Back to Blog January 30, 2023

Jason McDonald (MFA '23) Honored With Glass Commission for Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

Author: Emily Herbein

Tyler graduate student Jason McDonald (MFA ‘23) has been fascinated by glassblowing since age 14, when he dived into the practice through the Hilltop Artists program in his hometown of Tacoma, WA. He has been equally influenced by the writings of African American Studies scholar Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a talisman of sorts for McDonald in his own thinking and approach to art making. 

So, it’s a point of pride for McDonald that he was invited to create a gift for Kendi, a graduate of Temple University’s MA and PhD programs in African American Studies, for the kickoff of a new speaker series, “Ideally Speaking, developed by Temple’s newly opened Center for Anti-Racism, on January 31.  

The center, which Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Valerie I. Harrison described as focusing on “solution-based research, training, programming, and advocacy,” is hoping to continue shaping the discourse around racism with the speaker series.  

To celebrate the inaugural event, Harrison reached out to Tyler Dean Susan Cahan about a keepsake to present to Kendi as a tangible recognition of Temple’s pride and gratitude for his achievements. McDonald decided to create a unique glass chalice, which he will present to Kendi after being interviewed by the center’s director, Timothy Welbeck, during the program.

Through his work, McDonald “craft[s] objects that examine and critique, through a racial and economic lens, the inequalities that exist between black and white people in the United States,” as well as “explore[s] [his] curiosity about the material of glass itself.” 

McDonald spoke about the opportunity to design a signature piece for Kendi, as well as how he feels his work speaks to a greater dialogue regarding race and identity. 

What was your thought process in designing the chalice?  

“I wanted to make a piece with my voice in it. Something that reflected my interests as a maker and contributed to the conversation much of my work is already addressing, namely the barriers Black Americans face in gaining access to creative spaces. I made this cage stem goblet as a continuation of that conversation. The techniques used in this piece derive from my interest in 16th century Venetian stemware and pattern making, a style of working that has for centuries largely been inaccessible to people who look like me.” 

How do you feel about being selected for this honor? 

“Ibram X. Kendi is an author and thinker I greatly admire. He doesn’t shy away from difficult truths but presents information in an unsentimental and matter of fact way. His clear and effective communication has helped me develop language and consciousness around issues of systemic racism and its effects stretching from the past into today. It’s a great honor to be a part of giving a gift to someone who has given me so much already.” 

What does the rest of your body of work look like, and what are your goals moving forward? 

“My work spans a range of interests and topics. For much of my career I’ve been drawn to the challenge of making stemware. Cup making is a touchstone for me and many projects flow from my interest in making work using traditional Italian furnace techniques. I think of my presence as a maker in a field that has largely excluded black bodies, as well as my pursuit of mastery in it, as a political, artistic, and creative act.” 

How can you reflect on your time at Tyler as you prepare for graduation in May? 

“My time at Tyler has given me the space to experiment and practice. More than that, I’ve had to define for myself why I’m interested in making in the way I do. I’m grateful for the last two years here. I am leaving Tyler as a better artist and thinker than I showed up as.”

Photo courtesy of Jason McDonald