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What is your greatest contribution to Corning?

This is one of the questions for the League of Women Voters candidates forum.

My answer - the one that is yet to come.  Even though I am not mayor, I intend to keep working to make the city and surrounding areas more sustainable.

But if I have to say what my greatest contribution in the past has been, it's participation and involvement.  When we moved here from Rome (the capital of Italy, not the upstate New York town) people said "But won't you miss the big city?  What are you going to do?"

Answer to the first question: "No.  I can't imagine any circumstances in which I would live in a big city again."  What follows is a short (!) list of what I found to occupy myself.

I raised three children.  My proudest achievement in that respect is that I - a South African who was carefully educated to be a racist under the apartheid regime - raised three color-blind children.  I may still sometimes flinch internally in the presence of a black man, but my children don't use race or color as a descriptor.

Along with children comes the PTA.  I was most active at the elementary level, becoming secretary of the Carder School PTA seven months after arriving in Corning.  During the 8 years that I had a child at Carder, I was involved with Junior Great Books and the Reflections program (which I ran at the district level for a couple of years)

I was also tutor to a first grader who was struggling with language because both her parents were deaf.  Later, I became a tutor for the Migrant Education Outreach Program throughout Steuben County.  I had 10 or 11  kids in Corning and got to know Winfield, Kent Phillips and Gregg schools quite well.

Once we got our green cards, I began working as a bookbinder and restorer.  I started at the back of the Book Exchange, moved to the second floor of the Hawkes building, then worked in my basement at two 3rd Street houses.  I am recognized and remembered by perhaps 40 Corning residents because I repaired their family bible.  Repairing bibles was my bread and butter, which is highly ironic as I consider the Bible to be the most damaging book in existence.

I was asked to travel to St Kitts and Nevis to train their librarians in caring for their books.  Since then I have conducted many workshops.  Demonstrated traditional binding at the Wingblinger for several years, including one when the temperature was over 100 degrees and my glue wouldn't set.  As an upshot of the trip to Nevis, I became involved with an organization called Partners of the Americas and oversaw the training of 13 people from the islands, and found them all a family to stay with while they were here.

In 1993 I designed and constructed (with a bit of help) the smallest bookshop in the world.

Miniscula and I sat in the middle of the empty lot at the corner of Market and Chestnut for three summers.  Then I bought the Book Exchange, which began my active involvement with the glass world, and my daughter and I turned a general used bookstore with a focus on books about glass, into Whitehouse Books, which dealt exclusively in glass, ceramics and the decorative arts, with a worldwide clientele.  Of course, I was married to one of the world's leading experts on glass and had restored a number of books for the CMoG library.  (In those days it was not known as the Rakow Library.  That only came about after Leonard Rakow died on Saturday, September 19th, 1987.  I know that because David came home and told me that he had to go to New York the next day for the funeral.  It would be the first funeral he had ever attended, and it was on my 40th birthday.  This caused quite a lot of tension in the family and the least said about my extreme reaction, the better!)

In 1997, Corning's iconic bookstore Bookmarks was set to close its doors.  I felt strongly (still do) that every town needs a bookstore, and I had recently inherited a certain amount of money from my mother, so - against advice - I bought it.  I should have known that the very shrewd business man who owned it was selling because the market was dropping out of bricks and mortar book shops.  Not only had Barnes and Noble just moved into the area, but Amazon and the internet were on the move.  Plus, bookselling was no longer an exclusive business - everyone began selling books.  And savvy shoppers began looking for books from online sources.  I struggled on with both stores for some time but Bookmarks closed in 2001 and Whitehouse Books moved off Market Street not long after. (My daughter continued to run it from home for another 3 or 4 years, but it was a losing battle).

