White-capped blue waves rushing to golden sand. Red buoys guiding boats along. Seagulls calling overhead and the sound of the waves washing along the shore.

These sights and sounds remind us of the beach. Evoking a sense of place, of being there, is what artist Brent Cole seeks.

Brent Cole

Cole’s “Red Right Returning” installation.

“It has been said that with art usually we tell a lie to get at the truth,” says Associate Professor of Glass Cole, who directs The Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass. “I was interested in the idea of perception and how many different ways I could talk about a particular space, even to try to invoke it, without actually being in that space. I created this large installation that was different reiterations of trying to capture the essence of that place.”

Cole’s installation included video, drawings, and glass elements that represent being in the bay. He also included the sound of water lapping. “The idea is that the work unfolds as the viewer walks through it, and thus the viewer becomes a really integrated part of the piece,” he says.

In contrast to the open-concept, room-filling glass buoys, a tiny poolside setting resides in a suitcase.


Cole’s “In Your Own Backyard”

The idea for the suitcase came to Cole from a flea market find – a swimming pool salesperson’s case. “I remember growing up in the Midwest. Everybody wanted a pool, but they were such a pain to maintain and you had only two months to enjoy them,” Cole says. “I was interested in the irony of the suitcase being really heavy because of these solid glass pools. The pools were simulating this idealistic experience that everybody wanted, but the reality was that it wasn’t worth it.”

His current body of work, with themes of water and buoys, was strongly influenced by his six years in Florida. Now that he is back in the Midwest, he plans to move on to a new body of work that fits better with the area’s agricultural and industrial background.

To help him make the transition, Cole was awarded an ASPiRE Creative Arts grant. With this, he plans to research the glass communities in Sunderland, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland, and attend a conference and workshop at North Lands Creative Glass in Lybster, Scotland.

Sunderland and Lybster, like Muncie, were industrial cities that have seen a sharp decline in production. Indiana is known for its history in the glass industry, from the company in Kokomo that produced material for Tiffany’s creations to the Ball Corporation’s canning jars. In the two European cities, an interest in exploring the possibilities for creating glass beyond a factory setting has helped arts communities start and flourish.

“My hopes are to look at some of the situations, think about my work in context to that type of situation and then think about any opportunities or possibilities in northeast Indiana where the arts can potentially change some of the cultural landscape. It is a matter of identifying what will align with a specific place,” Cole says.

Brent Cole

Brent Cole working in the studio.

Another benefit of Cole’s overseas travel is the connections he will make, which will in turn help his students and the community around Ball State. “The Glick Center for Glass has invited the community to demonstrations by national and international artists and scholars. By getting out to North Lands and using the grant, the hope is that I can meet other people we can engage with and bring to Muncie.”

The glass community is highly collaborative and supportive, and Cole wants his students to experience and appreciate all the facets of working with glass.

In particular, he notes that his students often prefer hot glass working, thus viewing other methods with disdain, as chores needed to make their work from the hot shop presentable. Cole says he thinks his students could particularly benefit from a program in Poland. That program has a long tradition of solid working and cold working and has a studio manager dedicated to each subdiscipline.

“It will be great to send students over to that program for a semester. They have a completely different perspective on those types of processes, and the students can bring those cultural experiences and ideas back to the students here,” Cole said. “We try to actively send our students out to summer programs so that they get a different perspective, a new way of working and the ability to bring that back to the larger dynamic. So we see the international exchange as an extension, a way to really have a different influx of ideas and allow the students to have different experiences.”