had 38:00encountered. Then we went back last year and re-installed again. But I've been back times in between, and one of the things I remember is, that's the place where the board rack guys like to go. The skateboarders. At night, I would go down there, and they'd be there coming through there with their boards and stuff, but I'd notice they'd stop and look at them and admire them and treat them respectfully. So, I would talk to them. I'd say, "Hey, watch out for these at night when nobody's around. You guys are here. You guys help take care of the artwork for me, because I live in Oklahoma." "Yeah, we will, we will." And we haven't had any problem with damage or anything. The people have really taken 39:00our work and taken care of it. That's nice for an artist to feel.

Little Thunder: Yes. You received a commission from the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City, and we have a little model of it that we're going to talk about. You also are working on a commission from the Cherokee Casino in Siloam Springs. Tell me what you're doing for that.

Glass: Right now we're making a Little People village. I'm sculpting some small figures and Demos has helped me do some of the sculpture work, too, but really, his job is to build the cave. When I have a cave, we're going to sculpt the 40:00rocks and everything and build a scene like a diorama for a Little People's village. They'll be doing different activities inside this cave.

Little Thunder: There are a number of tribes that have Little People traditions. Can you explain the Cherokee tradition?

Glass: Oh, probably like a lot of them, they're mischievous and will trick you a little bit, maybe take things--things get lost. But what I researched on ours is that they're really beautiful. That was one of the things, they're really beautiful people. They're really pretty, and they have even got an iridescence to their skin, a little bit of a sheen to them. They're miniature people, but 41:00really pretty, supposed to be. I like that idea. That's one thing that attracts you, that makes you want to follow them.

Little Thunder: Moving into your philosophies and art practices a bit, have you experimented with different types of clay? [I read] you found your source pretty early.

Glass: Yeah, I was lucky. I just happened to be doing a workshop there at Macon, Georgia, at that Mound. There was a Creek girl who was a tour guide, and she told me about this clay outside of town. I went out there and got some and experimented with it, and I've been using Lizella clay from Lizella, Georgia, for thirty years now. It's an alluvial clay. It was washed down during the 42:00glaciers. The glaciers pushed this clay down, formed [it] into clay, so that's what I use.

Little Thunder: [That's] especially neat because of that connection with Cherokee homelands and that older tradition with pottery.

Glass: And at the temperatures I fire it, what I like is, I don't have to do anything to it. It comes out skin-colored without anything added to it. It comes out a nice red/orange, perfect for Indian skin.

Little Thunder: You talked about both using a machine but also hand coiling pots and sculptures. Does it just depend on the form which approach you take?

Glass: Yes. [It's] like using the different equipment to build you a shape or 43:00something, but then you've always got the option to change that shape. One thing I like about clay is you can manipulate it with your fingers. You get to be really hands-on and do things with your hands and change its shape without any tools--just all hands. I like that. It's always amazing to me that you can take something that's easy to manipulate, and then when you fire it and put your glazes and colors on, at the end it comes out something hard and durable. It goes through that metamorphic change process. And that still is like Christmas when I open that kiln up. It's just like, "Oh, man, I made it."

Little Thunder: That's a wonderful point, too, because it is unpredictable 44:00during firing. Do you remember losing a really important piece or a competition piece?

Glass: That's part of being a potter. You lose--but not so much anymore. I did before but I'm getting better.

Little Thunder: I looked at a little turn table and you mentioned you like to do your figurative work on turn tables--

Glass: Yeah, I always heard--I'm not the one that said it, one of the old [sculptors] Michelangelo or somewhere way back said that sculpture has got eight views. [There's] eight different views of a sculpture. That's something that 45:00Allan [Houser] taught us, too. He said, "Work around the piece. Don't get tied up in one area. Don't just do the face or the hands. Work around the piece and let the piece finish itself at the end. It'll all start to come together and get finished toward the end." But that way you can make adjustments from each one of those views to keep it in the shape that you're looking for.

Little Thunder: Without giving away any trade secrets, I wonder if you can talk just a little bit more about how you deal with the eyes of figurative pieces and sculpture.

Glass: Shadows. Shadows, mainly. Instead of the eyeball coming out like a real eyeball, that can be a backwards cut. That would create a shadow to make that 46:00pupil look [like an eye], so it's shadows, mostly.

