A Greater Boston native, I'm a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. I'm co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), art director of Art New England magazine, senior contributor for The Arts Fuse, and am the Boston area dance critic for the international Fjord Review. I recently completed a one-year term as co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Council, and am regularly hired as an arts advocate to speak at events ranging from legislative assemblies at the State House to entrepreneurial panels for students at Mount Holyoke College. This blog serves as a behind-the-scenes peek into the life and journal of an interdisciplinary artist. Learn more at merliguerra.com or luminariumdance.org, and thank you for reading my thoughts on setting the visual and performing arts into motion.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Kinetic Craft Residency in Review

For my 2017 Cultural Community Outreach Project (the 6th project in this annual series), I successfully created a residency for Luminarium at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton for the entire week of April school vacation. Every day from 10am to 5pm, Tuesday, April 18 through Sunday, April 23, 2017, five company members performed throughout the museum, personifying each of the museum's five crafting elements in a project we titled Kinetic Craft.

Over the course of four months, I painstakingly constructed a series of “breathing installations”—a concept I first developed back in 2011 with my fabric installation for Luminarium's residency at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Movement at the Mills—this time highlighting the five crafting elements: Textiles, Ceramics, Wood, Glass, and Metal.

The museum's 471 visitors that week perused the museum at their leisure as dancers from each installation performed and interacted with those passing by. Engaging for all ages, the event was free with museum admission, and garnered high praise from artists and participants alike. Luminarium received many lovely notes from those who attended saying that the week-long event "spoiled" them, and that it was the "best event that's ever come to the museum." To quote Titilayo Ngwenya, Director of Communications for the Fuller Craft Museum: "I wanted to congratulate you on a series of installations that not only captured the essence of the different craft media, but also engaged the audience with wonder and beautiful motion."

In addition to the hundreds of locals who attended, Luminarium was pleased to see many of its own followers wandering the museum—many of whom had never been, but commented on wanting to return. This was excellent feedback to receive, as one of Luminarium's goals of its annual Cultural Community Outreach Project is to introduce new patrons to the landmark it is honoring.

I'm especially grateful to the Brockton Cultural Council, whose grant helped make Kinetic Craft possible. It filled me with pride to be able to hire our network of company members and local performing artists at an hourly wage instead of a token stipend at the end of a long week. It allowed a total of 12 performers to sign up for as many shifts as they were able to take on, and by the end of the week, several of our company members were surprised to see how quickly their hours added up to a healthy paycheck! (A reality that in itself pains me—to see the surprise of fellow artists upon receiving fair compensation for the amount of work they put in. But that's a societal issue I'll address in a later post.) So thank you, BCC, for making this possible.

While Kim tackled the theme of Ceramics, I took on the other four. It's always an eerie moment to look back at my original notes and compare them to the end results—whether nearly identical from sketch to reality, or watching my thoughts morph and reshape themselves throughout the creative process. Below are my four breathing installations, then and now:

The goal was to create a full-bodied wind chime to highlight the resonant tones that metal can make. Our dancers would demonstrate the installation's ability to be played by any part of the body—foot, shoulder, knee, head—and encouraged visitors to set the metal bars into motion themselves. A hit with both young and old alike, the Metal Installation could be heard echoing through the halls of the museum, as engaged participants performed new melodies of their own.

Here, I chose to highlight wood's ability to be either strong and structural, or so thin and fragile that light can diffuse through it. The result was my trickiest installation to build: A large wooden structure supporting three semi-opaque walls of tissue paper, allowing the sunlight in the window to highlight the dancer's shadowy movements within. Being only semi-opaque, we quickly learned onsite that the performer needed to move closely along the paper walls, or else she'd disappear. This allowed for some interesting dialogue between performer and viewer, as those passing by were not always initially aware of her presence inside.