During the Whitehouse Books years I, often accompanied by my daughter, went with our books to 10 Glass Art Society conferences, as well as early American glass collectors, the Society of Appraisers, the Stained Glass Association, and many other conferences (about 40 in all). One result was that I co-chaired the 2001 GAS conference here in Corning. It was the most successful conference in their history and led to the establishment of Glassfest as an annual event, incorporating several of my ideas.

While I had a presence on Market Street, I became involved with evolving merchant organizations.  For five years I was the co-chair of the Partnership for Market Street which morphed into the Gaffer District.  I claim some credit for that as I pushed hard for a consolidation of agencies involved in the management of downtown Corning. (there used to be nine!!!!)

Along the way, I have served on the board of OSFL, 171 and Friends of the Library.  My tenure with the Orchestra was brief and entirely due to the fact that my very dear friend, Lee Baldwin, wanted backup.  When she retired from the Board, I resigned.  However, for many years, my anniversary present to David was a subscription to the concerts.  He loved music.  Me, too.  I still attend concerts whenever I am in town and I have come to appreciate live performances enormously.  (Watch for a blog post on the wonder thereof.)

My history with 171 Cedar Arts Center goes back more than 30 years.  My children took dance and ceramics classes early on.  I started volunteering at about the same time.  I decorated the ballroom of Bruce House for a Caribbean-themed fund-raiser.  I made hundreds of flowers out of crepe paper - bougainvillea to cover a trellis and hibiscus in vases.  I helped at the Children's Fair for several years and was chief organizer of two.

In 1992 (I think) I was asked if I could throw together an exhibition as the scheduled artist had cancelled. I did one about the production of books.  As I needed to make about twenty to illustrate the different stages, I chose to go small.  Detached Thoughts on Literacy and Detached Thoughts on Education were the result.  They are 2.5x3.25 inches (technically too big to be considered miniatures) but launched my fascination with tiny books. 

We contributed to an exhibition called Corning's Treasures, and I have since had an exhibition of my collection of black and white art (including six pieces of my own work), and I was part of the recent MOSAIC show and fundraiser.

I have taught many classes at 171 - bookbinding, books arts (including paper making and marbling), making miniatures and Italian.  I am no longer an active teacher because 171 decided (as did many non-profits) that they had to follow the mandates of their insurance companies and require background checks for all employees and volunteers.  And I don't mean checks to see if you have a criminal record.  The recent mandated checks are to see whether you have a conviction for some sexual offense.

I refused to do that for both the Co-operative extension and 171.  I also resigned as a docent for CMoG because I think it is unconscionable to bow to the wishes of an insurance company and subject well-known and long-serving volunteers to the indignity of a background check.  It is saying that, while we greatly appreciate your dedication and years of service, our liability insurance coverage is more important.  CMoG begged me to reconsider and, to my continuing shame, I did.  I did because I love being a docent and sharing my knowledge about the museum and glass.  I did because being a docent maintains a connection to David.  But I don't feel good about it.

2020 update: I finally quit being a docent at CMoG when they demoted us to "Glass Guides" along with most of the non-curatorial staff.  Ditto the Rockwell.  

Although I do not describe myself as an artist, I have also had a solo show at The Arts, focused on the alphabet.

Besides being a volunteer and exhibitor at 171, I have also taken many classes.  I worked there for more than three years, and I was on the board for a while.  I resigned when I felt that the focus was more on money than on art.  But during my time as office manager, I introduced language classes and broadened the scholarship program.

In 2011 I had an epiphany and declared that I was on a mission to save the earth one compost heap at a time.  I'm still working on it.  As a private citizen. I have had zero luck getting the city involved.  I think that needs to change.  The city needs to listen to the huge resource that it has - the citizens.  Nevertheless, I have given several talks and workshops about composting, and I continue to work with organizations like People for a Healthy Environment (PHE) to educate the public about environmental issues, the negative aspects and the positive - what we can do to overcome the damage that man has done to the environment.

More from the Forum
Another question was "Should Corning have a renewable energy plan.
You can read my prepared answer here
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