The Glass Program at Camp Colton 1986-1993
The Fusing Ranch meets Rain Forest
For eight years Camp Colton was known as the place with the kiln firing glass program. Yet the camp had a long and illustrious history before it was ever invaded by anyone with glass madness. Before we bought the camp, it had a 55 year history as a Lutheran children’s camp, also used for 4-H and outdoor school. Anyone who experienced its delights never forgot the name or the place that brought them such inspiration. I was one of those who was so affected, and so were my grandfather and my father and my son.
When I was old enough to travel to Oregon from California to visit my grandparents in Colton, my granddad frequently took me to the camp to experience the wonders there that delighted him. He and the other early members of Colton Lutheran Church had toiled to make the beautiful place by the creeks into a strong organization camp. It was there that I first learned to fish, on Trout Lake.
For the years between 1980 and 1984 I was a traveling minister of glass fusing. I seemed to be asked once every few weeks to travel to Maryland or Georgia or Australia or Japan to tell people how to fuse glass. When Kathy and I bought Camp Colton in 1985, to save it from development as real estate, we felt in would take nearly every minute at home (at camp) to find ourselves equal to the task of bringing the camp back to usefulness, as it had become completely derelict. We decided to find out if people would like to come to western Oregon and stay in one of its most beautiful settings, while learning all the aspects of glass fusing. Although it seemed a little outrageous that the Fusing Ranch had come to have acreage, bunk houses, and a chuck wagon, so began The Glass Program at Camp Colton.
Once that decision was made, we were enlightened and exhausted and delighted by a continuing stream of student guests from all over the world. Our classes were held at various times of the year, but not year round. We were amazed at the diversity within the groups we hosted, both in age and in degree of experience with glass. I find it hard to think of any one of them who didn’t have something special to give the group that convened here, and to us! Our sessions were quite small, lasted two weeks, and each group seemed to become a family during the stay. See photos.
The Glass Program at Camp Colton was designed to bring students together in a situation where they could discover the materials and equipment available, learn the technology and sources for these, and prepare themselves to use that information to implement their own goals for designing with glass. Classes were outlined and structured so that a large body of knowledge could be covered. The teachers were unfailingly people who loved sharing a knowledge base, and were good communicators. With the Glass Program at Camp Colton we attempted to provide a solid background in kiln fired glass, which could be built upon by the individual.
Camp Colton is thirty-five miles southeast of Portland, Oregon in the Mt. Hood foothills. It consists of seventy-six acres of beautifully wooded land with two ponds (where we raise trout) and two streams. The trees are Douglas firs, some over 200 feet tall, and western red cedar, mixed with a pleasant smattering of deciduous alders and maples. There seems to be about the place an essence that speaks, even to newcomers, of its history and the integrity of its founders. All this makes for an unusually pleasant setting, no doubt about it. But it is also freeing and serene, and the students responded accordingly.
During their stay our student guests occupied small, sparsely furnished rooms, in the sunny, open area next to the lake, responding to the old dinner bell for their meals, served in Riverfalls Lodge, located at the juncture of the two creeks. The glass seemed to tempt them to spend long hours in the studios, but we managed to lure them outdoors for hikes, trout fishing, bowling ball croquet, evening campfires, and frequent pre-dinner horseshoe games.
Our students discovered that we had reason to be as proud of our meal service as we were of the depth of the glass education we made available. We focussed on serving unusual, healthful, attractive menus, carefully prepared from natural whole foods, including homemade breads and desserts, and emphasizing local foods including, of course, our own trout.
In the format that seemed to suit us best, lecture hours were specific, but individual work proceeded at any pace that suited the individual. With the particular combination of facilities, the small size of our groups, the style of our meals, and the flexibility of the class work, we found that we were able to make students of all ages and levels of experience and energy comfortable.
The goal, after all, was to help those individuals pursue the knowledge base they needed to advance in their work. And we know that the glass education at Camp Colton excelled at just that.