By AUDREY JENKINS – STAFF WRITER
When he first stepped onto Centre’s campus in the fall of 1998, Florida native D.H. McNabb ’02 wanted to be a veterinarian or a naturalist.
“I didn’t come to Centre with the intent of majoring in glass. I don’t think a lot of things make sense until after you’ve done them,” he said. “Glass is just something that I stumbled upon. But now, looking back, I realize that in an unintentional way, I definitely came to Centre to find glass.”
After completing four years of glasswork, he graduated from Centre with a Bachelor of Arts in glass. Now sixteen years later, with an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, thirteen shows, eight glass workshops, and a wealth of professional appointments with some of the most famous glass blowers in the world under his belt, he has returned to Centre as the Graduate Fellow for Jones Visual Art Center and Adjunct Professor of Glass.
Before coming to Centre, McNabb had never blown glass in his life.
“My college roommate’s parents went to school with [H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Profess of Art] Stephen Powell and he used to blow on Sunday nights. We were bored so we went down and checked it out,” he said. “Then I signed up to take a class. Lino Tagliapietra came to Centre and I hit it off with him and later I ended up working with him for about eight years … It was just kind of one of those serendipitous things.”
After graduation, he moved around the country and around the world blowing glass. He has blown in studios in New York, Seattle, Findlay, the Czech Republic, Scotland, and Japan. “I always knew that no matter what I ended up doing, I wanted to see the world. Glass has given me that opportunity,” McNabb said.
In 2009, McNabb attended the Rhode Island School of Design to attain his M.F.A.
“Graduate school isn’t exactly necessary, but I wanted to have the ability to teach,” he said.
As a Graduate Fellow and Adjunct Professor of Glass at Centre, McNabb teaches Glass II, III, and IV.
“I like teaching glass because I get to help set good fundamentals, but then I can also help students expose their ideas in a material,” he said. “Glass is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere, yet people rarely consider it. We all depend upon it, but it often passes by unnoticed.”
In addition to teaching, McNabb is involved on campus as the technician of the art facility, assistant to Stephen Powell, and assistant swim coach.
When asked what drew him to glass, McNabb explained that it’s sheer joy and passion for the craft.
“When Lino was here, someone asked him what his favorite piece was. He said, ‘The next one.’ At the time, Lino was probably 65 or 66, and yet every time he sat down at the bench, he was excited,” he said. “And it’s as simple as that. So many people change their jobs over their lifetime, but I wanted to try and find a passion that I could commit my entire life to. Glass is a lifetime pursuit. It’s been a strange ride, to be sure, but it’s been a good one.”
McNabb’s most recent show, a faculty exhibition in the Jones Visual Art Center (JVAC), combines both functional and more “artistic” pieces.
“I just really love the process of creating. At the end of a week, if I’m drinking a beverage out of a glass, whether it be beer, scotch, or milk, I’m thinking of why a certain glass needs to be a certain way. Then I can make it,” he said. “I can make a juice glass be the way I want it to be, a whiskey glass be the way I want it to be. It’s just incredible.”
The philosophy of his show, as McNabb explained it, is “poof.”
“I was just sitting around and thinking about things passing. I was thinking about people that make art, and how they may think that they are making monuments, but really, they are just fleeting ideas. Moments. Everything is a moment,” he said. “You’re a moment, I’m a moment. Centre is a moment. That’s what inspired this whole show.”
McNabb’s philosophy of art in general is very simple. “The only rule in art is awareness,” he said. “It’s a broad rule, but I just think it’s important to be aware of audience, history, and self.”
Although McNabb is clearly an accomplished glass blower in his own right, his pupils also appreciate him for his incredible teaching skills.
“He’s worked with a lot of really famous glassblowers and has a lot of experience,” senior Kayla Ohlmer said. “He’s just a really great technical glass blower, but he’s also really great to talk to about your work. He is very good at helping students to develop their ideas.”
Senior Hannah Lifsey also agreed that McNabb is not only an exceptional artist, but an exceptional teacher.
“[McNabb] is very skilled. He has a very methodical way of working and can tell you step by step what a piece is supposed to look like and how to do it,” she said. “He will show you the process of how to work, and will talk you through forms step by step. He has the technique down and is definitely one of the most skillful glass blowers I’ve ever seen.”
Additionally, McNabb is known for being a patient and understanding professor, one who is both a teacher and a mentor.
“D.H. is just really great because he gets on the level of the students. He’s not that much older than us and he graduated from Centre, so he understands the Centre way of life,” Lifsey said. “When it comes to getting pieces done, he doesn’t stress about it. He always says to make attempts, to try and produce pieces. He is also always willing to show up during your blow slot to help you.”
As much as his students respect and appreciate him, McNabb also appreciates his students.
“My students have taught me how to be patient. It’s also been great to really be able to see how another person looks at something,” he said. “I think it’s really important to help students expose their ideas in the form of glass, so that’s what I try to do.”
When asked what legacy he would like to leave at Centre, McNabb explained that he would like to be able to teach students to embrace the struggle, to refuse to accept no for an answer.
“Glass is difficult. It’s a struggle,” he said. “People enroll in class and struggle, but they come back. And that’s important in some way. The struggle. A lot of students who take glass won’t major in it and maybe they’ll never do it again, but they will understand it. They will enter a gallery or a museum, or they will look through a windshield, and they will understand. Knowledge is power, after all.”
Although he has enjoyed his time at Centre, the graduate fellow position will terminate at the end of the year, and McNabb will be moving on.
“I’m probably in the same boat as most of the seniors here. I just don’t know exactly where I’ll be,” he said. “That’s one of the things that’s hard about what I’m doing. Seattle was pretty comfortable but I wanted to start making my own things and to teach … but ever since then it’s been a journeyman lifestyle.”
He explained that eventually he wants to find a full-time teaching position and have the opportunity to continue producing his own artwork. But in the meantime, anything is possible.
“At the end of the day, you just have to try to leave things better than you found them,” McNabb said. “Quite simply, I just want to do something that at the end of the day, I can look back and smile at. I think that’s the ultimate goal.”