This installation morphed dramatically from its first concept to its final manifestation. Consistent throughout was my desire to capture glass's beautiful ability to melt, drip, liquify—and then to freeze in time. In the end, it wasn't a large, complex installation that needed to be built, but instead, simple and mobile. Inspired by my glass-blowing adventure with Kim, dancers were instructed to move with liquidity throughout the space while holding a white-hot glass orb. As they slowed to a static pose, they tapped the light attached to the orb I'd found—turning off the light and revealing its opaque opalescent swirls.

Kinetic Craft offered me the opportunity to restage Untitled Breathing Installation #1, originally created for Luminarium's Movement at the Mills performance for the Boston Center for the Arts. Over the course of the week, dancers crept in and out of their blanket fort, asking viewers to select their favorite fabric scraps, then sewing them artfully onto this once-white dress. By the end of the week, the dress had become a patchwork medley of colors and textures—paying homage to textiles' role to clothe us, whether out of fashion or necessity.

Please enjoy some footage of the week via Luminarium's promo video below:

And additional footage via the Fuller Craft Museum's video thanking Luminarium for its hard work:

Photos of the event can be viewed via Luminarium's Facebook album (click the thumbnail below) including some moments captured of our youngest viewer interacting with the installations:

Thank you to all who supported and participated in this out-of-the-norm residency, and to the network of performing artists who continuously make my Cultural Community Outreach Project a success.


Kinetic Craft was supported in part by a grant from the Brockton Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Que vous avez inspiré...

I've spoken these words on my blog in the past, and I'll say them again: I may not be "religious" in the traditional sense, but I am a firm believer in the power of synchronicity to make me pause and appreciate the interconnectedness of this complex universe of ours as a whole.

This summer I found myself caught in the swirl of one such synchronous moment—so personally profound that that I'm documenting and sharing it here. Sean and I traveled to Quebec this summer for a wedding, and while there, came across an artist's work that spoke to us both. Yet as the weekend went on, and Sean debating purchasing a piece, I was surprised to find that this artist's work meant more to me than I initially realized. Perhaps the best way to tell the story is to simply share the email I sent to the artist once we returned home. Here it is, in my rusty French, and then translated into English below.

Subject: Bonjour d'un artiste que vous avez inspiré...

Chère Sonia, 
J'ai récemment acheté une de vos magnifiques œuvres d'art, et cela m'a causé une expérience très émouvante. Quelques mois plus tard, je prends maintenant le temps de vous écrire et de vous raconter comment vos œuvres d'art sont importantes pour moi depuis mon enfance. Cette note est émouvante pour moi d'écrire, et j'espère que c'est bien reçu! 
Quand j'étais une jeune fille, mes parents m'ont emmené avec mon frère et moi en vacances à Québec, à partir de notre maison à Boston, MA, États-Unis. Je me souviens de tomber amoureux de la vieille architecture de la ville, de son histoire, et surtout de ses ruelles cachées pleines d'artistes de rue. À Boston, je n'avais jamais vu des artistes montrer leur travail dans les rues, alors c'était spécial pour moi. 
Mes parents sont des partisans des arts et ils m'ont aussi inculqué l'amour de l'art. Un jour de notre voyage, nous sommes retournés à la ruelle avec des stands d'art, et mes parents m'ont invité à choisir une œuvre d'art pour ma chambre. De toutes les œuvres d'art de la rue, l'une d'elles se détachait: une gravure minimaliste de deux ours bruns qui marchaient dans la neige. À l'époque, tout dans ma chambre était lumineux et joyeux, avec des papillons et des ballerines décorant mes murs. Pourtant j'étais là, tenant une gravure sombre, brune et blanche, contrairement à tout ce que j'avais déjà exprimé mon intérêt. 
Surpris par mon choix, mes parents m'ont demandé si j'étais sûr que c'était celui que je voulais, et pas l'arbre à fleurs qui était à côté de cela qu'ils envisageaient d'acheter. Je me suis immédiatement découragé et j'ai retourné les ours, mais je l'ai toujours regretté.
Seize ans plus tard, je suis maintenant un danseur professionnel et un artiste interdisciplinaire, avec un amour de l'art visuel. Il n'y a pas de fées dans ma chambre, mais mon mari (Sean) et moi avons décoré nos murs avec des œuvres d'art que nous avons collectionnées dans le monde entier. 
En juillet, Sean et moi sommes allés au Québec pour un mariage (juste un mois avant notre propre mariage!). C'était la première fois de Sean au Québec, et ma première fois depuis 2001. Chaque fois que mon mari voyage dans un nouveau pays, il cherche un «souvenir» fidèle à la région, signé par l'artiste, et idéalement il rencontre l'artiste. C'est parfois difficile à accomplir! Mais cela devient un ajout mémorable à notre maison. 
Quand nous avons trouvé une rue avec des artistes (y compris de nombreuses gravures à vendre), il est devenu très excité, tout comme moi. Nous avons tous deux convenu que le premier artiste était de loin supérieur en détail et imagination aux autres gravures que nous avions vues. Mais Sean hésitait à acheter l'œuvre car elle représentait des sites que nous n'avions pas visités.

