Life Quest(ions) 2021: The art class that changed it all

Editors’ note: It’s sometimes called an Odyssey. It’s sometimes called a gift. It’s often called everything in-between, but when we look at life, it feels like a quest. That’s why we’re giving all of April to the Life Quest(ions) that people have always wanted the answers to. Here’s what we did: We asked hundreds of people what quest and question they’ve never been shown or given the answer to even though it’s something they’ve always wanted to pursue. Then, we pursue it and provide the answers! Next up, we’re looking at greed and how to live without it. 

An entrepreneurial artist, who simultaneously improves the social welfare of her community through art, all while being a young single mother, Samantha Klein turned a fateful art class into a glass blowing studio. Samantha founded The Olio in 2014, an apprentice program using the arts to empower with entrepreneurship, sustainability, and social change. A week in the life of the reality behind the works of The Olio starts on a Tuesday morning around 6 am, as Samantha takes some Mondays off to not be around anyone and to enjoy the silence of filing paperwork. These Tuesday early mornings are started with emails in bed and then she’s off to the studio to beat the heat of Winston Salem, North Carolina. Depending on the season, her 6 am wakeup could be 9 am, as the heat settles in the hot den of The Olio.

In the glass blowing studio (photo by Pixabay)

Samantha begins her morning session of blowing glass through lunchtime where she takes a break around 2 pm, heads home for a shower, cleans around the house, or garden, whichever she feels is necessary for a break from the hot den. However, Samantha’s workday does not end until 8pm because, “when you are working crazy hours 6am to 8 pm you find times to make your day saner” she states. Most days throughout the week consist of workshops in the afternoons, evening events with the community, or schedule time to teach at her local university about the means of social entrepreneurship. Not only being her own boss, and creating the medium of art she loves, Samantha is constantly looking for ways to improve herself and add more to her vision, “I feel very lucky to be able to take time off when I want, I get to think of what my next steps are.”

The independence of crafting the layout of her work, her personal life, and then combine these priorities allows Samantha to truly create her own vision which is something she says was not possible when working under someone else, “when it is someone else’s business, it is their vision you have to follow.”

Samantha’s artistic ability and drive were not something she was born with, like most successful workers, you must develop those skills through some form of teaching and practice. Although there are artists out there that do come from no schooling background at all, there is a societal expectation to obtain a degree to then enter the workforce. According to George Washington’s Center on Education the Workforce, “65% of jobs will require at least some education beyond a high school degree.” Despite how high this percentage is, we idolize some of the most successful entrepreneurs who did not continue their college degrees such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and designer Ralph Lauren. Although Samantha did earn her college degree in a fine arts program at the University of Illinois, that was an option she contemplated. A sacrifice, that was worth her while, needed to be made to get to where she is today. In the interview, when Samantha is asked about the origin of her glass plowing passion, she breaks a laugh while saying, “Let me start by saying I went from academic probation to dean’s list, thanks to glass blowing.” Samantha was about to drop out of college, which she was paying her way through herself being the youngest of five children with parents who were just “done” by that point.

Being an artist was never the goal, or even an interest of Samantha’s.

She only applied to the fine arts program at her university because it was the least competitive program to get into. When the time came when she decided to try one more elective, stay a full-time student and reel in the good grades, a professor suggested that she try out glass blowing. Samantha really enjoyed playing with fire to form this three-dimensional media into new color-stained glass pieces with abstract lines. From paperweights, to dishware, to irregular vases, Samantha turned liquid into the centerpiece of a table.

Mixture of glass color (Photo by Laura Reed)

“If I hadn’t taken glass blowing I would have dropped out, I begged the Dean basically saying, please please please let me stay in the program I didn’t know glass blowing ever existed, and it is the best thing I have ever done.” And the Dean let the future owner and creator of The Olio stay in the program, where she graduated with Dean’s list and the means to keep building her self-motivation tactics and do what made her most fulfilled.

Through the hectic role of managing and leading a community through different means of art, Samantha kept her main focus intact. “I felt like art was supposed to be for everybody and it felt exclusive the way I was brought into so I started The Olio to include all.” Not only was Samantha motivated by her artistic instincts, opening up the young minds of  Winston Salem to bring forth their own artist ability, but it meant bringing people together for a greater purpose, Samantha’s own craving for inclusivity. “ I opened up art to anyone and everyone, kids came with significant barriers, I wanted it to be a place that people could be diverse group and know that we were very inclusive, but be very aware of the cost to be able to do something like this.”

Working together (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio)

The apprentice program grew and grew, bringing more young adults to the studio to lead their own workshops. Her own children would become young artists themselves in no time learning first hand from their mother. It is rare, if not nearly impossible for “bring your child to work day” to be several days out of the week. But for Samantha, children in the studio, with great caution, was just another typical day. When you are the creator of your space, the rules are in your back pocket. This was just one more way for to exhaust her self-employed advantages to positive ends.

As Samantha learned in her beginning stages of studying art, she did not see flat, two dimension art was not her vision. Like most art, the practice of working meticulously or without intent, can be a form of relaxation, letting your hands take the wheel to create a new object. Glass blowing is not one’s average form of expressing that independence like typical pencil to paper. It requires intense concentration and care to tend the glass. That being said, glass blowing is most commonly used as a form of art therapy with veterans, using it as an outlet for their PTSD. Glass blowing helps improve a variety of skills in this manner, “Cognition, social interaction, physical dexterity, teamwork, and confidence.” One creates a unique connection from the mind and body to create through blowing into a hollow pipe which expands the heated molten glass. Samantha’s wide range of experimentation with colors, shapes, abstract lines, and purpose for use has defined her own mode of independence.






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