Headmaster’s Thoughts – December 2008

They say that everyone has different talents, which is just a nice way of saying that some of us are totally untalented in certain areas. I know about this because I was, and always will be, bad at art. There are lots of other things I am bad at (you would definitely not want to hear me sing) but being a rotten artist has always galled me.

In my high school, art was included as part of your general grade average. So I really tried. And failed. I went to a school where the headmaster and I got on very well together. Occasionally, he would come into the art class and look, hopefully, at the art teacher and then at my attempt to paint, and the art teacher would sadly shake his head.

The only time I ever made acceptable artistic objects with my hands was at Oxford. There, on the way to the law library, was the inorganic chemistry laboratory. And, for no reason that I can now recall, I once went in, put on a white lab coat which was hanging on a hook, and tried to look as though I belonged. Since you just study one subject as an undergraduate at Oxford (law, in my case), there was absolutely no reason for me to be in the building. Nonetheless, I approached the center desk where they gave things out and asked for small capillary tubes. I took these over to a Bunsen burner, lit it, and started to make a little glass dachshund by stretching, twisting, and attaching the tubes in the fire. It is not difficult to make a little glass dachshund out of glass capillary tubes, and I made quite a few of them before I branched out into birds and cats (none of which looked as realistic as my dachshunds).

I have really fond memories of making these little glass ornaments. For the first time in my life, I actually had made something I could show others. I was hooked on the whole glass capillary tube animal making skill (maybe there should be commas there but they would break the flow). I discovered that the inorganic chemistry lab had an inexhaustible supply of these tubes, which they gave to me without question. On reflection, it was very generous of them.

I wanted, in return, to hang a sign in front of the lab which read “We Make Little Glass Ornaments,” but then I figured out that they might put a halt to my new-found and sole artistic expression of making glass dachshunds, and so (and in retrospect, wisely) I did not hang the sign.

Now that the holiday season is upon us, I sometimes find myself nostalgically lingering over tree-hung ornaments in stores and those so beautifully presented in windows throughout the city, with the hope that one day I will come upon a little glass dachshund. At least I could say, “I can make those!” It is these little things in life that give us comfort as we grow older.

If you are not decorating your tree (or Menorah, or whatever you may decorate) with dachshunds, hopefully you will consider covering it with objects that stir up happy memories and inspire you. And like the chemistry lab did for me, make sure to give without asking for anything in return. While you are at it, celebrate with the ones you love.

May your holidays be full of joy and creativity!

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org 

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section In the News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.