Little Thunder: I read that the outer limit of a pot is about two feet tall, and I was trying to think, your early clay ceramic figures probably were about two feet tall. Is that a rule of thumb for you?

Glass: I think my kiln is twenty-two inches--my big kiln. Twenty-two inches in height. I can stack some bricks on top of it and get another four inches, but I don't know. I like to keep it around twenty-two. That would be my maximum, but by Demos building me armature systems, what I do is, I puzzle pieces together. I 47:00can make sections and fit them together. That's how I can go twenty-two inches, and then puzzle it together and come out with six foot. It's like a little puzzle.

Little Thunder: How much pottery are you doing these days?

Glass: Right now I'm not doing any. I'm more of a sculptor right now. I was a potter for quite some time, mostly pots. But now I'm doing mostly sculpture. And when you're a potter, for me, anyway, I would throw the pots on the potter's wheel. But then, that was like my canvas. I'd go in and design and put my paints in, not paints, my glazes, and then fire. So, it was like I was creating a 48:00canvas for my designs to go on.

Little Thunder: What I always loved about your design work was it always offered you something but it never got overly busy, it never got to be too much.

Glass: Well, I liked that comment you made one time on some kind of press release. You said that it was like Indian Art Nouveau. I hate to categorize, but it wasn't traditional pottery.

Little Thunder: Let's talk a little bit about your glazes. Everybody associates 49:00a particular shade of blue glaze with your work. Have you always liked blues?

Glass: Blues are just easy. I've got probably four or five different blues. That's one of the simplest glazes, because cobalt just will make a fantastic blue. I've been able to make them from glossy, to matte, to Engobes, on down, so I've got a nice little selection of blues.

Little Thunder: And how about blacks? Do you have also a selection of those?

Glass: Yes. I've got a matte, like an Engobe matte, it's a rough-finish matte. And then I've got a nice glossy black, and it's an Albany slip glaze. Albany 50:00slip--it's been completely mined out. They mined out all the Albany clay, and it's gone. They used it way back in turn-of-the-century pottery, and it's depleted. So, I've got a couple hundred pounds, or about a hundred pounds that I'm hanging on to. Anybody that's got a black pot of mine, that's the end of them at some point. It's coming around at some point, because I can't get the material to make the glaze.

After that Chattanooga Passage deal, two years after that, my son and I entered 51:00the competition for the BOK [Bank of Oklahoma] Arena in Tulsa, and we were chosen through the competition process. Our role was to design four twenty-two foot medallions to go on the floor.

Little Thunder: It was a national competition, right? It wasn't just a state competition.

Glass: Right. So that [was] our assignment. We went up to--Cesar Pelli was the architect. He's one of the top ten in the world, the top-ten list. We went up to their offices at New Haven and got to go tour their model facility there. But that was our assignment to design these floor medallions. And our concept on that was to do--people always hear about the four directions, but also, Cherokee 52:00way, there's three other directions--there's up, middle, and lower, too. So, that comes out to seven. Our concept was to do the design that would represent up above. And then the middle, where the people and animals reside. The lower is where the, kind of, bad guys [reside]. They say it's like we're caught like a turbulent sea. Down here these creatures can make it turbulent for us in the middle. But then, these guys from above can come down and steady us, too. Sometimes these guys are more in power, and sometimes these guys are in more power. So, we're kind of caught in the middle. And we did symbolism to represent that.


Little Thunder: That's wonderful that they chose two Oklahoma artists that are outstanding. Let's talk about your creative process from start to finish.

Glass: Usually something just kind of sticks in my head. Like right now, I would like to do a really tall, slender female with flowing lines. I kind of have something in the back of my mind, and sometimes I'll start it with a sketch. Sometimes I'll just jump right in there and start to manipulate the clay and do the movement with my hands. So, I bounce around.


Little Thunder: You don't feel the need to write everything down if you have an idea. You just kind of carry it in your head?

Glass: I'll make a quick thumbnail sketch in a sketchbook so I don't lose it, forget about it. I've got probably a lot of them in there that I haven't come to use yet. I try to get them down, even if it's in the middle of the night. Sometimes you dream them, so you just have be sure to get out of bed and go over there and draw for a while. And go back to sleep.