Cette nuit-là, il m'a demandé mon avis, et je lui ai parlé de la belle gravure d'ours qui ne correspondait pas tout à fait à mon style habituel, mais que j'avais toujours regretté de laisser derrière elle. "Ironiquement", ai-je dit, "c'est arrivé ici au Québec, et c'était une gravure de technique similaire à ce que vous aimez." 
Le lendemain, nous sommes retournés au stand d'art. L'homme qui regardait le stand se souvenait de nous et a montré à Sean plus d'œuvres d'art, jusqu'à ce qu'il en trouve un qui combinait notre amour de l'histoire et l'idée de la ville de Québec «alors et maintenant». C'était parfait. 
Il a ensuite demandé si nous étions familiers avec la façon dont les gravures sont faites, et a commencé à nous montrer de vieilles photos des travaux en cours. En feuilletant le livre, mon cœur s'est arrêté. Là, dans l'une des photos, il y avait mes ours bruns perdus depuis longtemps dans la neige, en cours de création. Je ne pouvais pas le croire! J'aurais dû dire quelque chose, mais je me suis figé. Je ne pouvais littéralement pas croire que toutes ces années plus tard, nous avions trébuché sur la même ruelle et étions tombés amoureux du même artiste. 
Sean a acheté votre œuvre et maintenant elle est encadrée avec nos autres œuvres d'Europe et d'Asie. 
Une semaine plus tard, j'ai raconté toute l'histoire à mes parents. Ils ont trouvé l'information originale avec l'œuvre d'art qu'ils ont achetée en 2001, et bien sûr, il y avait ton nom: Sonia Gilbert. Mon père (qui se sentait mal de ne pas avoir choisi les ours à l'époque) a localisé ton site web et l'oeuvre dont je me souvenais.

Se rendre dans une ville étrangère en tant qu'artiste en herbe et tomber amoureux du travail d'un artiste professionnel, puis tomber amoureux du même artiste seize ans plus tard (maintenant que je suis moi-même artiste professionnel) fut une expérience émotionnelle pour moi. Je voulais partager cette histoire avec vous afin que vous sachiez que les touristes qui passent devant votre stand n'oublient pas votre travail. Pour certains spectateurs, votre travail les inspire pour les années à venir. 
Je vous remercie,

Subject: Thank you from an artist you inspired...

Dear Sonia,

I recently bought one of your beautiful works of art, and it was a very moving experience for me. A few months later, I am now taking the time to write to you and tell you how your art has been important to me since my childhood. This note is emotional for me to write, and I hope it is well received!

When I was a girl, my parents took my brother and me on vacation to Quebec, from our home in Boston, MA, USA. I remember falling in love with the old architecture of the city, its history, and especially its hidden streets full of street artists. In Boston, I had never seen artists show their work on the streets, so it was special for me.

My parents are supporters of the arts and they also instilled in me the love of art. One day of our trip, we returned to the alley with art booths, and my parents invited me to choose a piece of art for my room. Of all the works of art in the street, one of them stood out: a minimalist engraving of two brown bears walking in the snow. At the time, everything in my room was bright and cheerful, with butterflies and ballerinas decorating my walls. Yet there I was, holding a dark, brown and white engraving, contrary to any of my prior interests.

