“We have hands, We have human nature”

Recently a sad event occurred in Oregon’s arts community.  Emeritus PSU Professor and ceramist Raymond Grimm passed away. Raymond  Grimm taught jewelry and ceramics for over 30 years.  In addition to his teaching, after studying with top people in the emerging field, he also started the first glass making studio in the state of Oregon. The “glass shack” as it was called was constructed on PSU’s campus. His passing is not sad in the sense that his life’s work and passion remain hugely impactful on the artisan glass industry in this region and beyond.  Most area artisan glass businesses can be traced back directly to him, his innovative grass roots studio, and the influential pioneers of the hot glass movement whom he trained under. A short list of notable connections includes Jerry Bosco and Ben Milligan ( Bosco Milligan Foundation),Tony Parker, Eric Lovell ( Roboros Glass), Dan Schwoerer ( Bullseye Glass), Jim Kingwell ( Ice Fire, Cannon Beach), Buzz Williams (Alder Creek Glass Gleneden OR), Chris Corcoran ( McMenamins Edgefield), Bruce Stoner (Hawaii), and Dan Kelly,( Kyoto and NYC).
I only had the privilege of meeting Raymond and his wife once, but had planned and hoped to see them again to further our discussion.    Jere Grimm, Raymond’s wife and fellow artist contacted aei as she really appreciated the spirit of the Brew to Bikes book, especially the social and communal ethic of the artisan economy.  We met back in November of this year only a few months before Raymond passed away.  MJ Bang, a fellow AEI contributor and I spent a delightful afternoon talking with the Grimm’s. Drinking tea from pottery cups made by our hosts, in their beautiful warm home, full of art and family pictures. The basement is in itself a gallery of pottery and glass I’d pay admission to attend.   As we talked they weaved together a story of their lives; art, work, glass, passion, success, frustration, teaching, children, love, friends, joy.   In that way couples who have long loved one another do, the telling of their stories overlapped, both of them talking about their perspectives of events at the same time, producing a rich connection and shared experience of what they believe is important.  I have a strong sense that Raymond could not have had the success he did if not for his supportive spouse.
Grimm is considered by most as “the founding father of pottery in Oregon.” In his obituary he was  is noted as the “beloved art professor, [ who] initiated and embodied the essence of Portland’s current colorful charm and mystique” I feel honored and awed by the fact that I was able to be present  for a personal telling of his story.

Raymond felt truly called to make art; he stated “the real artist needs to make art.  Some people are good at what they do; but that is different.” Jere commented that his nature is what made him a great artist, his need to be focused entirely, in the moment, on the work.  He became deeply involved not only in creative process, but in the materials with which he was working. Materials often became the subject of the work.  He wanted most to bring out the potential of the medium with which he was working, allowing for it’s aesthetic qualities to be most obvious and pronounced in the artwork.

“Glass is beautiful and enchanting. …, clay too amazed me”.  Raymond said. An important theme in the artisan economy which we discussed at length–  the idea of authenticity—is the idea that the artist passes something of themselves into their work.  Raymond said that “Some people don’t get involved in the thing; with others you can see their life experiences, their heart and soul.”  Raymond went on further to describe the importance of working with ones hands and honoring materials, not only for the sake of personal artistic fulfillment but also for social or the communal aspects. He talked about the Arts and Crafts movement, mentioning John Ruskin and William Morris and Soju Hamadi. These people saw that the machine and mechanized ways of doing things were beginning to overtake culture. They saw handcraft as delivering a message that that would not be the case.  According to Raymond,  “we have hands, we have human nature.”  This philosophy of creation which lends toward sustainability underpinned his work and influenced his process and the culture of not only glass art but Portland in general. This notion of human hands and human nature for Raymond went beyond the art world’s value for iconography and interpretation of symbols; it was more about the principle of work being done having integrity and being a fundamental expression of humanity.   This principle created the atmosphere of freedom and experimentation at Grimm’s glass shack. According to Raymond, “the glass shack is a place where this all came together.”

Raymond excitedly explained to us that “Art excited the hell out [me]”! His enthusiasm for his work was contagious and allowed others to share in his excitement. Jere said that his flexibility and lack of going by the book made it possible for him to help people be involved (in the Glass Shack).  He was not interested in the bureaucratic details, or getting money, over and above what he needed, he just wanted to make art.
Raymond was fortunate enough to have been trained by some of the best people working in new field of glass arts at that time. He attended workshops with Harvey Littleton and Dominick Albino who are considered the Founders of the American studio glass movement.  Inspired by these experiences, he started the first glass making studio in the state Oregon. The “glass shack” as it was called was constructed on PSU’s campus. Though students never formerly signed up for classes in glass making and Ray never received payment for work being done in the glass shack many people came and studied there in the late 1960s and 1970.  Raymond simply invited students from his ceramics glass to learn about glass.
As an unofficial program, resources were tight. Due to this lack of basic materials an interesting occurrence connects Grimm with green movement in Portland at PSU. Portland’s recycling efforts can be traced back to the fall of 1970 when Jerry Powell, a student, started a recycling center on the Portland State University campus called the Portland Recycling Team (PRT). It was Powell who provided Grim with beer and liquor bottles which could be used in the glass making process and were much less expensive than other supplies.   Most everything done at the glass shack came from donation. Raymond fondly remembered the willingness to chip in and the smarts of the people involved.

The glass shack offered Oregonians an environment to develop skills in the ground breaking work that was being done in creation of studio art glass. Ray and his team (a series of smart students, he had a talent of attracting them) built their own equipment. There was fascinating range of production flat glass, marbles, vases, people brought all kind of things to it, According to Raymond, “it was astounding”.
He talked about his love of teaching and the learning he experience about his own craft from working with his students.  “Differences are good from the perspective of teaching. Even if you don’t find something esthetically pleasing doesn’t mean it isn’t part of a meaningful artistic process and it’s hard to judge sometimes.  You can tell though when “something” is there.”
Raymond’s impact on the Portland was vast. His work, particularly with the glass shack was a fertile ground for what produced Portland’s artisan culture and it’s thriving economy.   He was truly a catalyst for what I love about Portland. I feel honored to have met him.


3 thoughts on ““We have hands, We have human nature”

  1. Thank you for writing this post on your blog! Ray Grimm is my grandfather and has been one of the biggest inspirations in my life. I am currently a MFA student in ceramics at Louisiana State University, I don’t think I could have gotten here without my amazing encouraging grandparents.

    Check out his memorial blog that my uncle Eric put together http://www.raygrimm.blogspot.com/

    thank you again for the post!

    Autumn Higgins

  2. Pingback: Remembering my Grandfather Raymond Grimm | Autumn Higgins Ceramics

  3. From Raymond’s Wife and fellow artist Jere:
    Tracy: Wow! That was a terrific piece of writing – so well thought out
    and faithful, I believe , to Raymond’s ideas. We’re (the whole family) so grateful to you and your efforts. Many many thanks. To make that discussion about the glass a little more complete, I might suggest an slight expansion on the role Dan Schwoerer played, He had just come from the graduate program in glass at University of Wisconsin when Harvey Littleton was teaching (and where Dale Chihuly was trained)and had gotten a rich experience with glass equipment construction there. So he brought that knowledge to the PSU glass shack and I believe constructed either another furnace or a lehr for them. If there is anything more you think of that I might contribute, I’d love to talk further. I will be here til the 30th of the month – traveling for three weeks and then back pretty much for good.
    Thanks again Tracy – Ray really loved talking with you and MJ. Regards,

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