Tuesday, April 29, 2008


All this recent biking is making the city seem mighty small—and the boundaries between neighborhoods a whole lot less definitive. We’ve learned we can be downtown in just over 30 minutes, to Bridgeport in about 45, and deep in the heart of Evanston in less than an hour. That’s a whole lot quicker than the train, with better scenery and a built-in excuse for a hearty meal.

For this reason, a trek of just 15 minutes makes it feel we haven’t left the neighborhood at all, so we absorb whatever wonders we may stumble across as a borrowed extension of home. Take, for example, Chicago Hot Glass: a truly bad-ass art studio in an old brick manufacturing building about, say, 15 minutes away by bike. This is an area without a name, a district not yet appropriated by the real-estate industry or Chicago souvenir map-makers. It’s about halfway between us and West Garfield Park. Someone living to the east might call it halfway between them and Oak Park. That’s about as specific as it gets.

But this lack of spatial ‘governance’ sort of fits the glass-blowers, who seem pretty rootless and free-riding themselves. The studio has become a second home, where they make art and throw parties and generally and productively occupy space. Recently they added a metal-works initiative, which may be about the most punk rock thing I’ve ever actually seen in person (apologies to Nonagon, of course).

On a recent ride back from the Garfield Park Conservatory, John and I popped over to the side yard of the studio, where a guy named Marshall was readying the fire cans for a pour later that night. He saw us peering into the fence and came to say hello. His first question: “Are you guys from the neighborhood?”

From the neighborhood . . . This was clearly a guy after my own heart. Because there’s something about that whole idea—neighborhood—that’s familial and empathic in ways sometimes even bloodlines fail to be. It unites people who may have literally nothing in common besides the street they live on. In obsessives like myself, it’s a living, breathing organism: a thing unto itself, much prettier and grander than the sum of its parts. And for those who hold it dear, it’s positively kindred. For that split second, Marshall was our friend. He had our backs and we had his. We trusted each other, as we trusted the circumstances that had brought us together on exactly that same patch of concrete at exactly that moment, to talk about metal. In our own quiet ways, we wanted more.

So it was no surprise when he told us they’d be pouring some bronze later and invited us to come by if we were around. Almost tragically, we already had plans. But it’s not a huge stretch to think there might be a next time.


tracy said...

I like that these guys are not jaded and still see bronze pouring and something special to watch!

Diana Sudyka said...

initially when i saw the photo i thought that this was in our neighborhood, as we have a glass studio 3 blocks from our house. wah ha! - we have one too!

Robyn Nisi said...

I assume you didn't say, "Hey, bros--care to whip up a water pipe for me and my old man?"

Many thoughts of Widespread Panic right now.

Heh heh.

kkurtz said...

I'm now yearning for simpler, bygone days of my misspent youth.
especially after the oh-so-grown-up week I've just had.

AlisaB said...

I went there for a 3 hour class once. It was a blast! Definitely worth trying if yiou have the time.