"Out of the Vault: Soundtracks" with Pearl Dick

Making art from glass is time-consuming. It is an undertaking that can unfold over hours, but more often takes place over days, weeks, or even months. A great music playlist can be essential to keeping focused and staying creative. These playlists were the starting point for our exhibition Out of the Vault: Soundtracks. MOG curator Katie Buckingham sat down with Pearl Dick to learn more about her work and creative process.

Pearl Dick working in the Hot Shop during her 2021 residency at Museum of Glass. Photo courtesy of Museum of Glass.

Katie Buckingham: To start things off, I would love to hear more about Bloom and Grow: Tacoma and your residency at the Museum.

Pearl Dick: That whole experience was just so incredible. You guys are amazing. The [Hot Shop] Team is amazing. Your facility is amazing. I do a lot of work with young people here in Chicago. My crew is often just learning to blow glass, and we are usually working on their projects. To just immerse myself and be my own artist for a week was incredible. Everyone was just there to make my wildest dreams come true. 

KB: It must be so challenging to switch between your administrative-brain, mentoring-brain, and artist-brain.

PD: It truly is. I am constantly switching gears here and it can be hard to focus on my own work. Having said that, I consider the work that I do here with Firebird Community Arts and Project FIRE [Fearless Initiative for Recovery and Empowerment] a huge part of my practice. Bloom and Grow came out of the idea of community building and nurturing each other. Working with youth and running a public access studio is such a big part of what I do. It is incredible and enriching. Giving a lot to others adds so much to my life. That growth inspired Bloom and Grow.  

I'm really excited you decided to keep this piece in the Museum’s collection. To me, it embodies both being there and in-the-moment, while also representing the importance of community to my life as an artist.

KB: That is so great! There was so much energy in the Hot Shop that week.

PD: Yeah! I grabbed anybody who came through the Hot Shop and had them make a flower. So many people from our community: Brent Rogers. Nick Davis. Gabe [Feenan] really geeked out on the flowers. I even grabbed Kristin Elliot out of the Cold Shop and had her do a flower. It’s just so fun seeing everyone make their own little part of this bigger piece.

Pearl Dick (American, born 1977). Bloom and Grow: Tacoma, Made at the Museum in 2021. Blown and hot-sculpted glass; 24 × 9 1/2 × 10 1/2 in. (61 × 24.1 × 26.7 cm). Collection of Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington, gift of the artist (VA.2022.24). Photo courtesy of Museum of Glass.

KB: I love that almost as much as I love your playlist.

PD: Yeah, my playlist is a “greatest hits” of a bunch of different playlists. Lots of different folks from Chicago. Some who I know personally and some who I just love listening to. But it’s not all-inclusive. I love classical music, but didn’t put any on there. I'll get into a mood – sometimes it's a David Bowie week or a showtunes week. This week, I am listening to all techno.

We have music almost always playing in the hot shop. You can probably hear them in the background right now. Sometimes you can even hear me singing while I work.

Pearl Dick sculpts a piece from the Bloom and Grow series in her studio, Firebird Community Arts. Photo courtesy of the artist.

KB: Is the music mostly an energy thing? It can be a long day to make your work.

PD: Yes, it definitely makes the day more enjoyable. I think music is one of the most direct ways that people can appreciate art, because you can feel it without needing to understand it. It is so individual, and can really transport you, affect your mood, or reflect how you are feeling. I had so much fun putting this playlist together. It was a nice exploration of me in the moment. It very much reflects how I am feeling right now and who I am.

KB:  Other than music, where do you look for inspiration?

PD:  Mostly nature. I like to be outside and will often just go on a walk, usually with my dog, if I need to clear my head. I also read a ton, especially poetry. I’m fascinated by people who can make art from words. Mary Oliver has always been a favorite of mine. I will also read ancient Chinese poetry – there are often lots of natural references that resonate with me.

KB: Where do you turn if you are stuck and seeking inspiration?

PD: Man, I just draw. Even if it is total garbage, I'll just keep drawing and drawing, letting stream of consciousness take over. If that doesn’t work, sometimes I will switch it up and play on my guitar or practice my piano. I try to continue being creative in any way, shape, or form. Fortunately, I don't have to make my living on selling physical art pieces, so I can take a break and do other stuff. Then, when I feel inspired, I can come back and work again.

KB: Is that the same advice you'd give your students?

PD: Yes. I am always saying to them, Go get your sketchbook, sit down, and draw. Take a walk, listen to your favorite song. Think about how you're feeling and write it down, or just get into the hot shop and make a cup. Just go, get active, and see where that takes you.

Pearl Dick collaborating with Project FIRE students. Photo courtesy of the artist.

KB: What's next for you and your work?

PD: I am working with the staff at Firebird and students from Project FIRE on a collaborative project for the City of Chicago. We were commissioned to make a series of glass bricks to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the 1919 Race Riot in Chicago. Each brick will have images related to the riots, and they will be placed around the city to raise awareness on this horrific, but still little-known, event that is still one of Chicago’s single most violent incidents. These riots are a part of our standard school curriculum, but we haven’t made very much progress – there is still violence going on in our communities today with redlining and police brutality.

KB: What a powerful project! When did you start working on it?

PD: I started working on this with my students over Zoom in 2020. We started reading, researching, and watching videos to prepare to start designing.

KB: Wow, 2020. What a year to start.

Totally. It was truly crazy. We could talk about this historical event and really see its echo in  what was happening in the present day. Some of my young folks were like “Wait a second, are we talking about the riots this year?” It was like “No, this happened 100 years ago, and we’re still addressing the same issues.” It’s been an incredible educational opportunity for me, and for our city.

Check out Pearl Dick’s playlist on Spotify and visit us at Museum of Glass to see more of our collection featured in Out of the Vault: Soundtracks.

You can learn more about Pearl’s studio, Firebird Community Arts, at https://www.firebirdcommunityarts.org.

Visit http://www.pearldick.com to see more updates from Project FIRE.

About the Artist

Pearl Dick is a glass artist and community builder based in Chicago, IL. She is the artistic director of Firebird Community Arts and co-founder of Project FIRE, a program designed to promote healing through glassblowing for young people who have been injured by gun violence.

Pearl has been working with glass for over 20 years and shows her work in galleries and museums around the country. She was honored to have recently been a Visiting Artist at Museum of Glass while her work was included in Transparency, a group exhibition at the museum comprised of LGBTQIA+ glass artists.

Along with creating artwork that speaks to human connection, Pearl is a dedicated teacher and activist advocating for greater access, diversity, and inclusion in the glass community.

Bryn Cavin