Surprised by my choice, my parents asked me if I was sure it was the one I wanted, and not the flower tree that was next to that they were considering buying. I immediately became discouraged and returned the bears, but I have always regretted it.

Sixteen years later, I am now a professional dancer and an interdisciplinary artist, with a love of visual art. There are no fairies in my room, but my husband (Sean) and I decorate our walls with works of art that we have collected from around the world.

In July, Sean and I went to Quebec for a wedding (just a month before our own wedding!). It was Sean's first time in Quebec, and my first time since 2001. Whenever my husband travels to a new country, he looks for a "souvenir" true to the region, signed by the artist, and ideally he meets the artist. It is sometimes difficult to accomplish! But it becomes a memorable addition to our home.

When we found a street with artists (including many prints for sale), he became very excited, just like me. We both agreed that the first artist was far superior in detail and imagination to the other prints we had seen. But Sean was reluctant to buy the work because it depicted sites we had not visited.

That night, he asked me for my opinion, and I told him about the beautiful engraving of a bear that did not quite fit my usual style, but that I had always regretted leaving behind. "Ironically," I said, "it happened here in Quebec, and it was an engraving similar to what you like."

The next day we went back to the art booth. The man who was watching the stand remembered us and showed Sean more works of art, until he found one that combined our love of history with the idea of ​​the city of Quebec "then and now." It was perfect.

He then asked if we were familiar with how the prints were made, and started showing us old pictures of the work in progress. Leafing through the book, my heart stopped. There, in one of the pictures, were my brown bears long lost in the snow, being created. I could not believe it! I should have said something, but I froze. I literally could not believe that all these years later, we had stumbled onto the same alley and fallen in love with the same artist.

Sean bought your work and now it is framed with our other works from Europe and Asia.

A week later, I told the story to my parents. They found the original information with the artwork they bought in 2001, and of course, there was your name: Sonia Gilbert. My father (who felt bad about me not choosing the bears at the time) located your website and the work I remembered.

Going to a foreign city as an aspiring artist and falling in love with the work of a professional artist, then falling in love with the same artist sixteen years later (now that I'm a professional artist myself) was an emotional experience for me. I wanted to share this story with you so that you know that the tourists who pass by your booth do not forget your work. For some viewers, your work inspires them for years to come.

Thank you,
Much to my excitement, I soon received the following reply.

Je suis très émue !!! 
Votre courriel a rempli de fierté ma fille et mon amoureux..., ce qui me touche énormément ! 
C'est une belle histoire et c'est une grande récompense pour mon labeur. 
J'ai inculque l'amour des arts à ma fille et ça me touche que d'autres suivent ce chemin qui élève le cœur et l'esprit des humains. 
Je fais la même chose que vous lorsque je voyage. J'encourage les artistes ! 
J'aime, à la fin de la saison, me rendre sur la Rue du Trésor pour rencontrer les gens, mes gens. Cela me donne beaucoup d'énergie et votre courriel me remplie de bonheur. 
Vous êtes très belle ! 
J'aimerais votre adresse postale si cela ne vous ennuie pas. 
Merci beaucoup.
Sonia Gilbert

I am very moved !!! 
Your email has filled with pride my daughter and my boyfriend ... it affects me tremendously! 
It's a great story and it's a great reward for my toil. 
I instills the love of art with my daughter and it touches me that others follow this path that elevates the heart and mind of humans. 
I'm the same as you when I travel. I encourage artists! 
Like at the end of the season, go on the street Treasury to meet the people, my people. This gives me a lot of energy and email filled me with happiness. 
You are very beautiful ! 
I would like your mailing address if you do not mind. 
Thank you very much.
Sonia Gilbert

A few months later, I received in the mail an intricate, tiny print of a hummingbird. Such a gorgeous gesture! In turn, I sent Sonia a small bundle of seed packets (Botanical Interests uses artwork on all of their seed packets—simply beautiful) to attract hummingbirds to her garden. Sure enough, she replied that she does love to garden and looks forward to planting them in the Spring.

