Marcia Wiley in her studio, where she makes glass, teaches class and collects an odd assortment of things
Teaching the world how to be quirky
"Hello, my name is Miss Direction. I'm a public servant in the city of Seattle. My goal is to transform the mundane."
Such is the introduction of Marcia Wiley for many people, a quirky Ballard character who makes colorful drinking glasses, teaches creativity classes, is in the process of writing a book and, at times, dons her alter ego, "Miss Direction," dressing herself in a compass-adorned superhero costume and driving around in a decorated car.
What does Miss Direction do? Well, she drives around with a girlfriend and finds women by themselves at bus stops, introduces herself with the above quote, and asks them to tell her their life stories. She has approached people as young as 16 to as old as 94, all for the purpose of discovering who people are. And no, she's not trying to be creepy, as the normal world's concept of interaction might suggest. Rather, she is just passionate about discovering and exploring the people and things which make her neighborhood, Ballard, interesting.
Walking onto Marcia Wiley's property is like entering into a different dimension. Her house is a vibrant purple and yellow, sticking out like a colorful sore thumb in an otherwise ho-hum plain vanilla suburb. Out back, a telephone booth sits lodged in tall grass and metal sunflowers stick out of a bushy, overgrown rain garden.
And then there's her studio, which is a mockup of a Thai restaurant. Like the house, it is also purple and yellow, and hanging over the door is a giant neon "Siam Thai Restaurant" sign, a treasure she got for free after Craigslist after the restaurant it belonged to, a favorite of hers located on Capitol Hill, closed down. And inside are Thai dancer figurines, a waving golden kitty cat and a collection of books and colorful glasses. This "Thai restaurant" is in fact her studio.
Currently, one of her main trades is glass. Her business, "Wiley Wares" (www.wileyware.com), sells a special kind of drinking glass made out of a colorful material called dichroic glass, which has the same kind of color effects as a peacock's feathers, she said. At first glance, and looking at it from the side, the glass seems normal and unimpressive. But once it is filled with water, and especially when the sunlight is reflecting into it, the whole glass lights up in a dazzling rainbow of colors, with different patterns seen from different angles.
When asked what inspired her to make the glasses, she said that, especially in the often cloudy and gray climate of the Pacific Northwest, she wanted to add a little bit of color and happiness to everyone's everyday life.
"Our days are made of all these little moments. In my opinion, those moments should be delightful, " she said. "The things we do every day should give us pleasure."
Her motto, "Drink in brilliance every day," lives up to that philosophy.
Her glasses have come a long way though since the beginning. During an interview with the BNT, she set a thick, blob of glass on the table that had small rectangular and faintly colored strips set in the bottom.
It was one of the first glasses she ever blew, in 1998. "You could make ten glasses out of this," she said, laughing and shrugging the Frankenstein creation off.
Now she has perfected the design of the glass. She has two glass blowers who to the manufacturing work and she focuses on the business and design end of things.
She said she fell in love with glass because of the way it fit the Pacific Northwest landscape. The water, the clouds, the light activity (no matter how gray it mays seem). People who love glass are drawn to this landscape, she said.
"What I love about glass is that it mimics what I love most about nature," she said.
She is also working on another project on the side: a book dedicated to all of the odd things that can be found within Ballard. She has been wondering around the area with her specially trained eye, taking pictures of things like parrots in a front yard, a bicycle in a tree and a giant neon bowling pin -- things that might be missed while driving on the main thoroughfares such as 15th or 65th. She said she has an "eye for the quirky."
"I am really interested in documenting the random quirky things that remain, and am really inspired by people going for their own quirky ideas, as I tend to do."
The idea, she said, is to show this alternate universe of Ballard, which doesn’t take into account either the old, historic Ballard or the new gentrified Ballard, but rather a new Ballard full of weird and interesting things.
No matter what she is doing, she is dedicated to spread her infectious personality and brand of creativity, whether it be ambushing lone people at bus stops with conversation, making colorful glass or writing a book.
In fact, one more thing she does is teach classes where people learn how to, simply, be creative, in any sort of way. People don't have to be predisposed to art to attend. Instead, it is a class for those who forgot how to be creative, how to have fun in that childlike way, and class activities can range from fingerpainting to dying Easter eggs.
"I absolutely believe that we're all creative, I think that's the human condition," she said. "Creativity is what we have."
She will be teaching two sessions this fall (one which takes place Tuesday evenings and one Wednesday evenings), each with a cap of five women, starting on Sept. 18 and 19. Those who want to sign up for the class can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She teaches the class from the book, "The Artist's Way," a personal book for her, because she herself led an entirely different life before reading it. She had received her undergrad degree in biology, did watershed education and stream monitoring for her master's and continued a career of teaching science in high school and science work.
Then eventually she took an Artist's Way class similar to hers, and changed tracks entirely. And she couldn't be less concerned about such a dramatic shift.
"I've been happier ever since."