SVA MA Design Research

SVA MA Design Research, Writing & Criticism1 is a one-year graduate program2
devoted to the study of design, its contexts & consequences.
Our graduates have gone on to pursue research-related careers in publishing, education, museums, institutes, design practice, entrepreneurship, & more.3

  1. Formerly known as D-Crit
  2. About the program
  3. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. All successful candidates awarded a significant scholarship!
SVA MA Design Research

136 W 21st St, 2nd Floor

New York, NY 10011





(212) 592-2228

The Glue Buddha – SVA MA Design Research

Paul Olmer

The Glue Buddha

He sits on a small plywood dais that doubles as the top of a crate for six smaller bins of course-thread drywall screws, 1 ¼” thru 2 1/2” in length. The Glue Buddha is modestly wrapped at is base with prayer flags from Nepal and accompanied by a six inch fake topiary bunny with two broken ears (one ear in the immediate vicinity,) a cake-top scale model of a futbol goalkeeper diving for an unseen ball, a rectangular gum eraser, a large amber bottle of fish oil tablets, one half of a broken pale golden espresso cup, a hard plastic safety yellow shim from a construction site in Denmark, a small dropper bottle of oil for the pneumatic tools, one plastic blue and white pencil sharpener for larger pencils, one aluminum pencil sharpener for normal pencils, and one small black and orange cardboard box of one inch fine-thread drywall screws.


At times this feels like a manger scene to me, arranged just so, with Buddha as baby Jesus, and other times it’s just a ledge with things on it.


I thought we called him the “Glue Buddha” because he sat next to the glue in our small woodshop, on a perch above the fray, but I am mistaken. Someone had knocked him off his place by accident and his head had broken off – a clean break of the stone at his neckline. They glued it back on with wood glue, clamping his head back on awkwardly with one of the bar clamps: one foot of the clamp shmushing the crown of his head downward, one foot of the clamp cramming his unseen feet towards his head. He stayed like this for twenty-four hours so the glue could cure. It was an inelegant tenure.


This Buddha is a stone sculpture, roughly eight and one half inches tall and three inches round carved from a dappled light grey stone with darker flecks. He looks slightly upward towards his left. He is always smiling. The small arch that was carved to make his smile is inverted twice to make his two eyes. He has long ear lobes. He has a small raised circle in the middle of his temple. His face is pocked with marks from the carving tool reminding me of my friends with bad acne scars. The Glue Buddha is standing and wearing a robe or maybe his features just become less distinct below his palms pressed together, “Namaste.”


I sheepishly acknowledge this Buddha and I have some rituals with one another.


There is a slight groove left and right of his nose that collects dust. I use my index finger on my right hand and follow this groove on the right side, and then the left. Immediately after, there is a slight path of clean on an otherwise dusty Buddha. There is a gentle reciprocal directness to the act of wiping the sleep from his eyes. It is one of the things he is asking me to do for myself, and it is what I do for him. This act makes me smile without fail.


I grew up with women who were not my family that cooked a lot and well saying things to me like, “wipe the sleep from your eyes, child.” I didn’t know what they meant. I had been taught that eye buggers[1] are a sign of an unclean face, and so I thought they were telling me to be “more clean” or to “clean up,” which was something many adults told me as a child, but they were not. These women were unconcerned with my naturally filthy curious self and had a job to focus on. When these women said “wipe the sleep from your eyes, child” it was too complicated a sentiment for me to digest. I knew they cared and that was all I needed. Life was a day-to-day tenuous string — people came and went — but these women were always there.


Other times I catch the Glue Buddha out of the corner of my eye and I know I need him; I need a moment, a space, or a pause. I’ll stop what I’m doing in stride and go to him and bow a slight bow, press my palms together, maybe mutter “Namaste,” depending upon if anyone is around to witness me, and I take three breathes: in through my nose and out through my mouth. I blow a little too hard when I exhale, thinking about expelling whatever I need to get rid of in those blows: stress, tension, doubt. I raise my head, see his smile, know that I am ok, and continue with the work at hand.


The Buddha came from my Father’s garden. My cousin, Becky, gave the Buddha to him. The Buddha stood to the right of his house in a rock garden. The house sat in a valley between the Olympic mountain range and the Straight of Juan de Fuca on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Rocks and moss surrounded both my Father and Buddha. I’m not sure why Becky gave a Buddha to my Father. They loved one another. I’m not sure they knew one another.


When my Father died I did not take much from his house, but I thought Buddha would be more at ease with me. I made a package for myself of small things from the house and sent it to myself at work. The boxes had been rifled through upon arrival, but I was happy to see that Buddha was unharmed. It was the only object I wanted from his home.


I don’t have a garden. My very Christian Korean mother-in-law would be ill at ease with Buddha in the house, so he stayed at the shop, overseeing the work at hand.


Thinking about him and his severed head reminds me of the many Buddha I’ve seen at museums all over the world who have suffered throughout time. Some missing hands, fingers, earlobes, noses. If only there had been some pragmatic carpenters around to glue them back together. The seam would be barely visible.










[1] The name for this secretion is “rheum.” In Korean, its nunggop, which is the correct sound for this word.