So there it is: Another moment, seemingly just like any other, until that swirl of energy catches you up and you realize you've been here before. Only this time, you realize you did take the bears home with you after all—in fact, you've carried them with you every day since.

Friday, August 18, 2017

From Dusty & Dated to Clean & Current: DIY Hutch Makeover


When Katie and I first moved into our Arlington MA apartment back in 2013, we found ourselves with a considerable increase in living space, particularly thanks to the addition of a beautiful dining room. With my plate collection spilling out into the pantry, and our cupboards filling up quickly, you can imagine my glee when I came across this beauty at a nearby tag sale for a local cause.

My old and battered hutch, standing in the Arlington apartment, featuring my grandmother's china and photos of both Katie's family and mine.

The owner of the hutch was incredibly kind, offering to not only drive it back to my apartment up the road (when my parents' car turned out to be too small to fit it), but helping my dad carry it up the winding staircase. Had my parents not be there to help me bring it in, my interaction with the seller would have ended there, but—being the ever-proud mother she is—before I knew it, my mom had begun bragging about my recent trip to Indian as a lead performer with a local dance company. "That wouldn't happen to be Deborah Abel Dance Company, would it?" he asked, "My daughter studies at Deborah's school!" From there, the conversation built with laughter and story sharing, as he explained that this old hutch had served its purpose loyally for many years before being repurposed as a storage unit for his kids' arts and crafts. Not surprisingly, I spent the remainder of the day picking glitter out of crevices, and scraping paint off of drawers, while my friend Anna sat in a chair next to me stitching shimmery beading onto her latest dress. An homage to arts and crafts, indeed!

The dark stained hutch stood regally alongside my antique hutch and table, giving our dining room a formal, sophisticated vibe for our three years in Arlington. Upon moving to Sean and my first home in Brighton, it became clear our furniture collection wasn't fitting together very well, and when the news came that we'd be relocating to New Jersey, it seemed like the appropriate time to put certain items out on the street for free taking, while finally treating ourselves to a few new items.

And in the middle of this "out with the old; in with the new" cleansing, stood the hutch. Realizing that new or refurbished farmhouse-style hutches run anywhere from roughly $800 to $2000, I set out to give this poor thing yet another new life on my own—this time with a refreshingly bright and current look.


While every item on here was display worthy, their tiny sizes quickly added up to unintentional clutter.

Deep gouges everywhere...

...as well as stubborn paint and glitter!

And some dated, scratched up hardware.


Step 1: Kick out the terrible, warped backing to replace with more modern beadboard.

Step 2: Thanks to our excellent friend Russell, we were able to borrow an electric sander! Looking back at my desk refurb project, I can't believe my week of sanding by hand could have been accomplished in 40 minutes.

Step 3: My first experience with chalk paint! I chose Opera Gown by Valspar (and no, they did not pay me—I'm mostly writing this down for my own knowledge later).

It wasn't until I finished painting (of course!) that I decided I just couldn't live with that old-fashioned valance on the hutch. Solution? Call Russell again and bribe him with a bag of candy to cut off the "frills" and leave it as a simple curve. Thanks, Russell!

Yup, this hardware—while gorgeous on my antique secretary desk—had to go.

Step 4: After staining the top with Minwax Golden Oak (again, wish I was getting free samples, but sadly I'm just an enthusiastic amateur), it was coming across far too orange in comparison to the blue/gray paint. It also looked too bright! So I set out to darken it up, tone down the orange hues, and give it a slightly more weathered feel by layering Jacobean and Weathered Oak.


Back outside with the hutch, the freshly cut valance already looks so much cleaner!

Step 5: After cutting, it turned out the original valance wasn't as evenly shaped as I originally thought, so it took some careful sanding to shape each curve to mirror the other.

Step 6: Last but not least, the back! Took some finagling to fit it into place, but it's 100 times cleaner, brighter, and more solid than its flimsy, warped predecessor.

