And Then There Was Glass...

And Then There Was Glass...


Matthew Szosz; Untitled (Inflatable) No. 46p, 2010; fused and inflated glass; 14 x 13 x 11 in.

Forty years ago, a rustic Pilchuck workshop fueled a new era of glass experimentation.

Since its humble beginnings in 1971, Pilchuck Glass School has been a hotbed of ideas and innovation. When Dale Chihuly traveled to the Pacific Northwest to scout locations for a summer workshop, little did he know that he was launching the most comprehensive glass school in the world - and an important artistic laboratory for decades to come.

Chihuly, a native of Tacoma, Washington, had established himself in the glass program at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1960s. But he felt a pull to the Northwest: It was home, it was beautiful, and as a countercultural hub at the time, it was a great place for artists looking to expand their options. In 1970, Chihuly shared his dream of a Northwest glass school with Ruth Tamura, head of the glass department at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (now California College of the Arts). Chihuly imagined working artists acting as mentors to novice glassblowers in apprenticeships that allowed students to learn by doing.

Armed with a $2,000 research grant, Chihuly headed to Seattle with a key question: Where? His question was answered by the respected art patrons John Hauberg and Anne Gould Hauberg, who offered Chihuly use of their land in the corner of a tree farm 50 miles north of Seattle. The originally proposed site had existing structures that could be restored to serve as shelter and work spaces for students.

But a short hike up a nearby hill revealed another site with spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Skagit River Valley. Chihuly immediately asked to use the undeveloped site instead. Pilchuck would be built from scratch.

In the summer of '71 - a particularly rainy year - 16 students were invited from eight colleges belonging to the Union of Independent Colleges of Art. They spent days constructing the first hot shop, and nights camped out in soggy sleeping bags, army surplus tents, and makeshift structures. They learned as much about surviving in the wilderness as they did about glass. By 1976, with the financial support of the Haubergs, the school had been established as a nonprofit and comprised numerous rustic structures designed by noted architect Thomas Bosworth, including a bathhouse, open-air flat shop, and an award-winning hot shop.

Pilchuck (the name, from the area, is Chinook for "red water") was at the forefront of a movement that had been steadily gaining momentum in the United States since the 1960s. Interest in glass surged in the '70s, with the Glass Art Society forming in 1971 and Glass Art Magazine in 1973. An overwhelming number of techniques were invented - or re-invented - during this fertile time. In 1971, Pilchuck students worked only with hot glass, and the production of vessels predominated. Today the school boasts more than 25 workshops in hot, warm, and cold glass techniques, from kiln casting, fusing, and slumping to enameling, neon, and stained glass.

The resourcefulness and openness that characterized the early days at Pilchuck continue to drive innovation in the field. "Pilchuck is unique," says Debora Moore, who has both studied and taught there. "Anyone on campus is able to walk into any of the other studios and watch [and] even participate in other classes going on." Students learn traditional glassworking techniques but are encouraged to use them in new, nontraditional ways, Moore says. At Pilchuck, teachers are students and vice versa, in a practice of continual, reciprocal learning. Artist and Pilchuck trustee Dante Marioni tells the story of glass maestro Lino Tagliapietra - often called the world's greatest living glassblower - and a technique he adopted and dubbed "the Pilchuck '96," after watching another Venetian master, Checco Ongaro, in action at the school in that year.

Forty years after the founding of Pilchuck, artists are producing a striking range of work, as evidenced by the mixed-media cultural commentaries of brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre and the quiet curves of Matthew Szosz's inflated window glass. Richard Marquis, who's been a presence at the school, off and on, since the beginning, likes to joke: "My body of work is so varied that I can easily put together a one-person group show." 

Chihuly had a singular vision. But the result of that, four decades later, is remarkably diverse.

Suzanne Beal is a writer in Seattle.


Catalyst: Dale Chihuly

This year, as Pilchuck marks its 40th birthday, co-founder Dale Chihuly will turn 70. At this milestone, perhaps alone among craftspeople, Chihuly is a household name. Chihuly Inc. employs more than 90 people, and 2004 earnings were estimated at $29 million. We caught up with him when he was in Tel Aviv, at the opening of an exhibition of his work at Litvak Gallery.

