05. Celia Garland: Using curiosity to create your ideal career

Celia Garland headshot

Celia Garland, Glass Blower and Naturalist, talks to Sue Stockdale about creating a career that she loves by following her passions. As a child Celia had a love for art and the outdoor world. Through a series of adventures as a child – including hiking the Appalachian Trail, her love for art and the outdoors developed. Finally, when it came time to choose a college, she studied at Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated with a BFA in Glass and Glass Sculpture. She then joined the Corning Museum of Glass, Blow Glass at Sea Team.

While travelling and blowing glass, Celia’s love of the natural world was further developed, and she was then recruited to join an amazing team of naturalists working onboard a cruise ship. Celia now educates people about the amazing places that they visit onboard ship, and is able to share her passion for not only art, but also the environment. Find out more about Celia Garland.

Celia Garland transcription

Sue : [00:00:00] welcome to access to inspiration. Today I’m on the celebrity millennium cruise ship, and I’m speaking to Celia Garland, who is a glassblower, naturalist and global gallivanter. The quality of this recording may not be as good as you’re used to listening to, listeners. But I’d hope that wouldn’t detract from the interesting stories that Celia has to tell us. So welcome, Celia.

Celia: [00:00:32] Thanks so much for having me.

Sue : [00:00:34] well, you  have created a career for yourself and it really combines two different things, and I was fascinated to find out all about it. So tell us what you do.

Celia: [00:00:43] So I’m doing a little bit of everything at the moment. So I was, for a long time, a full time artist, and specifically glass art or glass blowing was my medium of choice. I always harbored a passion for the outdoors and for the sciences, and especially for wildlife. And so [00:01:00] following those passions, studying those things, I found myself actually recruited to start doing wildlife or environmental education. And so I came out to sea originally as an artist and then kind of sideways stepped into being my naturalist role as well, where I do presentations on whales, seabirds on seals and sea lions, natural history, and all sorts of things around the world and share those with anywhere from 12 to 1200 people at a time.

Sue : [00:01:29] Well, that sounds like a really interesting mix of things. So how did you get into that in the first place? Because I haven’t made a glass blower before.

Celia: [00:01:36] Yeah, well we’re a small community of us for sure, but it’s one of those things that when you ask most glassblowers how they got into it, they either have a family member. Or it happened accidentally, and I’m one of those accidental cases. So when I was younger, I was actually homeschooled from the grades of sixth grade up until college. And so that meant that you studied whatever was happening around in your daily life. So [00:02:00] my younger brother actually broke the kitchen window playing baseball with rocks and sticks in the backyard as  younger brothers are wanting to do. And that meant that we had to do a research project and start to study and then fix the kitchen window, which was one of those old leaded paint glass windows that was easy enough for three almost teenagers to fix on their own. And that research project led to resources and scientific videos and demonstrations of people blowing glass that we’d never even considered before. And I was just completely captivated from the get go.

Sue : [00:02:33] Wow. So it sounds like that idea of curiosity as led you to discover your passion in that way.

Celia: [00:02:38] Absolutely. Yeah. It’s one of those things where it’s not necessarily something I would have had the opportunity or the time to follow if I hadn’t been given the freedom to go ahead and say, Oh, right, you’re really interested in this spend some time with it. See where it takes you.

Sue : [00:02:53] So how did you go from having that interest on your initial research to then being [00:03:00] on a cruise ship and teaching people about it then?

Celia: [00:03:04] It was a bit of a sideways journey, but most of it happens through the Corning museum of glass. So after our research project, we’d realized that most of our homeschooling materials came through one museum, which has the Corning museum of glass and upstate New York and Corning, New York being specific. And then they are the single largest material museum in the entire world, and they’re entirely dedicated to glass. They have a timeline, walkthrough history of the science and innovations of glass and live glass demonstration. So we went on a family field trip, which needs air quotations because. ‘we took a car camping trip from the East coast of the state, so the West coast and back again was our field trip’.