— AFTER — 
Ta da! Here she is—adding a warm and inviting touch to our new New Jersey dining room.

Finally, the finished piece!

Sean's "evoo" and "vin" pourers have found their place.

The new hardware came to us by surprise—while wandering the Blueberries & Bluegrass Festival in Peddler's Village, PA, we came across a hardware shop with the perfect knobs and pulls!

Finally, my serving tray and beautiful Merula olive oil have a perfect home, reflecting the colors of the buffet beneath them!

To give the tea kettle a little extra height, we sat it on a box (we quickly emptied) that once held french chocolate liqueurs, gifted to us on one of my dad's trips. A nice reminder of family and our time in Paris.

The teapot and cups themselves are a souvenir—bought on our trip to Napa, and made by local artisans using glazes created from vineyard ashes when the land needs cleansing. Another beautiful reminder of our love of traveling.

Remember what was here before? I removed the old drawer to instead use it as a functional display shelf for our clean white plates!

Sean's the cook; I'm handy with a hammer. We complement each other pretty damn well.

And look at all that storage!

So there it is—my hutch makeover. Enjoy this before-and-after image below, and we hope to keep this beautiful piece for a long, long time.

Dusty & Dated turned Clean & Current

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kinetic Craft Residency: Thoughts on Metal

Before beginning this project, I never could have rattled off the five crafting elements (metal, ceramics, fiber, glass, and wood), yet now I find myself thinking about them all the time. Be it wrapping my hands around a hand-thrown mug, hearing the different pitches of a coin bouncing down a metal grate or enjoying the tactility of a journal’s weathered pages, I am now constantly aware.

While I would love to pair each of these with the five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch), I sadly don’t have the sanitation means to encourage our viewers to lick a series of metal spoons, or create the pleasing aroma of a burning wood fire inside the museum, so instead I’ve chosen to utilize the remaining three while focusing on the properties of each element that intrigue me most.


For Metal, I am focusing on its sound—from tinny tinkling to rich melodic tones. The page from my sketchbook below shows my preliminary thoughts and images for how I eventually grew to envision using metal bars and movement to create a large-scale, dance-propelled wind chime. As always, this project took several conceptual (and logistical) twists and turns through the creation process. Consistent across all versions was my intention to give the dancer a wide space for full-bodied movement, and to create a playable instrument of sorts. Yet getting there took several steps.

Preliminary sketches for Merli V. Guerra's Metal Breathing Installation; March 2017.

I first pictured the dancer in the center of several stationary xylophone-like structures of different tonal qualities, however I soon realized that in order to achieve a clear sound from each, I would need some kind of wooden striker. Suddenly I became aware of the fact that the dancer would likely need to hold the striker in her hand and intentionally move her hand across the chimes around her, which felt far too disconnected to me. How so? I wanted this to be a wind chime propelled by the complete range of the human body, rather than a single limb—regardless of how creative the performer might be as she danced from structure to structure, she would be limited to the use of one hand to ultimately "play" the installation.

Detail of preliminary sketches for Merli V. Guerra's Metal Breathing Installation; March 2017.

This led to the illustration above, in which I devised a way for all body parts to be able to instigate sound as the dancer moved through the installation, yet as I began setting it up, I soon came across another obstacle: delayed resonance. The cords, while clever in concept, actually caused a disconnect between visual and audio. As I moved, my body would push against the cord, pulling the striker away from the chime. It wasn’t until I had already released and moved on that the striker would then swing back into the chime and make its rich sound! The result was a delay of perhaps 1-2 seconds, yet it was enough to make it difficult, as the performer, to feel as though my actions were directly causing each sound, not to mention the visual lag similarly experienced by the viewer.

After trying cords of different lengths, weights, and stiffness, I ultimately omitted them—rehanging all of the chimes and strikers (a tedious task!) on a multitude of levels that now allows the dancer to move through them directly for the instant gratification of correlated movement and melody. I’m eager to set this up in a space larger than my 10 x 5’ living room and allow the dancer’s notes to reverberate throughout the Great Room and likely down the halls as well.