Describe your process: Most of my work comes from my gut.
I start with a concept, maybe size or form or structure, and it evolves. I never know what I'm going to do until I do it.
What makes your approach unique: I feel very fortunate to have the talent and skills of a large team at my disposal, especially now that I do such large architectural projects and installations. Glassblowing is a very spontaneous medium, and you have to respond very quickly. I like working fast, and the team allows me to do that.
What you like most about glass: No other material has the ability to take in light and radiate out color like glass. What other material can you blow human breath into, make a form, heat it up with fire, move it around and manipulate it with centrifugal force and gravity?
Biggest artistic influences: One of my closest friends, [the late glass master] Italo Scanga. But most of my influences I didn't personally know - Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Proudest of: My son, Jackson.
Working on now: My first major exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, opening April 10.
How you'd like to be remembered: It's not really something I think about. I'd rather leave it to time and others to decide.


2 States of Matter: Matthew Szosz

Describe your process: I am drawn to the transitional points of the glass process, from liquid to solid, from whole to broken, from anticipation to event. It is these moments of transformation that I find most satisfying, and that form the core of my practice.
Pilchuck connection: I've been a student, emerging artist-in-residence, and artist's assistant.
Biggest artistic influence: Everything. To me all experiences are opportunities - the street and the woods and the library and the museum are equals, and the whole is far richer than the parts themselves.
What you like most about glass: Glass is an inexhaustible well of a material. It surrounds us in a myriad of forms in our everyday lives, offering interesting behavior and applications at every turn. It is usable across two states of matter and all points in between, and responds in ever-surprising and varied ways. There's always something to do.
Proudest of: I was honored in 2009 to receive the Jutta Cuny-Franz award, a biennial prize for innovation in glass by an artist under 40.
Working on now: A series of pieces in which glass is heated and fused in a kiln, and then removed and "expanded" into large connected matrices, and then allowed to cool and disintegrate at its natural rate.
What's next: Curating a juried show during the next Glass Art Society conference.


Form: Dante Marioni

Describe your work: Blown glass, mostly vessels, and lately, some lighting projects.
How you got where you are: I've been a glassblower since I was 15 years old. My dad [glass master Paul Marioni] was my introduction.
Pilchuck connection: I participated in Pilchuck programs for 20 consecutive summers.
What makes your work unique: I can't really say that there is anything unique about my approach. I'd like to think that my work is recognizable as mine alone, though.
Biggest artistic influences: [Glass artists] Benjamin Moore, Richard Marquis, Lino Tagliapietra, Tapio Wirkkala, Napoleone Martinuzzi, and my dad. Also, [my uncle, painter] Joseph Marioni.
Biggest challenge with glass: Making objects that make me happy from a furnace full of molten goo.
What's next: I am increasingly interested in lighting projects. But I have done a bad job of predicting my future so far.
How you'd like to be remembered: As someone who passed along what was so generously passed to me, and as a nice person who made some original work and contributed to the vocabulary of blown glass forms.


Transitions: Judith Schaechter

Describe your work: I don't, if I can get away with it. But if I must, I say "figurative stained glass windows" - mostly of women going through emotional transitions. People seem to notice the subject matter the most. I do not consider my work depressing in any way whatsoever!
Describe your process: I fumbled my way through a long journey of spontaneous dis­covery, trial and error, mostly error. I am constantly experimenting with what stained glass can do.
Pilchuck connection: I have taught there on a number of occasions and was also a Hauberg Fellow. I love Pilchuck.
Biggest artistic influences: In order: my mother and family; glass itself; the Internet.
What you like most about glass: Glass is a cruel and brutal, unforgiving bitch goddess. It is so beautiful it's hard not to transform it for the worse. Plus, it's obdurate and resists physical change. I appreciate the fact that it makes for maximum creative struggle.
Biggest challenge with glass: The endless technique required to make anything that looks good to me.
Working on now: I am making 10 or more windows to be installed in the old Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia [for an opening in March 2012].
How you'd like to be remembered: Apologies for my giant ego. I would like to be remembered as someone who made a notable contribution to the history of their medium, someone who worked hard to make beautiful and moving stained glass windows.


