Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Different First Female President

Last evening I was in heady company - the MIT club of Baltimore had a reception for Dr. Susan Hockfield, President of the Institute. As the 16th president in its almost 150 years, Dr. Hockfield broke several barriers including being the first female as well as the first to come from the life sciences. As head of an institution that boasts 72 Nobel Prize winners, you might expect a woman more comfortable in a laboratory than a cocktail party.

In person, though, Dr. Hockfield (or "Susan" as her name tag proclaimed) is both approachable and eloquent. Like many others there, my husband - the MIT alum - and I waited to have a few words with her, and she greeted us as warmly as if we had just pledged several million dollars to the endowment. (We didn't.) Turns out this highly accomplished neuroscientist loves the meet-n-greet part of her job. Later during her remarks she talked about what MIT is doing and where they are focusing research and cooperative efforts with industry. These days there is an increasing emphasis on life sciences and the space where biology meets physics and engineering, as well as energy projects around combating global warming.

One of the most remarkable accomplishments of recent years started before her Presidency - placing every bit of MIT courseware online - free - and available to anyone, anywhere in the world. Not only does OpenCourseWare have lecture videos, notes, exams, and other resources for more than 1,800 courses online, but many are available in languages other than English. No other advanced learning institution has made such a commitment to sharing knowledge.

The reach of MIT's influence touched close to home. We sat with a high school Physics teacher from Columbia, MD who was recognized as an inspirational teacher by MIT. His enthusiasm for his work and his students was contagious.

They say that a tennis player improves competing against a better player. It wasn't competition, but being in the company of all those intelligent and dedicated people gave me the same kind of energy boost that I get from other kinds of creativity. Besides, I just love seeing a woman as the respected and successful leader of one of the finest science and engineering institutes in the world!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Creativity Infusion

I've been silent for a long time here. No crises prevented me from writing other than the usual small ones that come along under the guise of Life and Aging. No crushing deadlines to blame either, though there have been plenty of semi-crushing ones that seemed like looming dragons at the time. Nope, it's just been a case of too much to do and not enough time. I'm still looking for that "Time Turner" that J.K. Rowling used in one of the Harry Potter books – a lovely necklace with a small hourglass on it, as I recall. Turn it once and you get that hour back so you can be somewhere else and doing something else. Oh, boy, do I want one of those! (TimeTurner from

What's brought me back is an infusion of creativity that I enjoyed on Saturday. Every February, several hundred talented craftspeople descend on Baltimore for the American Craft Council show. For the first few days they see only wholesale buyers, but from Friday through Sunday the rest of us can get in at the massive Convention Center.

There are a few craft shows that draw the best of the best, and this is one of them. In the mid-Atlantic area, the others are the Philadelphia Museum show in November and the Smithsonian show in April, and they both have their charms. For sheer size and variety, though, nothing beats ACC in February.

My friend and I do other things now, but we've both been working artists in the past – she in porcelain, and I in stained glass. So we go to shop, of course, but we also go for the sheer enjoyment of filling our eyes and ears and fingertips with the beauty of finely crafted work presented by the people who created and crafted the work themselves. Her blog about the show is well worth a read.

What a treat it is to spend time talking with fine crafts makers! Just as birders flock to the blogs of Julie and Mary for inspiration, we artists soak ourselves in the colors of creative craft. Mentally I spent thousands, and every dollar well worth it. My finger still itches for an exquisite ring of 18K gold set with a brilliant green tourmaline, and just my size. Reality, of course, is another matter, but I did come home with earrings that have my colors (turquoise, gold, and carnelian), and a bookmark of finely inlaid woods. My friend found a necklace of silk cords with a clever magnetic catch, and a sweater/jacket in her browns, plus a couple of gifts.

We both came away with ideas and designs dancing in our heads, and with that warm glow of confirmation that we still recognize and appreciate fine design and craftsmanship. Back home, I polished my prize from last year's show - a Josh Simpson "Inhabited Vase." Had I unlimited funds, I would be a serious collector of Simpson's work, and I thoroughly enjoy the few small pieces I do have. Amazing what he can do with glass!

For me, the surest proof of the benefit of a day out for art is right here – a new blog article after a very long, very dry spell.