This blog post is related to Luminarium Dance Company's upcoming one-week Kinetic Craft residency at the Fuller Craft MuseumGuerra's 2017 Cultural Community Outreach Project

Kinetic Craft
Luminarium Dance Company in Residence

April 18-23, 2017  .  10am-5pm, daily
Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton MA

 This project is supported in part by a grant from the Brockton Cultural Council, a branch of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


I’m hooked.

On what?, you might ask. On glass.

There are so many elements of glass that excite me: How its texture can vary from silky to rough to sharp; how it can take a beam of light and dissolve it into an array of colors; how it can magnify or minimize; how it can encapsulate air bubbles; and how it’s actually an amorphous solid. All of these properties captivate me, and have for years.

Marblehead, MA.
My brother shows off the perfect gradient rainbow of colors he's found in one afternoon, including the ever-sought-after red sea glass. 

In trying to pinpoint when it began, I realize now that I can’t quite find a start. Was it when playing with my dad’s case of telescope lenses, overlapping the different circles of colored glass while carefully avoiding touching the surface? Or was it while looking for sea glass on the beach with my family in the summer, learning the chemistry (and more importantly the history) behind every color, every piece? Or maybe it was watching it being worked with for the first time, sitting on a bench in the sweltering studio at Simon Pearce in Vermont, studying skilled artisans as they turned glowing orbs into smooth, crystalline stemware.

Now we are here. Co-choreographed by Merli V. Guerra and Kimberleigh A. Holman, 2012. Photo: Jim Coleman.

Throughout my professional career, I’ve used glass as both a medium with which to work and an inspiration from which to conceptualize—from the glowing bulbs of Andromeda to the finger-smudged window panes of Now we are here. Now, as I head into a new project with the Fuller Craft Museum, I have been given an opportunity to create a "breathing installation" of dance and art that revolves solely around glass itself.

In an effort to research this topic up close (and because she knows me and my interests better than nearly anyone), Kim surprised me with possibly my favorite gift to date: A glass blowing class for two, and a scribbled note about how the person I brought didn't have to be her. (Please! As if it wouldn't be.)

Three months later, there we were: standing awkwardly in a class of four as our chill instructor casually meandered through us with a slowly dripping glob of molten glass on the end of a metal tube. As beginners, we were given the options of garden ball, paperweight, or pumpkin. I found myself staring into the intricately detailed swirls of color trapped inside each paperweight, as if tiny planets sitting on a shelf, and knew I had to create one. So did Kim, though her interest seemed to be focused more so on the satisfying feeling of rolling the paperweight around in her hands. (Again, as if this wouldn't be the case.)

Having both chosen to create a paperweight, I was struck by the heat I felt not only from the ovens but from the glass itself. My knuckles felt uncomfortably close to burning as I held a board against Kim's glass to help her shape it into a sphere, much like reaching just a little too far into a campfire to toast that last marshmallow.

As for color, we were surprised to find large buckets of tiny colored chips that we would roll our clear glass through. Our instructor helped us determine the right proportion of chips to give us the different looks we were aiming to achieve. Taking mine out of the kiln, I was a bit over zealous when told I could add air bubbles and twists with a large pair of tongs next to me—I was just so eager to witness for myself how malleable it was! Cooling quickly, the glass went from feeling like a chewed piece of gum to crystalized honey, and it took surprising effort to pry it into shape.

Two days later, it was time to head back to the studio in search of our fully cooled paperweights. The results speak for themselves:

Kim's "Ursula-the-seawitch-the-paperweight."

Merli's "Earth, as seen from the atmosphere."

So here we are, a few weeks later, and I'm still thinking daily about what could be next in my glass explorations. I'm 100% smitten with the medium, and only half-joking with Kim that one of us should build a kiln in the basement (perhaps the one who doesn't currently have a security deposit?). From broken on the floor, to fully formed on my shelf, to washed ashore as glowing pebbles, glass always catches my eye with beauty, light, and intrigue.

Till the next time, Glass...