The School of Art and Design is home to nationally renowned programs, but growing popularity and limited resources are forcing students and faculty to think outside the box

By Gus Bode

The hollow, metal rod in Andrew Hesed’s hands is constantly moving, rolling from the tip of his thumbs, down the shaft of his forefingers and over and over and over again. At the end of the rod is a small glob of molten glass – the groundwork for what will soon become a large vase.

Hesed, a senior studying glass from St. Louis, is part of a demonstration for an advanced glass class. At any time, as many as 10 other students are helping Hesed with the vase, whether it be blowing into the metal rod to expand the bubble at the other end, manning a blowtorch to keep the temperature of the piece evenly distributed or slyly handing him tools he uses to gently shape the glass.

The small room tucked away in Pulliam Hall is hot, crowded with onlookers’ constantly dodging Hesed’s helpers. One wrong move, and a blob of molten glass could burn into someone’s forearm. There is no room for mistakes, even if there were room to move.


Since the School of Art and Design expanded its glass program seven years ago to include an undergraduate degree, enrollment in the program, which is nationally renowned, has skyrocketed.

Not only is SIUC one of 30 schools nationwide that offers undergraduate degrees in the discipline, it is also one of only 15 glass programs in the nation to offer a master’s degree.

The program, which less than a decade ago struggled to recruit students, now has problems accommodating them all, which is made all the more obvious during a period when University budgets are being slashed across the board.

And while departments across campus are feeling the pinch, the needs of the School of Art and Design go beyond the need for additional funding, simply because of the nature of many of the programs.

“More than anything, I think what we are really suffering from is a lack of space,” said Harris Deller, director of the School of Art and Design.

“The needs on this campus are so great for everyone, people tend to think their own roof is the only one leaking, and it is very difficult to say what I need in metal smithing is more important that what someone needs in the Spanish Lab. But, we have to think about health and safety and right now, we just can’t grow anymore.”

Southern is the only state school that doesn’t have a dedicated facility for art. Instead, studios, computer labs and shops are divided among nine different facilities.


The Allyn Building houses administrative and advisement offices as well as the Art Education and Art History programs. The Quigley Building accommodates the main computer lab, and the Design Barracks is the central location for Communication Design and Industrial Design courses. Pulliam Hall has studios for ceramics, glass, metalsmithing and blacksmithing programs and a woodshop and private studios for graduate students.

The Glove Factory, 438 S. Washington St., is a recently renovated facility used for exhibition space and houses the Sculpture program. The Foundry houses metal casting facilities as well as graduate student studios and undergraduate classes is sculpture.

Glass and metals students divide their time between Pulliam and one of two houses located on Oakland Street. The Glass House functions as a cold shop, classroom and has graduate studios, and the Metals House contains studio space for graduates.

Jay Cummings, a graduate student who teaches a glass survey course, said on some days he has to divide one class period between a classroom in Pulliam, and the cold shop in the Glass House.

“I will be in Pulliam for one half of the class, then I have to run over to the cold shop for the other half,” Cummings said. “It’s really awkward and inevitably, someone gets left out.”

Because space is so tight, Jason Roberts, a visiting assistant professor who is running the glass department while the search for a full-time instructor continues, said he is forced to turn away many students who want to enter the glass program.

“There is an advantage to that in that we select the hardest working and most dedicated students,” Roberts said. “But, a lot of times, they don’t deserve to be turned away.”

To combat space issues in the blacksmith studio, Rick Smith, an associate professor, wrote a grant and was awarded $192,000 to expand the shop seven years ago. He asked administrators to match that amount, which they did and an addition was built onto the shop, complete with new machinery.

“The director and the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts have been instrumental in making this environment better and more productive and I think a lot of the times they are as limited in what they can do as we are in what we want to do,” Smith said.

But not all of the facilities are so easily expandable, and Deller says the school has petitioned for a new building to help ease the space restrictions and centralize the art programs.

“I wish I could solve this problem, but I’m not sure it is a problem as much as a state of being,” Deller said. “Who knows, right now it seems like a dream and it may not happened during my tenure here. But, even if we had larger, better facilities, we couldn’t keep expanding. People have a tendency to think that if we have more students we can just cram them in. But where? And who are we taking away from by doing that? More students don’t equal more money, space or faculty, and we are vastly understaffed as it is.”

In addition to chairing the School of Art and Design, Deller also serves as the head of the ceramics program. Double duty, he says can be difficult and stressful, but is something that must be done.

“I think in a lot of ways, we have grown to accommodate students and the expense of faculty,” Deller said. “But the faculty here do it out of a passion or love for what we do. Our commitment to students is to give them a strong education that will enrich their lives, irregardless if they work in what they or majoring in or go on to other paths in life.”