Little Thunder: Research. How is it different for a public artwork? How is it 55:00different for these larger commission pieces?

Glass: You assign somebody to be your researcher. I've got so many duties, usually, that I'm tied up. But I've got a good friend that can speak Cherokee and will research for me. And then, you always know everybody. If you're out living in a place like this, you know a few people to ask questions, traditional people that you can check with and find out little stories. They're sharing, so it's not too hard. It's fun.

Little Thunder: And for the installation piece at the American Indian Cultural Center. You go out to the site before you make a proposal? You did that in 56:00Tennessee, as well?Glass: We went for a visit. They showed us the site, as they were working on it, and I got a good idea. We made a scale model here at the shop from their architectural drawings. That's one thing that I've developed through dealing with monumental pieces. I've learned more about how to read architectural drawings and how to use the ruler, the proper equipment to develop scale. So, once we complete something, we're on track. Because you've got to work with an engineer and architects along the way to make sure everything fits at the end.

Little Thunder: You've pretty much stuck to Cherokee subject matter. Is that a conscious commitment to represent your own tribe?


Glass: It is [as Cherokees were a part of the Southeast Ceremonial Complex].

Little Thunder: You also have some people that you are able to hire with larger projects because it's more than a two person job. What are the challenges there?

Glass: Usually the main challenge is meeting the deadline at the end, because once you're contracted, you've got to try to get there on time, because they like to plan the opening. The Chattanooga deal, we finished like half a day before they were ready to start the big hoorah.

Little Thunder: Talk about sweating it!


Glass: I know. The construction guys, too. They got flooded down there and it put them--they lost time. Another good story is when we went there, those guys were really under pressure. The construction guys were under pressure, and they were irritable. So, here we came, and I think they thought that artists were a bunch of sissy guys. We came down there--we about had to fight them a couple times, but we got our work done in four days and left. And we covered the [artwork]. I went back in two weeks to put in a little bit more with Robbie, and those guys, they had taken the covers off. Or the covers had come down. And that had changed those guys' attitude about art. That was refreshing, as an artist, to see how art can speak across cultural boundaries. Visually, through art, you 59:00can cross those boundaries, and they were just, "What can I do for you?" "How can I help you?" That was neat. I really felt moved by that, by those hardnosed construction guys being so polite--changing how it was before.

Little Thunder: An artist's partner always plays a large role in their success. What roles has Connie played in your art throughout the years?

Glass: She's always there to help set up the table and load the truck and sometimes drive me there. And feed my crews if we're working, feed the people. You've got hundreds of jobs that the artist can't do because he's kind of off in 60:00his own zone a lot of times, trying to finish up this or touch up that. And it just takes two.

Little Thunder: I think it's so neat, you were ready to move in this new direction, [and] Demos joining you moved you there faster. What's it like working with your son?

Glass: I live kind of far out here. And while he was in college, I just felt kind of isolated, not to be around artists enough. I appreciated going to the shows and seeing artists then, but a lot of times I was just out there by myself. Now I've got somebody to talk art with. We don't always agree. We have 61:00our little differences of opinion, but we can talk them out and reach a good medium. He's the next generation artist, too. I think that's good for Indian people to have generations of artists. You hear about the Southwest Pueblos having eight generations of potters and stuff. And hopefully the grandson will--I don't know. I can't predict that, but we're trying on him, too.

Little Thunder: What's your creative routine, aside from getting up in the middle of the night to make a note if you need to?

Glass: Usually when I get really busy, I switch to the night shift. I start working at night and sleep up until maybe ten or eleven. It just depends on how 62:00late I work, but I go into the night routine. Just peaceful. I like to use the day for the sunlight, to get light. But mid-afternoon into the late is when I get more work done.

Little Thunder: Looking back on your career so far, what is one of those pivotal moments when you might have gone down one road, but took another instead?

Glass: I think it was right then, when I made my commitment to go to the Institute. I had, probably, a pretty good job, a chance to work my way up. Not that I was going to start at a good job, but a chance to start at a ground level and work my way up. Because it was just the beginning of the computer age, and I 63:00was going to get to work for IBM, and that was the pivotal deal. I said, "No, I'm going to be an artist." That guy said, "You've got to get your hair cut." At the end of the interview, he said, "You've got to get your hair cut." And that's what I think made my decision. I was like, "Nah. I think I'm going to go be an artist." And that was that. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: What has been one of the high points in your career?