But that was our first stop. And then we intended to spend an afternoon there. We ended up spending two full days in the museum because you can’t do it in a day. I’m not even sure you could do the whole museum in a week. And so that just sparked that love and that joy. And so as it was [00:04:00] time for me to start thinking about college, which was just a year or two down the road. One night looking at different options and feeling very overwhelmed. My mum looked up over her computer and went, you know, I think you can go to college for glassblowing. I think that’s a thing, and I just thought really thing and came back not too long thereafter to the museum who was doing outreach programs and had glassblowing demonstrations and narrations out at sea. It was called Blow Glass at Sea program.

Sue : [00:04:29] Amazing. And I’m also curious that your family field trips sound a little bit more adventuresome than perhaps many people have his family field trips. I also understand you have done the Appalachian trail, which is a very long distance walk. I understand. So tell us more about how your family life and your adventure there has influenced what you do today.

Celia: [00:04:49] Absolutely. It’s definitely influenced my life very heavily to have the kind of amazing, eccentric parents that I have. When I was younger, my parents worked a nine to five job. They ran a conference [00:05:00] center in new England in the U S and then at one point it was both their jobs and we lived onsite. Something happened at the conference center and you know, it changed hands. A whole bunch of things happened, but we found ourselves with neither of my parents having a job, nor having a place to live, and as it’s very expected, my parents panicked and then after that initial panic wore away, they realized, Hey. We don’t have car payments, we don’t have a mortgage. This is our chance to have an adventure.

And so what they decided was that we would hike the Appalachian trail and they asked us how that sounded as kids, and we thought, Oh, that sounds great, because I don’t think any of us at nine 11 and 13 years of age realized that that was a 2,174.9 mile distance trail. It goes from Georgia all the way to Maine on the East coast of the United States.

And in the end, it took us 10 months over two years. And so once we done that adventure, once we’d had this incredible family experience, we realized that that was [00:06:00] something we wanted to continue to do. And so we stayed homeschooled. And then it led us to have all the time and opportunity to travel more as we could between my parents picking up all kinds of odd jobs from that on out.

Sue : [00:06:12] Wow. What a start to life. It also strikes me that many people wouldn’t necessarily want to spend all that amount of time with their family in close proximity. How did you all manage that? What did you learn perhaps about yourself in that experience? In that venture?

Celia: [00:06:28] Yeah, well, it really teaches you what you’re capable of. Not every family would necessarily want to be that close, and there were definitely times where we hiked nowhere near one another because you needed some breathing space. We needed some time. We had some rules about if you hit a trail junction or where the path split, you had to sit there and wait for everyone to catch up to make sure we all went the same direction. But otherwise they were allowed to just walk apart from one another to give us some space. We had two tents. The three kids in one tent, my parents and the other, and there were a couple of rough days. You know those [00:07:00] tantrum moments. I can remember one particular tantrum that I threw on the trail where I just had it. I was 12 years old at the time. I, we’d been hiking for eight miles already that day. It was raining. It was cold. I was miserable. I chucked my pack on the ground. I just. Screaming, yelling, I didn’t want to do this anymore. And the entire time my dad just sat on his pack. He got out of candy bar, he was eating it.

He let me scream myself out and then looked at me and said, all right, the choices, our town is 30 miles back that way, or 30 miles out that way. What do you want to do now? I was like, well, I guess the only thing to do is to pick up my pack as keep going. There weren’t other options and once you hit that moment, I was saying. Well, it’s this or this. This is what you have to do. You find yourself really capable of it.

Sue : [00:07:50] Sounds like, you have a real degree of resourcefulness there that you were learning to be able to keep going through those tough times.

Celia: [00:07:57] Yeah. It was really interestingto learn and to [00:08:00] watch my parents as well, because this was new to us. We’ve done little bits of backpacking here or there, but learning creative problem solving and deciding. Whether we were going to hike 20 miles that day or two miles that day, whether it was based on morale, food stores, or even just this view was particularly beautiful. Should we sit here and enjoy the day? And being able to have those freedom of choices and having some input even as a small child into making those decisions made a really big difference for us. And having the kind of that independence and that comfortableness of making big life decisions.