Deller said the school is searching for eight faculty members, including a second person to instruct metals classes and someone to run the glass program, which Roberts took over when Che Rhodes left last semester.

Rhodes, who headed the glass program since 1999, is now an assistant professor of glass at the University of Louisville.

“It’s a draining job,” Deller said. “Che practically made the program what it is today, but for how long could he have done that? How long could he pour all of his energy into it? How much can one person do as they get older? Prosperity shouldn’t be achieved at the expense of people.”

In addition to being understaffed, faculty face similar space restrictions as students and some faculty do not have private studios. And since faculty and students often share the same space and materials, Roberts said it is important to keep a healthy group dynamic because everyone has to share the same facilities and equipment and responsibilities, something he said Rhodes was an expert at.

“If they dynamic is not maintained, you can not operate effectively as a professor.”

So far, it seems as if the dynamic is just find, and many students say the atmosphere of studio work at SIUC is what encouraged them to study here.

“This is pretty much the best shop in the country,” said Bill Price, a grad student in blacksmithing. “It’s not necessarily the largest, but it’s the best equipped, as far as materials and professors. It’s because of what alumni and former professors have accomplished that I am here.”

Emily Hillard, a senior studying general studio work, expressed similar feelings while working in the ceramics shop.

“I heard it was a laid back atmosphere and other people who have been here had a lot of good things to say,” Hillard said. “I went to Columbia in Chicago, and they provided a lot, but I don’t feel the teachers cared as much, here, they will do anything they need to for you.”

But, as Roberts and Smith point out, there is only so much a person can do when budgets are tight.

You can only whine so much

Smith steadily pounds a sheet of steel, pushing the sheet down onto an anvil with one gloved hand as he raises and lowers a small hammer in the other.

The sound of the objects hitting each other is piercing and Smith points to his ear protectors and shouts, “This is why blacksmiths are always yelling.”

According to Deller, the metals department is allotted $9,500 a year for consumable materials, which includes metal and coal. And while most of the metal used is bought at nearby scrap yards to save money, Smith estimates that as much as $500 dollars a semester is spent on coal alone, which is used to heat and shape metals and a similar amount is spent on gasses.

“The problem is overall, we have a small operating budget,” Smith said. “But we make do as best we can.”

The blacksmith program, like others in the School of Art and Design, has a Registered Student Organization, the Southern Illinois Metalsmith Society, which helps raise money for daily expenses. Often, Smith said the group will raise enough money by selling wares the students make to match what is given to them by the department each semester.

There is a similar group for the ceramics program, called Southern Clay Works, which has a sale on April 20, and for the glass program, called Southern Glass Works.

In addition to paying $20 a semester for each blow slot to SGW and dues for the group, students must also buy their own glass, and color for the glass. Dues support daily expenses in addition to sponsoring visiting artists and sending students to special events and conferences.

Roberts said the group aims at raising $10,000 a year, primarily through its’ Christmas sale, and is often successful at doing so. He said the group has to raise the money because the department’s operating budget doesn’t quite cover the price of glass, equipment, tools and repair costs.

“Every department can bitch and moan, but you can’t just stop your feet and hold out your hand and say ‘We need more,'” Roberts said. “We have to make it happened on our own, we have to help our selves out, and in a way, I think that is built into the mentality of an artist.”

Deller said this year, the glass department is allotted $16,000 a year for consumable materials and the ceramics department is allotted $11,500 a year. Roberts said previous year’s budgets were leaner, averaging around $10,800 for the last four years. Additionally, he said the department will spend as much as $12,500 on glass making materials in a given year.

But there is a general fund that pays for other expenses, such as repairing furnaces and kilns, which the ceramics department is almost finished doing.

“As far as upkeep of equipment and such, the money is kept centralized, which I believe allows us to deal with demands in a much more equitable way,” Deller said. “This way, we can put money where it will do the most good.

“Sometimes I think people forget what goes into creating something,” Deller said. “And, to an extent society interacts into that. As a University we have to answer to tax payers and there will always be more money available for research. And, sometimes that is hard to swallow even though both have their place. But, I think we are doing OK. I won’t say we wouldn’t take more money, but we are still successful, and I think that is a testament to the work the students and faculty put in to what they are doing.”

And while students also feel the pinch of a tight budget, some pay more than $100 a month for supplies ranging form paint, to clay to metal, most simply focus on what needs to be done.

“You don’t worry about it,” Smith said. “You think about how this metal will shape or bend.”

Roberts agrees that the studio work itself keeps students and faculty from focusing on the negative.

“We are all dedicated to the material for it’s inherent qualities, we share a passion for it.” Roberts said. “Yet we have all learned to work together and that positive group dynamic can carry any department through budget crisis, equipment failure or in our case, a professor search.”