by Jim Calder
A Josh Simpson glass planet. Photo courtesy of Jim Calder.
bout one year ago, I had the opportunity to listen to world-renowned glass artist Josh Simpson’s lecture about the Infinity Project. For decades this glassblower has been hiding small, scaled-down versions of his work, which he calls “glass planets,” all over the world. The story of his Infinity Project started long before the floods of requests for Simpson’s work from museums, galleries and private collectors. It was certainly prior to him becoming a household name in handmade glass. And it was definitely long before PBS filmed a documentary about a project he was commissioned for by the Corning Museum of Glass. For years, Simpson has been creating beautiful, golf ball-sized pieces in his spare time, for the sole purpose of hiding them in strange or unusual places, with hope future archeologists and others will be puzzled when they are found.
The Makings of an Original Idea That’s right—he and others have been hiding fine pieces of craft around the globe. “In 1976 I discovered several handmade marbles outside my kitchen door that had probably been left there by children a generation before,” Simpson says. “The marbles were still just as bright and colorful as they
The Crafts Report • February 2007
were on the summer afternoon they were lost. The discovery made me think about the longevity of glass…There are so many priceless glass objects in museums around the world that spent eons buried in the ground before an archaeologist happened upon them.” That was the formation of the idea for Simpson, at the time a struggling artist, who wanted to make sure his work would be around in the future. “I thought, Why not hedge my bet? I began to hide planets— first near my house, and then later I brought them with me to leave behind whenever I traveled,” he says.
Keeping it a Secret Let there be no misconception: this was no master marketing, advertising or public relations plan constructed to get the word out about Simpson’s artwork. In fact, for the first 24 years, he and others hid planets and no one but himself and a few friends knew anything about it. However, a project as exciting as this one can’t remain a secret forever. Since the year 2000, the project has had more than 1,700 people hide planets all over the world. Some of the secret locations have been the White House, the Berlin Wall, Easter Island and the Great Wall of China.
A Passion to New Heights Simpson has taken his passion to a higher place. “Once I learned to fly, I was able to drop planets in truly remote locations from a tiny window on the pilot’s side of the plane,” Simpson claims. “I’ve left planets in mundane places, and now thanks to the Internet and the ‘Infinity’ project, planets can be found in truly exotic locations around the globe…Some are to be discovered quickly, perhaps by someone who will wonder what it is or what it was meant for. Others are likely to lie hidden for centuries.” Innovating the Industry Simpson is an innovator of craft—an artist at the top of his game taking time out of his busy schedule to let his imagination work in a realm which is truly outside of the box. “The people who find a planet may well know nothing about art or science; they might not be able to afford one of my pieces. I like the idea of reaching a totally new audience for my glass. Not just a socially or culturally different audience but potentially people separated by hundreds of years from present time,” Simpson says. Warning: Passion is Contagious Hearing Simpson’s passion for the project quickly drew me in, as I drifted off daydreaming of the perfect place to hide
a planet. This was a project I had to be a part of! I wrote to Simpson and pitched him an idea and he accepted and sent me two glass planets, one to hide and one to keep, as he does for every participant. My journey took me to Asbury Park, N.J. a few weeks ago, to a building I have had a strange fascination with for years, the Casino building. Armed with a camera and one of his beautiful glass planets in my pocket, I was ready for my quest.
The Casino The original structure was built on this site in 1903; however, due to fire and storm damage it was rebuilt in 1923. The prominent New York firm of Warren and Wetmore, architects of Grand Central Terminal, designed the building that stands today. For decades millions flocked to this seaside resort every summer to enjoy the boardwalk games and beach. The building is one of my earliest memories, as my grandparents lived in the bordering town of Ocean Grove. I can remember back in the early to mid-1980s being a young boy riding the old-fashioned wooden horses on the carousel, or my dad taking us down to ride the bumper cars or to play skeet ball. Legendary singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen even found passion in this building, mentioning it in his song “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” “And the wizards play down on Pinball Way on the boardwalk way past dark.
Photo of a Josh Simpson glass planet courtesy of Jim Calder. Here, it sits in front of its ultimate destination, the Casino building in Asbury Park, N.J.
February 2007 • www.craftsreport.com
And the boys from the Casino dance with their shirts open like Latin lovers along the shore chasin’ all them silly New York girls,” Springsteen says.
Performing My Role I consider the amazing architecture of the Casino building a beautiful piece of artwork, which was also left behind by someone. This is why I decided to hide my planet here. The building sits directly on the Atlantic Ocean. Today it is weathered and beaten by the elements but an important reminder of the past. I circled the building looking for the perfect opening to hide the glass piece of art, but the building was tightly sealed and there were plenty of people around. I felt as if I was doing something illegal. Perhaps it was the newly installed security cameras on the outside of the building. After circling about three more times, suddenly it came to me. The ocean had eroded the bottom of the building and you could actually crawl underneath the massive structure. I went down there and rolled the planet underneath as far as I could, and left with a smile and the knowledge I had Photo of a Josh Simpson glass planet courtesy of Jim Calder.
The Crafts Report • February 2007
completed my little piece of the puzzle. I’m not sure who will find my glass planet or what its fate will be in the end. I like to think some poor lost soul will crawl under the building one winter, seeking shelter from the elements. They will find the glass planet and I hope find beauty and inspiration in the world again.
Do Something with Your Passion Anyone interested in hiding a glass planet can visit his website (www.megaplanet.com) and submit an idea. It’s important for any artist to take time out of their stressful, busy schedule and remember the reason they became an artist—it is a fun and creative release. I challenge you all to create your own enjoyable project without the purpose of trying to turn a profit. I guarantee you will be surprised with how much you enjoy the experience. TCR Jim Calder is the former associate editor of The Crafts Report and currently senior editor of Book Business magazine and Publishing Executive magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.