Stephen Hodder's Words of Wisdom
"The Road to Spencer Brook Studio"
I began my career in glass art at the Bucks County Community College in PA, in 1975. I had been studying physics and math for two years but I had always had a fantasy, that one day I would run off, buy a beret and become an artist. In the fall of 1975, I realized that I was not going to find the answers I was seeking about life and the world in physics and math. Not that they weren’t there for the finding, but it wasn’t happening for me. Anyway, I bought that beret and I was off.
I studied glassblowing, stained glass, and drawing for a year at the community college and then went on to the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia where I studied glass with Jon Clark and fiber with Adela Akers. I owe both of these teachers a great deal. I would not have survived the first year at Tyler, without Adela, who pried me away from my dependence on technique and made me open myself to bigger ideas. Glassblowing had come very easily to me and I thought I could ride that train into my future. Weaving technique is so simple that I couldn’t hide behind the mantra, “I’ll have something to say as soon as I learn a little more about how to handle the material”. Jon also demanded much more that the acquisition of technique. He also helped me build a work ethic that sustains me to this day. Jon did not breed dilatants. He made us decide when our work was good and when it was not. This gave me the confidence and independence that one must have to have any hope of success as a professional artist.
With Jon’s help and recommendations, I went on to the University of Minnesota where I got my Masters of Fine Arts Degree with Tom Lane and Curt Hoard. Tom’s influence was invaluable. He was a student and a fan of Post-Modernism. I had some serious doubts about many of the assumptions of Post-Modernism. However if I was ever to articulate those doubts, I first had to understand what the Post-Modernists believed. The thing that I got from Tom and which became a cornerstone of my own process was that the foundation of fine art is the idea. Without the idea, art is just decoration, which is fine if that’s what your after, but there is a difference. The other important thing that stayed with me from my exposure to post modernism and more specifically minimalism is that beauty lies in simplicity. Anything that is both true and important can be expressed in simple terms.
I choose to do three things. I make fine art. My art has been based on many different ideas but they have always been ideas that I believe are important ideas. To be fine art, an image or object must express something that is part of the universal human experience and is timeless. I also make decorative art. Things that decorate your home and bring beauty to your environment. Things you pick out because they go with the couch. (If you buy a piece of fine art that doesn’t go with the couch, get a new couch). I also make craft. Glasses, bowls, goblets, and other things that you can use, that work well and are beautiful.
In addition to those mentioned above I owe a great deal to many others from whom I learned many things. Students I worked beside, students I taught and who taught me, art dealers, collectors, friends and my family. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and everything and everyone I have ever loved, has been part of making me who I am and my art what it is.
After I got my Masters degree in 1982, I moved into a cooperative studio, Semi-Automatic Art Glass, owned by Andy Shea and Mike Jones. This was a stroke of good fortune as I had a lot of shows lined up, but no place to make the work and no money to build a studio. I worked in that shop until 1989 when I moved to Princeton, MN and built my own shop.
I built my shop, Spencer Brook Studio, with money I had inherited from my mother and with the help of my mother-in-law and father-in-law, Harriet and David Gustafson. (Sometimes it seems that the only thing longer than my resume is the list of people that I could not have done it without.) I got to the point where I could support my own studio with the help of many art dealers. The most important of which were Rick and Ruth Snyderman of the Works gallery of Philadelphia, Bill Struve of Frumkin and Struve Gallery of Chicago and Ferdinand and Linda Hampson of Habatat Galleries of Detroit MI, and Miami FL. Since 1990, I have been represented primarily by the very steadfast and loyal, Bonnie Marx and Ken Saunders of Marxs Saunders Gallery of Chicago IL.
These days, I am less of a workaholic than I used to be. I make 6-12 carved pieces a year to show in galleries. This may not seem like a lot of work, but I have always believed that part of the process of making art is an interior process, which like so many things in life, cannot be forced or hurried. As a younger person, I often put a great deal of energy into forcing this process. I don’t do that anymore. It is not a matter of waiting for the muse to move me, but is rather a matter of thinking things through and allowing an idea to mature to the point where it is worth taking the time and effort required to actualize the idea into the object.
Part of my time is spent designing and blowing functional glass vessels and objects. I have always loved the process of blowing glass and the magic of the material. I have also always loved to dance and glass has proved to be a satisfying although sometimes unforgiving partner. My hope is that these functional objects get used by and bring beauty and pleasure to those who own them. Most of my neighbors cannot afford to buy my large plates and domes and this other work gives me a way to be a meaningful part of my community and a way for my community to think of me as “their artist” and to be of real value to my neighbors. This aspect of my career has brought me at least as much pleasure as any one-man show or museum placement ever could
The rest of my time is taken up by being a husband and father, enjoying my country home, my friends and my hobbies. I try to never forget how lucky I am to have the opportunity to live this nearly ideal life of being an artist and to be grateful for everyone who has helped and continue to help to make it all possible.