Translucency: Joyce Scott

Describe your process: I started as an artist in vitro; my mother was my first art teacher. Then, like many, I went to art schools, residencies, and workshops and traveled the world. I spent a lot of time experimenting with techniques and design. I was a weaver for many years, but I realized I wanted to play with light differently. Glass was the logical next step.
Pilchuck connection: I was an artist-in-residence twice, and I taught a beadwork/flamework class with two flamework assistants. Pilchuck embraced me and my art, even when they thought it was, well, maybe not up to snuff.
Biggest artistic influences: Love of life and the joy of making.
What you like most about glass: Translucency.
Biggest challenge with glass: It breaks, dang it. You can't just do it, there's fire involved. It costs a lot of money. And it breaks, dang it.
Proudest of: Forty years as a successful working studio artist, educator, and performer.
Working on now: Combining beadwork and glass in mosaics, fusing, and repurposing materials for sculpture; also, a jewelry collaboration with Shana Kroiz and Lauren Schott.
What's next: A public art work, hopefully some time for scholarly pursuits, making art about social issues.
How you'd like to be remembered: Fat, funny, and free.


Layering: Einar & Jamex de la Torre

Describe your work: Mixed media, often including blown glass. We do gallery work, installation, and public art.
Describe your process: It is about layering, a natural approach, as we are collaborators and also immigrants. We layer materials and ideas.
Pilchuck connection: We have taught there four or five times and quite enjoy doing it.   
What makes your work unique: Because only occasionally do we have access to hot shops, we have had to keep our approach as fast and fresh as possible; very rarely do we repeat anything.
Biggest artistic influences: The rich visuals of popular culture in Mexico, pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art, Catholic art, and German expressionism.
What you like most about glass: The spontaneity. It is simply the fastest sculpting material there is; also, the synergy that happens in the hot shop with the crew. It is a dance-like process, yet very focused and technical.
Biggest challenge with glass: Shipping. Worst combination ever: heavy and fragile.
Proudest of: Two important awards, the Louis Comfort Tiffany award and the Joan Mitchell Foundation award.
What's next: A large solo exhibit at the Tucson Museum of Art opening in February.


Storytelling: April Surgent

Describe your work: Cameo engraved glass, depicting stories of the people and places that I have interacted with.
Describe your process: After 10 years of blowing glass, I learned engraving from [Czech master engraver] Jiri Harcuba at Pilchuck in 2003. I haven't left the cold shop since.
Pilchuck connection: Since 2003, I've been a student, teaching assistant, teacher, and member of APAC [Pilchuck's artist board].
What makes your work unique: I use glass much like a painter would use a blank canvas and carve the surface of it to depict stories.
Biggest artistic influence: Harcuba has been the single biggest artistic and philosoph­ical influence on my life and work.
Biggest challenge with glass: It is a fickle material. Making sure that it is always happy is the most challenging thing.
What's next: Working on an installation [for the Bellevue (Washington) Arts Museum] that got my work off of the wall has inspired me to think more sculpturally. Maybe that's what's next?
How you'd like to be remembered: As a person who helped continue Harcuba's mission of making glass engraving contemporary.


The Surface: Ethan Stern

Describe your process: I started at Alfred University in ceramics. Then I began engraving glass as a way to develop a tactile approach to the surface and create a mark that felt expressive and unique. I have found a compromise between the intensity of hot glass and intimacy of the clay, expressed through the engraved surface. 
Pilchuck connection: I have been a staff member for nine summers, working in many capacities. In 2009 I taught a class called "The Unexpected Object."
What's unique about your approach: I approach glass with a strong knowledge of its history and an unwillingness to compromise originality for "beauty."
What you like most about glass: It has an ability to capture and manipulate color and light like no other material.  
Biggest challenge with glass: It is not forgiving like other materials. My process of carving is a reductive one, so I can't add any material once it's removed.
Proudest of: I started my studio in 2006. Going to work every day to make art is too good to be true. 
Working on now: A series of flat wall panels made from blown cylinders that have been slumped open. The panels are blown with layers of color and are engraved when they are flat. The works are my largest departure from the vessel form.
What's next: Teaching at the Pittsburgh Glass Center in June and preparing for a solo show at the Traver Gallery.


