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Doing art differently—and doing it right
By Cathy Toscano ’04, M’05

Unlike most eight-year-olds, Harry Bower '75 knew he didn't want to be an astronaut or pro wrestler when he grew up. He wanted to be an art teacher. "I still have a report card from second grade; on it my teacher wrote, 'Harry's artwork should be encouraged.'"

For the past 16 years, the Toms River High School art instructor has lived out his dream. His skill and creativity have earned him two Dodge Fellowships and a Fulbright Memorial Fund Award, among other recognition.

While studying art at Glassboro State, Bower found himself in the field of weaving. "I was supposed to have another course and somehow ended up having Kumiko Murishima," he said. "Kumiko was most inspiring and pretty much set the tone for my artwork. She uses very traditional techniques that I try to incorporate into my work."

Classified as a "fiber artist," Bower combines nontraditional materials, such as tree branches or plastic, with traditional weaving techniques to create "fiberistic sculptures." "For example," said Bower, "I might try and make a kimono out of wire. The final product will take on the shape and look like a kimono, but will not be functional as one."

Since his first at Glassboro State, Bower has participated in more than 30 art shows. His work has appeared in exhibits all over the east coast and in other countries, including Japan, Italy and China. Creating, showing and selling his art are inter-related aspects for Bower. "I have pieces that are not for sale because they have a unique meaning to me," he says. "However, I've got about a million designs in my head that I want to create."

Aside from finding inspiration in fiber artists such as John Garrison and Andy McGuire, Bower also gains encouragement from a group of friends he met through the Artist Teacher Institute, a state program which enables teachers and artists to meet and exchange ideas. "For 10 years I've worked with the same group of people every summer and will hopefully continue to do so," said Bower. "These people have been my inspirations."

When he's not teaching high school or participating in shows, Bower enjoys instructing at workshops. He has run seminars teaching the technique of book making and how a book can be manipulated into an art form. He also taught a workshop at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, where he used hay as a sculptural form.

As for future goals, Bower, who resides in Island Heights, hopes to own a gallery of fine craft when he retires. Unlike a gallery of fine art, a gallery of fine craft would feature the work of craft artists, be a place to hold workshops and act as a community venue.

An enthusiastic teacher already accomplished and recognized in professional circles, Bower remains committed to growing and developing his work. "Sometimes I think to myself, 'Is what I'm doing really art?'. But then people will like something I've made and I say, 'Yeah, I guess it is art' and I know I must be doing something right."

 
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