Jeffrey Stenbom: Coping with PTSD, Connecting with Other Veterans through Kilnformed Glass
In the aftermath of 9/11, Jeffrey Stenbom felt compelled to act and joined the U.S. Army. Stationed in Germany, he was deployed to Kosovo and sent to Iraq for the second year of the war. As a cavalry scout, forward reconnaissance or “finding the bad guys” became his daily routine for the next three and a half years during the height of the conflict.
There were crises on the home front as well. While serving in Iraq, Stenbom missed both the birth of his first son and the death of his sister and only sibling. A combination of deployment and emotional upheaval triggered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Stenbom was discharged from the Army and returned stateside in January 2004.
Back home, Stenbom tried to make a new life for himself as he struggled with anger issues caused by his PTSD. By chance, he discovered kilnforming glass in a class offered at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota, where he was pursuing the last class required for his associate of arts degree.
The passion, drive and focus inspired by fusing helped Stenbom manage his PTSD. It also helped him recognize that he wanted to build a future incorporating both art and teaching. The artist earned his BFA in glass and sculpture and a complementary BS in art education from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. A desire to teach at all levels inspired Stenbom to apply to graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Stenbom’s thesis show at Tulane, entitled Thank You, included four large installation pieces that came together as an exhibit. The show included large, clear, cast glass dog tags suspended from an acrylic chain with a blown glass clasp. Kiln cast glass combat boots were reflected in a cube of one-way mirrors atop a ground of discarded brass rifle shells. There was also an interactive glass ground with imprints of army boots over which visitors could fit their own steps and a flag woven of U.S. military uniforms.
“The concept behind the exhibit developed from a research fellowship on symbolism and iconology. My goal was to be more effective in how I communicate symbolically with my own art. I then considered symbols that are iconic within the culture of the military and decided to use those things to draw the viewer in to consider the piece overall.”
The largest piece Stenbom has created to date includes 7,300 cast glass dog tags and was installed on a wall of the Bellevue Museum, Bellevue, Washington. Titled Every Year, the piece is a startling representation of the number of veterans who commit suicide each year.
Powerful symbolism and iconology define Stenbom’s current work in glass. Residencies at The Studio at The Corning Museum of Glass, Pilchuck Glass School and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls have provided fertile ground to advance his ideas. Now instructing, in 2020 the artist will teach kilncasting at Urban Glass, Brooklyn, New York, and 3D design as well as fused glass at Normandale Community College. His work will be exhibited in A New State of Matter: Contemporary Glass, at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, MI, beginning on January 25, 2020.
Watch “Jeffrey Stenbom, “Every Year” Installation Time-lapse” on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/219605414?ref=em-share