Interview with Tom Glenn by Kathmandu.org.
Q. 1. Tell me about yourself? How you become an Artist?
A. 1. I was born in 1946 in Los Angeles and grew up in Manhattan Beach. My primary focus growing up was surfing. I started in 1957 at the pier in Manhattan. I think that because of surfing I was interested in various crafts needed for making surfboards, and I started using all the tools and materials necessary to create the boards. I think that the creativity involved provided me with a foundation that later allowed me to explore other means of artistic expressions. I didn’t set out to be an artist in that sense, I just became interested in exploring and creating. It wasn’t until I arrived in Kathmandu that I was able to take full advantage of what I learned in those earlier years.
Q.2. When did you go to Nepal for the first time and what made you travel
frequently after your first visit in Nepal?
A. 2. I left the states in 1969 to go surfing in North Africa and Europe. Nepal wasn’t on my radar at that time. After about 3 months of surfing in Morocco I decided to take a ferry from there to London. My traveling companion had some friends from her collage that were living their and by chance were teaching art at a local collage. That would have been in Dec. Of 1969. In Sep. of 1970 I met a group of hippies that had just finished filming a movie whose last episode was shot outside of London. The film “Medicine Ball Caravan” was kind of a follow up to the Woodstock concert. The group was a commune called the Hog Farm, and there were about 20 - 25 people involved and the main character of the group was Wavy Gravy. Since the movie had finished shooting they were trying to figure out what to do and where to go next.
At that time there had been a giant tsunami that hit Bangladesh and killed 100’s of thousand of people. Since we had several doctors and a lot of medical supplies left over from the movie shoot we decided to get a bus in London and drive to Bangladesh to see what we could do to help. Everyone pooled their money and we bought a bus and took off to Europe. As time went on more people got involved and we bought a 2nd bus in Germany and started the trek across Central Asia. By the time we made it to Islamabad the US Embassy told us not to go to Bangladesh because a civil war had broken out and that we would be in danger. So we left for New Delhi and on the way decided to got to Kathmandu. I still knew nothing about Nepal or Kathmandu and had just barely located it on a map. But as fate would have it a couple of weeks later our buses pulled into Basantapu Square. By chance the very first people I saw as I stepped off the bus were 3 friends of mine from Manhattan Beach that had just arrived in Katmandu a few days before. I think that it was then that I realized that I had arrived exactly where I was supposed to be. That would have been in March of 1971.
In 1972 I organized my first handicraft factory in Teku. There we had 2 buildings, one for the factory and the other for the workers housing. The workers were made up from 5 or 6 families, and they had their rooms and lunch everyday as part of their compensation. The men were traditionally tailors and the women were spinners and weavers. We produced the bias tape applique Tibetan tents and vegetable dyed carpets that I designed and created the dyes for. That was also where I met Lhacho who would become my wife a few years later. She had come from the refugee camp in Pokhara to visit her relatives in Kathmandu and several of them were working for me. That was the beginning of my artistic endeavors in Nepal. About a year later we moved the operation the Boudha, where we continued producing the tents and carpets. It wasn’t until Dec. of 1975 that I left Kathmandu for the first time to visit my family in Hawaii and California and we spent about 6 months in the states. Before we returned to Kathmandu we got married in Hawaii in June of 1975.
Q. 3. You are a modern artist with definite goal known let us know little bit
about your work?
A. 3. My work started with the intention of preserving the traditional and local crafts. Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet the art of tent making and traditional weaving arts of Tibet were dormant. There were Tibetan tailors in Kathmandu but they weren’t producing tents. The weavers were producing low quality carpets with chemical dyes that weren’t even color fast. In Tibet the woolen yarn was dyed with vegetable and mineral materials, and these materials were easily purchased locally in Kathmandu, so I wanted to revive the art of vegetable dyed Tibetan carpets. I have continued tent making in California since I returned from Kathmandu, but haven’t done any of the vegetable dyes. I have also done traditional painting and airbrush painting, silk screen printing and since the mid 1990’s I have been involved with digital art and imaging. In addition to that I also create exhibits for artists, trade shows and for museum. Online I represent about 40 artists in the genre of Surfing related art. Since 1992 I have been involved with the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. I have been a board member, curator, fundraiser, and currently I am a staff member and associate of the museum. I spent Most of the last year working with a team of board members to design our brand new 6000 sq. ft. facility that opened last March.
Q. 4. Why Tent become famous work of yours and tell me about your recognition
in the 1976 California Design XII in Los Angeles.
A. 4. I think the tents were attractive because they are so unusual and different from any other tents in the world. Also as far I know, Tibetans are the only fiber artists anywhere producing bias tape appliqué tents and wall hangings.
When I was in California in 1975 I saw a call for California artists to submit work for the California Design 12 Exhibit in Los Angeles. I had an appliquéd canopy that I had brought with me so I showed them that work and some tent photos and said that I would produce a tent for the exhibit in Kathmandu and bring it in the Spring of 76 for the show. The California Design Exhibit started in 1955 and was a juried exhibit held every 4 years. The goal was to have the states artists and craftsmen submit their work for the jury to select the best work of the states artists and craftsmen. Several thousand artists submit their work and in the end only several hundred are selected. My work was selected as an example of a California artist working in developing countries to preserve traditional crafts. As it turned I think I was the only artists doing that at that time.