Sue : [00:08:33] So it sounds like really learning on the job there, but doing it through your own practical experience rather than learning a textbook.

Celia: [00:08:40] Yeah, absolutely. It was very, very hands on. And you know, a lot of people said that you’re going out to do this big thing and you know, what are the chances do you actually think of you completing this task you’ve set out for yourself because it’s a pretty daunting one when you’re talking about hiking over 2000 miles and my parents said, you know what? We’re just going to go and we’re going to [00:09:00] do our best. And so many people asked us, what are you going to carry? How much food at a time? And it made us really sit down and think and plan ahead. We dehydrated all around food. We put it all together, and we’d weighed every bag as part of our math projects for our homeschooling that we were doing. And then we realized afterwards, we’d done a lot of research on the trail itself, read books, and there was one study that sticks out to me more than all the others. And it was a study of who finishes the Appalachian trail because about 10,000 people started and about a thousand people finish every year.

So it’s not a large percentage. So who is it that makes it to the end? Was the fittest, is it the best research? Is it the people with the best gear? All of these things are support teams. What makes the difference? And they said it makes no difference. As to who finishes the trail. The only thing that they could correlate making a difference was how many people you told you were going to do it. The more people you told, the more likely you were to finish it because if you were going to have to go home [00:10:00] and explain over a thousand times why you were home early. That was going to keep you hiking on that really miserable, rainy, cold day.

Sue : [00:10:07] That really makes sense about the importance of commitment and sharing your goals and plans with others to increase that commitment to make it happen.

Celia: [00:10:15] Yeah, absolutely. Being able to share and having that support system and having someone excited for you was really good, but also it keeps you honest. To your goals, to yourself when it is cold, or my dad’s sprained his ankle partway through, and you know, we hold up somewhere for a week and wondered if we should just come back in a month when he was all the way healed and after a week he said, absolutely not. I’m not going back yet. And so we kept going and that made all the difference.

Sue : [00:10:39] So how did you bring that experience then forward and apply it if you did apply it to your love of glass?

So it was

Celia: [00:10:47] one of those things that once you’ve completed something of that magnitude and it wasn’t something I’d even decided to do for myself. It was something my parents had decided I got into glassblowing and glass blind is endlessly frustrating. [00:11:00] Not a single part of it is natural. Everyone is bad at it. Everyone starts at the very base level. You break so much more glass than you make in those instances, but every time I’d have a rough day in the studio, I’d say, well, if I can hike 2000 miles, I can make one more cup and see if it’s any better. If I could do that, I can train myself to do this. And

Sue : [00:11:20] I also know that more recently you were the artist in residence. I think it

was at the Denali national park. so you were able to combine that flow of nature and the outdoors with your interest in art. Tell us about that.

Celia: [00:11:34] I love combining my passions together. Some people might say they’re contradictory. You know, a love of glass art, which is very energy consumptive to being an environmentalist. And speaking to conservation and wildlife preservation, but I find that they actually go together really well. If we’re looking to the future and we’re looking to get rid of plastic than other things, glass and the material that comes up first as being superior in its recyclability and its [00:12:00] health for the planet.

Being able to go back into the natural systems. And in turn, there’s something endlessly intrinsic about glass. It draws you in whether or not you know how it’s made or why it’s made. It’s sparkling, it’s shiny. It draws you in, which makes you more willing to have a conversation about something than it might be addressing as an art piece.

And so I created several, the last silhouettes that I took out into the back country of Denali, I took pictures of animal silhouettes in their habitats to kind of say that sometimes just knowing they’re there is enough. And so I had this incredible project of the glass, but at the same point, knowing that I could have a lesser impact.

With my medium of choice and using recycled glass and other things. So I find that my natural work and my environmental outlook gives me endless influence and inspiration for my glass and my glass and turns gives me another way to communicate. All of those things that I love about the natural world to a wider audience.