Glass: I like that job we did at the Passage, as far as artwork. Because that was our first one and it pushed us to develop, like I said, a new technique. And I had a nice crew of guys working with me. Some days, we'd do so much work 64:00there'd be nothing but clay pieces in that whole studio just stacked--there wasn't room to walk. So, you've got thrilling-- And seven days a week, long hours, twelve-hour, fourteen-hour days, and you just work until exhaustion. Whenever you do something like that, it's not just you. You kind of feel like there's somebody above you helping, too, and so you do a lot of praying and things like that, too, are associated with times like that. So, that was very moving to me.

Little Thunder: What's been one of the low points in your career?

Glass: Probably [being] headed for Oklahoma City and not having hardly any money in your pocket and knowing that you've got to make a payment here and there, and 65:00if you don't make this sale, "What do I do next? We've got to try another gallery, and it's a maybe." And that's where people like Doris, she'd come through. And I'd be able to survive for another month. Many of those, though.

Little Thunder: A lot of artists can relate to those.

Glass: Yeah. Many times, too. And it still can be that way. Our profession is not very stable. We have to work.

Little Thunder: How much of your time do you spend making proposals? Is that still a pretty small percentage?

Glass: Yeah. So, far I've been lucky. I've got four jobs, nice jobs like this 66:00but they're about two years apart, so--

Little Thunder: Gives you something to look forward to and plenty of time--

Glass: Well, about the time you're finishing one--it's not a fast process. It's a slow process. You put something together and it might take the committee six months to eight months, maybe even a year to decide who they're going to choose. It's a slow process to work through. I'm always looking to do some [project] though. I just like working in that scale. The larger scale is really intriguing right now.

Little Thunder: What advice would you have for a young Indian artist today?

Glass: I'd say, "You've got to really soul search and decide. You've got to 67:00throw your hat over the fence and go get it." If they're really young, if they're young enough, go to the Institute. If they want to stay here in Oklahoma, maybe go to Bacone or OU or something, but try to get somewhere where you can feel comfortable. I liked the Institute because the student body is Indians, and everybody made each other feel comfortable there.

Little Thunder: Supportive environment. Is there anything that we've forgotten to talk about or anything you'd like to add?

Glass: No, I think I'm about talked out.

Little Thunder: [Let's have a look] at some of your pieces.

Glass: This is the model for the piece that's going to be at the American Indian 68:00Art and Culture Museum there in Oklahoma City. This is stainless steel. This is 13'6" from here to here. [Gestures] And this is ten foot wide from here to here. This model came out so clean. I was going to put some ceramics work on here, but Demos did such a nice job, and to me showed, it was just too nice to add color to it. So, basically, I helped design the piece but Demos was the guy that was the artist. The head artist. And that happens out here sometimes. Sometimes he's the head guy and sometimes I am.

Little Thunder: This is going to go in the entrance, right?Glass: Yeah, it's going to be right in front of the Welcoming Center. There between the parking lot and the Welcoming Center. This is something that's going to be coming out in 69:00the future. We've got it built and we're just holding it, waiting for the landscaping to take place. So there's that piece. Here's one of my pieces. Like I said, I'm a bit on the contemporary side.

Little Thunder: Do you title all your pieces?

Glass: Yeah. I think this is called "War Bird." The peregrine falcon was the warrior bird symbol for Southeast tribes. This is just like an abstracted version of a silhouette of a peregrine falcon. I tried to use my glazes, but then I got spatial things that [pointing]. I'm hoping to take this one and get it may be cast into bronze. I think it'll look actually better in metal. So that's my goal on this.

Little Thunder: It's wonderful in ceramic, too, and even the tongue is textured, there.


Glass: This is just kind of a contemporary side to some of my work here. I call it "Sky's Portal." This is kind of like a snake design here, then this goes into a sun design. I envision this to represent rain, and then it's got some eye symbols to represent above. And it's just got some hand symbols down here. If I have an idea, it seems like I have to get it out of my system so I can move on to the next one.


Little Thunder: Right. Well, Bill, thank you so much for your time today.

Glass: Thank you, Julie.

------- End of interview -------