From the catalog… “As our world shrinks we find increasing numbers of designers who design for production elsewhere. Of particular interest are those who have established cottage industries for the benefit of a given group of people in a developing country. Among them is Tom Glenn whose tentworks in Katmandu provides work for Tibetan refugees. The appliquéd canopy above, held by Yak hair ropes, protects the tent chairs of hand-woven cotton fabrics by the same group.”
Since I had never studied art and hadn’t even been in living California for almost 7 years this was a very exciting and rewarding experience. As it turned out that was the last California Design exhibit to be produced.
Q. 5. You have traveled extensively Europe, Asia what made you decide to live
in Nepal for long time?
A. 5. As soon as I arrived in Kathmandu it felt like home to me. The first people I saw were my friends from Manhattan Beach. Also I felt that I was treated as a local rather that a visitor by the Nepalese and Tibetan people. From members of the Royal family to beggars I felt at home in Kathmandu. In addition I was very fortunate to have been able to make a difference in the lives of the people I worked with. I was blessed with the opportunity to live for more than 12 years in Kathmandu.
Q. 6. If I am not mistaken your wife is Tibetan and your daughter was born in
Nepal. Please tell us little bit about it?
A. 6. Yes my wife is Tibetan and her family is from the Kham region of Tibet. They escaped from Tibet into Western Nepal in the early 60’s. They first stayed in a camp in Dhorpatan and later mover to the refugee camp in Pokhara. In 1972 she and her family moved to our factory in Teku.
Both of our children were born at Shanti Bahwan hospital and were raised in Boudha. Our daughter was born in 1975 and our son in 1977. When we moved to California and they started school they only spoke Nepalese and Tibetan languages. Presently our daughter and her husband are in the Diplomatic services and our son is a webmaster for Callaway Golf.
Q. 7. What do you think about the handicraft of Nepal particularly Kathmandu
valley both modern and classical?
A. 7. The handicrafts of Nepal are still unrivaled in the world. Many countries excel in one thing or another, but the scope of the crafts themselves is incredible, and the variety of skills needed to create all of this work is immense.
Q. 8. You know Nepal so well We admire when you are in the very 1st meeting
Newah Friends of California (NFC) in 2008. What you have to say about Newah People
and their art and culture?
A. 8. In Kathmandu there is no part of life left untouched by Nepalese artists and crafts men and women. The Newari artists themselves are the finest and most gifted artists in the world and have been for many, many centuries. From architecture to sculpting, carving, jewelry making, and painting to music and medicine, they excel in all they do. Even today I look at photos I took over 30 years ago I can still find details in the art that I haven’t seen until now when I look at them. It’s World Class art all the way.
Q. 9. Are you still thinking to go back in Nepal and willing to do something in
A. 9. I would definitely consider going back to Kathmandu especially to be able to contribute something positive for the Nepalese people. I still follow what’s going on in Kathmandu and realize there is a lot than can be done.
Q. 10. Tell us one of your unforgettable memory of Nepal if you have some
that you can recall?
A. 10. The most memorable achievement from an artistic perspective was to be asked to create a tent for the Kings 35th birthday. On his birthday he would review the troops and was just sitting in the sun on the palace steps. So they had a specific place on the palace steps for the canopy, so I designed it for that purpose and location. I don’t believe there are that many Royal Tentmakers in the world nowadays, so it was an incredible honor to have been able to create the royal canopy.
From a more human side it would be that I was part of the first volunteers for the SEVA Foundation that was started in Patan in 1979. I mentioned that on our bus trip we had several doctors with us . Two of them were Dr. Larry Brilliant, and his wife Girija Brilliant. They went from Kathmandu to India to study at an ashram. After several months their guru told them to get out and go work on the UN’s project to eradicate smallpox from the world. So they left and joined the campaign and were the lead doctors to eventually eradicate smallpox from the world. After that they went back to the states to figure out what to do next. They talked about polio and other afflictions and finally decided to work to eradicate preventable blindness starting in Nepal. A blind person in a village takes 1 person to take care for them, so now there’s 2 mouths to feed that aren’t able to be totally productive. I was Seva’s first volunteer in Nepal when the Brilliant’s and their team from the smallpox project came back to Kathmandu to set up the first Seva office. Today Seva is a world wide network of Doctors and aides that have all contributed to restoring the sight to more than 3 million people around the world, and we started it all in Kathmandu.
Q. 11. What kind of work you have done in Nepal and Abroad?
A. 11. I think of myself as more of a designer than an artist. And that’s what I’ve done in Nepal and in the other countries I’ve lived in. It seems that as an artist you sometimes just end up repeating yourself with different colors and strokes. As a designer you work with different mediums and with different intents. One of my first projects in Nepal was to design and produce the upholstery fabric for the CEDA buildings auditorium at Tribhuvan University. I was able to recycle the scrap wool and cut wool from the carpet weaving process and re-spin it into a yarn and weave that into the upholstery fabric and for acoustical wall panels to help absorb the sound the auditorium. I did the interior designs for several restaurants at the Soaltee hotel and the Yak n Yeti hotel. Some of my work in Nepal involved organizing handicraft exhibits for the travel industry. Several months ago I produced an exhibit for the California Surf Museum. Today I still design and fabricate a variety of items and work with digital imaging and large format printing.