Sue : [00:12:56] And that I’m imagining it on top of that, you then have [00:13:00] this opportunity to travel around the world because of your work on cruise ships.

Celia: [00:13:04] Yeah. It’s been an incredible way to travel and to see so many things in the last five years that I’ve been at sea now, first four years of the glassblower, and then this past year at the naturalist. I’ve been to all seven continents and I’ve seen 53 countries and that’s just been incredible. I never imagined that I’d be able to travel this much because I went to public school when I was younger, and it gives you that list. Do you know what are you going to be when you grow up? Are you going to be a doctor, a teacher, a veterinarian, a librarian, a firefighter?

You know, what are you going to be? And a glassblower slash naturalist on a cruise ship wasn’t on that list. It wasn’t something I’d considered. But I’ve found that there are so many more options and variations. Once I got out into the wider world, I didn’t say I’m going to go through these steps to be this kind of professional. I followed what I liked to do and then the opportunities presented themselves as I reached different [00:14:00] levels of competence in each of those areas.

Sue : [00:14:02] And I imagine that when you reach those opportunities and they’re presented to you, you have got a confidence in your ability to step into the unknown. I’m imagining perhaps back to that Appalachian trail and every day not knowing what was going to be ahead and being comfortable with it.

Celia: [00:14:19] Yeah, absolutely. So as you go to all these opportunities, there can be a lot of hesitation of trepidation and then yes, I’m going to go do this thing. You know, I’d been talking about glass then presenting to maybe a crowd of a hundred people, and then the first time I stepped out onto a stage to talk about Antarctic penguins, I stepped out in front of 1300 people, which is what the theater helped. But there were people sitting in each other’s laps and down the aisles because it hadn’t occurred to me that nobody ends up in Antarctica by accident. And so there was, everyone was so engaged that it gives you that pause and says. Oh, I better get my facts right today, but at that point, you just also have to do it. You have to have that confidence that [00:15:00] you wouldn’t have made it to this point if you weren’t prepared, if he wasn’t going to go well.

Sue : [00:15:04] Wow. It really sounds like you’ve grabbed life by people’s hands and make the most of it before.

Celia: [00:15:09] I’m the best I can do and I am very excited to keep traveling and exploring.

Sue : [00:15:13] If I was to ask you to think about advice that you might give to others who want to say follow their passion, what might be your top tips for them to think about?

Celia: [00:15:23] Top tips to think about from following passion is just having the willingness to show enthusiasm for something. There’s a quote that I love by an unknown artist that states that ‘every artist was once an amateur.’ So just because you might feel self conscious that you’re not already equipped at something. Maybe you have a passion for singing, but you feel like you might be tone deaf there’s no harm in just taking lessons and seeing where it takes you. Cause it might take you somewhere interesting. Or if you have a passion for writing, just keeping journals and just building up those confidence level skills base projects. They open doors, they give you [00:16:00] more time and freedom to start exploring further into that because you need your small stepping stones. But also when you hear that interesting opportunity or that trip that’s coming up that you might take, I’ve never heard anyone say that you’ve regretted a bit of travel or a risk they took necessarily because it’s always shapes you towards something in the end.

So just step out there and do it at some point where. Always a little hesitant to, you know, follow what we’re most interested in because it feels like there’s more at stake when you go for your passions, but their reward is also a lot higher as well.

Sue : [00:16:33] Those sound like really wise words. Celia, thanks so much for speaking to us today. If people want to know more about what you do and how to find you, where can they find you on the internet?

Celia: [00:16:42] I have a website that I run that has a few blog posts, some of my pictures of my artwork as well as some of my favorite wildlife photography from around the world now, and it’s just, my full name is Celiagarland.com

Sue : [00:16:54] fantastic. Thank you so much. It’s been a really great conversation.

Celia: [00:16:58] Thanks so much for having me, [00:17:00] Sue.