Glass artist Marge Organo finds new resolve to continue making art.
By Pao Vergara
I wonder how curators think about displaying glass art, especially sculptures without any set lighting attached to them. Each detail, each crevice acts as a mirror, lighting forwarding light, all as the viewer sees a new work in each direction they look from.
A trick of light, a change in angle, and the work surprises not just the gallerist who’s been pondering its placement and impact for days before a show, but also the artist who created it.
Sometimes, that light, those changes in angle take the form of a series of major life events, both ups and downs. Art+ catches up once again with one of the country’s pioneering glass sculptors, the ever-energetic Marge Organo.
Marge was surrounded by siblings and elders who loved to paint and draw. She remembers them as being “more talented” than her, and that arts and crafts, despite her enjoying these, were mostly a school activity.
Having raised a family and run a business with more time to spare, her art practice took off in the mid-2010s a little after she learned the basics of painting under Fernando Sena. Galleries took wind of her skill and eye. In 2015, she went on to study at The Studio of Corning Museum of Glass in New York and was granted a scholarship the following year.
She recalls that during her three weeks there, if the cleaning crew didn’t tell her to go home, she would’ve stayed working through the night.
Exposure goes both ways, and as her name went around town, she also began to take inspiration from fellow glass artists and cites Jack Storms, Jon Kuhn, Peter Bremers, Peter Mandl, Peter Botos, Toland Sand, and Christopher Ries, to name a few.
In Corning, Czech teachers Martin Rosol and Pavel Novack encouraged her to take further training in their home country, known worldwide as a glassmaking center both technically and artistically. She recalls how the two “weren’t stingy with the knowledge and techniques they imparted on students” and this openness inspired her further.
After returning to the country and joining the 2017 ManilART lineup, she next enrolled in The Glassmaking School in the scenic town of Kamenicky Šenov, the Czech Republic, where she started in 2018—the first Filipino to ever enroll in the institution established in 1856.
She remembers the Czech warmth amidst the harsher winter, and being invited to their annual Grand Ball, where she met the mayor of Kamenicky Šenov, who suggested Manila as a sister city. She recalls her first day in town, where her Philippine-bought jacket and US-made boots weren’t suitable for walking to class in -20-degree weather and how one of her teachers helped her find the right clothes to stay warm.
Marge was invited to exhibit her works in Děčín, Czech Republic, together with four European artists and one Central Asian artist. Today, the Czech Embassy continues to be one of her major sponsors, calling her “our Margie.”
While she shares that the Czech see Corning with prestige, she testifies that the level of their technique and mastery is such that no country to date can match these. Suffice to say, she returned home refreshed and excited.
A battle and a survivor
The decade was closing, and Marge Organo was poised to inspire more female artists to take up the medium of glass, presently dominated by male artists.
But we all know what happened next.
It was hard enough for shows to suddenly stop, for galleries to close, for the tactile and social experience of art to end up confined to an LCD screen, but Marge eventually faced a tougher battle.
Through our 2021 (online) interview, Marge was economical in her answers about her practice and experience in Czechia, but she opened up more about her bout with COVID-19.
It happened in April of this year, and she described her 62nd birthday in May as her “first birthday of my second life.” She was released from the hospital two days before her birthday.
She apologizes for her shaky hands in our email interview, how it took so long for her to answer. I want to tell her that she has nothing to apologize for, especially as she had the option not to share about her experience. But there is an urgency in her storytelling, a desire to get the word out.
Her stay in the hospital was not just physically harrowing, but also a moral crisis. She was wracked by guilt at having infected her family, worried about unfinished pieces and commitments to galleries, and finally, having her faith in God shaken.
She described the thousand cracks— now turned into mirrors: her veins brittle from all the IV drips and blood extractions, the feeling of “being on a highway, and just waiting for the cars to hit,” her loss of and return to faith, her son using his infection as a reason to be the one to accompany her in the hospital.
“What gave me the strength to fight for my life was my granddaughter Mariana and my four kids, who took good care of me while I was fighting Covid,” Marge shared, adding “Mariana is my great inspiration to keep creating new pieces.”
Today, she’s returned to painting, as her breathing is still difficult, making it hard, against her wishes, to do the necessary prework required in glass sculpting. Still, she works, deciding not to waste this second lease on life, having reckoned directly with death.
“I want to express in my paintings what I’ve been seeing in my dreams,” she confided to us all, “ghosts and souls drifting everywhere, sad and horrified faces and all.” She added that she eventually wants to make “more beautiful, more challenging works,” especially when her strength returns in full. Post-traumatic stress is often discussed in popular psychology; less well known is the phenomenon of post-traumatic growth.
The pandemic is not yet over, and even when the ordeal ends for one and all, the larger battle of readjusting to life has just begun, but just as endless is the forward-thinking resolve to face pain and do the work of transforming it—a resolve in people like Marge Organo.
Her light still shines, the glass remains unbroken, even as the reflections take new angles.