My art work reflects images and narratives drawn from my 30 years of employment related to the Middle East. I am inspired by the shards and artifacts gathered on my travels across the region – from Morocco east to Iran and Turkey. I join found objects, ceramics, pressed plants, minerals and mosaics with glass and hammered and pierced brass. My designs are influenced by the study of Islamic ornamentation and of Middle Eastern cultures, symbols, history and political struggles.
A Quaker craftsman in a church-window production shop in Des Moines, Iowa taught me the traditional skills of making stained glass windows in the early 70’s. I taught at the Des Moines Art Center (then directed by Jim Demetrion who later became director of the Hirschhorn), participated in the NEA’s Artist-in-the-Schools programs through the Iowa Arts Council and did commissions and art work.
In 1978 I began working for the American Friends Service Committee’s regional office in Des Moines for AFSC’s Middle East Peace Education program. For six years, I had wonderful opportunities to work (part-time while also doing art work) with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists on speaking tours and to meet Arab-Americans in the north central states.
AFSC had similar programs in about a dozen regions. In 1984, this AFSC job ended. I wanted to combine my Middle East peace and glass art interests and applied for a Bunting Fellowship at Radcliff College “to design and construct wall pieces expressing Middle Eastern themes and the dynamics of the Middle East Region.” I didn’t get the fellowship. So in 1985 I moved to Washington and laid aside my art ambitions while I was Executive Director for 22 years of Churches for Middle East Peace, a nonprofit involved in Middle East peace activities. Glasswork continued, now free of deadlines; the Cyprus piece took over five years.
In 1998 I spent a two month sabbatical in Bethlehem teaching local women and men to make new items for the tourist market using broken window glass, bottles and scrap from the glass-blowers of Hebron. A student’s success was a topic of “Bethlehem Besieged: Stories of Hope in Times of Trouble” by Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem.
I retired in 2007 from being Director of CMEP grateful for my many travels throughout the region and the opportunity to talk with a broad spectrum of people and leadership as well as engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian forum in Washington and interfaith dialogue. I conclude that language fails to convey or absorb underlying meanings and feelings. As I wrote in my 1984 proposal to Radcliff, “these limitations of verbal expression for both presenter and receiver have led me to consider the capabilities and possibilities of visual expression and visual comprehension of both the emotional and rational aspects of components of Middle East culture and tensions and their relationships.” This is what I’m aiming to do now with my mixed media series, Visual Musings on a Search for Peace.
I am a member of the National Capital Art Glass Guild, and organization of Washington metro glass artists and artisans, and The James Renwick Alliance, an independent national nonprofit.
Corinne Whitlatch lives and works in Washington, DC and Des Moines, IA.