From neighborhood galleries brimming with captivating glass art to the larger-than-life installations of famed glassblower Dale Chihuly, Seattle is synonymous with glass.
The epicenter of American glass art for decades, the city has played host to Harvey Littleton – who offered the first-ever collegiate glass program in 1963 – Fritz Dreisbach, Pamela Koss, and Chihuly himself, whose creations are showcased in Chihuly Garden and Glass next to the iconic Space Needle.
“[Today,] there are more glassblowers working in the Pacific Northwest than anywhere else in America, and it’s become one of the major centers of glass in the world,” says Sarah Tollefson, Office Manager at Seattle Glassblowing Studio in Downtown Seattle. “Up-and-coming glassblowers come here because there are so many glassblowers working here that need help making their pieces. There’s a diversity of talent, and there are so many studios.”
An interactive art gallery less than 20 minutes from The Woodmark Hotel, Seattle Glassblowing Studio offers high-quality glass made in the Pacific Northwest and classes for glassblowers of all skill levels to learn glassmaking techniques. Near the corner of 5th Avenue and Bell Street, the studio was founded in 1991 in the tradition of the studio glass movement.
Upon entering the studio, your eyes will fall upon an array of hand-crafted glass art pieces and jewelry – shapes both familiar and abstract with an ethereal quality that comes through in the way the light hits each color. But because the space is an open studio, you will soon be drawn to look inside the hotshop, and from there, it’s hard to look away.
Immediately adjacent to the gallery spaces, the hotshop is where molten glass is formed into art, and the process is one that is truly mesmerizing. At more than 1,000 degrees Celsius, the glass is gracefully shaped and accented with color. Often the changes are very subtle, sometimes very fast, but in any case the movement is entrancing to the passerby.
“Our hotshop has undergone a lot of renovation in the last few years to really open it up and make the studio itself more of a neutral backdrop to the art and experience of glassblowing,” says Tollefson. “Anybody can come in and watch whatever is going on, whether it’s classes or our own professional artists making pieces.”
Glassblowing is usually a team effort, with many pieces being made by two or three glassblowers working together at a time. At Seattle Glassblowing Studio, most of the team members discovered a passion for glassblowing upon first being exposed to it.
“They were captivated at the very beginning,” says Tollefson. “I asked one of them the question of when he first realized he wanted to be a glassblower, and he said the first time [he] ever saw it in person. People just want to be around it. The people who really want it will do anything they can to be in the hotshop or in the studio.”
For those who are drawn to glassblowing at Seattle Glassblowing Studio, the hotshop offers a variety of courses ranging from simple, half-hour classes to six-week sessions – all of which are hands-on and yield different glass pieces. Most are one-on-one experiences that allow you to get a feel for blowing glass, and the instructors can assist with more technical aspects to ensure that the end result is what you envisioned.
Back in the gallery, you will find art by the acclaimed Dreisbach, Murano glassblowers Roberto Beltrami and Davide Salvadore, and local Seattle artists, including the talented studio team.
When asked what inspires the resident glassblowers, Tollefson says, “A lot of inspiration comes from the environment, not necessarily just the natural environment but things you encounter in life and how you can bring that into a glass piece. Sometimes it’s literal – we have whale sculptures – and sometimes it’s more abstract, just a feeling or a color palette.”
She encourages aspiring glassblowers to have fun with the process, letting the molten glass take you somewhere unexpected, and to challenge yourself because there is always something new to learn in glassblowing.
But for those who prefer to stay away from the heat, watching the artists at work is always welcome. In fact, the studio has attracted regulars over the years, like the pilot that stops by for an hour or two during his layovers to peer into the hotshop.
Says Tollefson, “We try to give people the opportunity to experience glassblowing in whatever form, whether it’s watching or doing.”
*All photos courtesy of Seattle Glassblowing Studio.
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