Challenge: Mark Zirpel

Pilchuck connection: I came to Pilchuck to run the print shop - my first glimpse into the glass world. I was intrigued. I have worked there on staff most summers, moving from the print shop to the cold shop. (I ran the store one summer - learning I have a poor aptitude for accounting.) 
Biggest artistic influence: My biggest influence has been my father - specifically his insistence on the importance of doing what one loves and doing it to the best of one's abilities. This is an important lesson for an artist and one that makes more sense as I grow older and realize the degree to which many people are not doing that.
Biggest challenge with glass: The learning curve on hot glass is slow and steep. Acquiring the skills takes many years and a considerable investment of resources. And then one must figure out how to apply those skills in the creation of art. One could spend a lifetime working on technical proficiency and never get to the art. 
Proudest of: It is a huge challenge in this culture to figure out how to be an artist.  I don't mean figuring out how to do something well, but to dedicate oneself to creative endeavor, to your imagination, and what you believe is important. Being an artist is an opportunity to suggest alternatives to the path laid out by one's culture. It is a significant accomplishment to follow this path. I am working on it.
Working on now: I'd rather work in my studio than do most anything else. In 2008 I took a teaching job at the University of Washington. So what I am really working on is trying to arrive at a sustainable balance between employment and studio. 


Flora: Debora Moore

Describe your work: My work is a meditation on nature. I use the medium of glass to create my own unique vision of the natural world and all its beauty and complexity.
Describe your process: I combine new and traditional glassblowing techniques to create distinct pieces that are rooted in reality but spring from my imagination.
Pilchuck connction: I have received three scholarships, been an instructor there, and been involved in various ways throughout the years.
What makes your work unique: I've developed new ways to use glass as a material to create distinct surfaces and textures found in the natural world. I use glass like paint to achieve depth of color.
Biggest artistic influences: The natural world and research I have conducted on my travels; seeing flora in its natural habitat.
Biggest challenge with glass: I will have an idea and have to take this hot, honey-like substance and transform it into an object.
Proudest of: In 2007, I was awarded the Rakow Commission from the Corning Museum of Glass. A piece of mine is now part of their permanent collection.
What's next: I would like to take my work off the wall and pedestal and explore new ways of constructing and presenting my pieces as both kinetic and freestanding sculptures.


Fun: Richard Marquis

Describe your work: I make odd objects mostly usingglass. 
Describe your process: The hot slab technique is based on ceramic processes, except there's more drama and fire. 
Pilchuck connection: I've taught there and been artist-in-residence. I've got friends who work and teach there.   
Your training: Mostly I've learned by watching. I worked in Murano for a year on a Fulbright scholarship and saw proper glassblowing for the first time.
What makes your work unique: My body of work is so varied that I can easily put together a one-person group show. Humor is always lurking nearby.
Biggest artistic influences: H. C. Westermann, Ken Price, Ron Nagle, and Pete Voulkos.
What you like most about glass: Once you're set up and have some skill you can run through ideas quickly.
Biggest challenge with glass: Paying the operating costs.
Proudest of: Still making new and interesting objects after 45 years in the glass field.
Working on now: I'm now working on small-scale objects that I find rewarding and hearken back to pieces I made in the late '70s.
What's next: Medicare.
How you'd like to be remembered: As the guy who was still making good work well into his 90s.


Time: David Willis

Describe your work: I work primarily with lampworked glass, and sometimes with digital media. My work is generally time-intensive, between a few weeks and a couple of years per piece.
What makes your work unique: It's supposed to be fun. I keep my work relevant to my life and ideas first, and continually experiment with my material.
Pilchuck connection: Nine consecutive summers at Pilchuck as a student, teaching assistant, and lampworking shop coordinator. I will be teaching there this summer.
Biggest artistic influences: I do some fabrication work for the artists Jim Hodges, Kiki Smith, and Anne Wilson. My conversations with them, and my study of art history, have informed my practice and my work to a large degree.
What you like most about glass: Glass is an extremely versatile material. From "painting" to large-scale sculpture, the medium offers so many avenues.
Biggest challenge with glass: The challenging part of working with glass - it's screaming hot, you can't touch it, etc. - is fun for me. I enjoy figuring out how to make it do what I want.
Working on now: I am work­ing on what I call the "heart project." It is a multi-disciplinary piece combining sculpture, still and moving images, per­formance, and community involvement.