Pecha Kucha Presents “Glass: Subcultures of Mastery” at SAM

Jeremy Buben
Posted on October 10, 2013, 4:04 pm
15 mins

Pecha Kucha is a lecture series that can best be summed up as “the art of precise presentation.” Conceived and begun in 2003 by two clever and socially-minded architects in Tokyo—the name of the series is Japanese onomatopoeia for “chatter”—Pecha Kuchas take place around the world in over 700 cities. In Seattle, lectures are roughly a month apart, but not on a hard and fast schedule.

What makes Pecha Kucha stand apart from other evenings of presentations is its emphasis on an informal sharing of ideas in a structured concise format, each presenter telling their chosen tale over the course of twenty slides advanced automatically every twenty seconds. This allows for a whole lot of information to be presented in less than 7 minutes—enough time to inform one of something new and fascinating, but not enough time to go into great depth or ramble.

Pecha Kuchas have been presented all over Seattle and have covered a vast array of topics from the art of storytelling to what it means to have luck. The next presentation will be at the Seattle Art Museum tomorrow, Friday, October 11. Titled “Glass: Subcultures of Mastery,” it covers a topic particularly relevant to Seattle, as some consider our city to be at the epicenter of modern art glass. The presenters selected for this Friday’s program all come from some field related to glass, but what I find to be so spectacular is the diverse backgrounds represented among the presenters, truly proving the realm of glass to be a varied and fascinating subculture.

The evening will feature thirteen individuals who work with glass in many different ways. Among the speakers are artists that show in galleries and museums, artists that work in highly conceptual ways in contemporary art and design, and several that instruct others in the techniques of making art out of glass. The evening is rounded out with craftsmen who work behind the scenes to make the tools or the finishes, facilitators of artists both in the gallery and in the museum, as well as a scholar on historic art glass for good measure. Speakers are not asked to present on any specific topic, and so I won’t attempt to tell you what these speakers may or may not speak to, but to prep you for the evening I have prepared a few words on each presenter, hopefully enough to entice you to plan your evening at the Seattle Art Museum learning about the wonderful world of art glass.

Studio glass, or blown glass, involves a large amount of resources. What one doesn’t see when looking at an art glass piece in a museum or gallery is the team that it took to make it happen. Glass is rarely a “solo sport” and it usually requires multiple hands to turn molten glass into a beautiful vase or sculpture. Not only does a team of highly competent people have to be assembled to bring any blown glass piece to fruition, a studio equipped with furnaces, kilns and all sorts of equipment is needed. Some established glass blowers have all this, but most don’t, and arranging for all of this is an enormous feat, something that puts the finished product in perspective in terms of value and significance. It must also be noted that even with a team and a well-equipped studio, deriving the desired results of the artist isn’t always guaranteed, and that makes a finished piece even more precious, when despite all odds, a delicate object made from molten silicate and handled by many hands is finished as intended.

Fred Metz is part of the process that isn’t spotlighted on the pedestal in a gallery, but whose work is without equal as he designs and manufactures the equipment that glass blowers use. Metz and his company Spiral Arts make the blowpipes, punties, hand tools and molds that allow glass blowers to create gorgeous work. A high level of engineering and an ever evolving process of creating the tools that artists need makes Metz an indispensable part of the glass community.

Glass lends itself quite well to many forms of artistic expression, and to become capable at it takes a great deal of time and dedicated effort. What one rarely sees from the outside are the numerous artists that also lend their expertise to instruction, making it possible for new artists to learn the techniques that make their unique expressions tangible. Places like Pratt, Pilchuck and the Schack Art Center in Everett are just a few of the wonderful resources that our glass community has to offer. Teachers like Donna Prunkard, Cathy Chase, Scott Darlington and John Kiley show emerging artists what is possible while making incredible work themselves. Cathy Chase teaches glass to Wilson High School students, our future emerging artists, while Scott Darlington and John Kiley instruct artists in advanced techniques in locations around the world, bringing Seattle’s glass community to a global audience.

Neon light installation by artist Dylan Neuwirth

NOW by Dylan Neuwirth

The medium of glass is varied and encompasses not just blown glass but flame worked glass as well. Torch working lends itself to smaller pieces and artists who prefer an independent environment. Donna Prunkard, who is also a research scientist, creates gorgeous beads and small sculptures. She also lends her expertise to students at Pratt as an instructor. Functional glass—and not the type you drink out of—is a large part of what is being produced locally. Artist Nathan Aweida, aka Nate Dizzle, uses flame working to create sculpture, pipes and handsome smoking accessories, as well as neon and architectural glass. Aweida not only creates a variety of work, but is behind the 7 Point Studios, a building that brings artists of many backgrounds under one roof, supporting the community at large with space to create.

Another skilled artist who is so behind the scenes that an internet search brings up very little is Karsten Oaks, an artist and craftsman who uses cold working techniques to bring an added level to glass art pieces created by many members of the community. Through complicated and precise techniques, Oaks lends texture and polish to already intricate works. The fate of an artist and his or her team’s efforts rests safely in his skilled hands as he cuts and polishes their work to perfection.

Among the presenters is a local legend and one of the first generation of women in art glass. Sonja Blomdahl is a highly collected artist who creates super refined works using color in extraordinary ways to enhance sculptures with vaguely feminine forms. Blomdahl is renown for her use of the incalmo technique, using multiple pieces fused together while hot. To view Blomdahl pieces is to see light in a whole new way.

Glass also lends itself to enhance everyday elements of architecture like lighting, and Julie Conway is at the forefront of beautiful yet functional art glass integrated into its space. Conway works with clients and architects to create custom lighting for her company Illuminata Glass, while also pushing for eco-efficient glass studio practices in another of her projects, BioGlass.

For some artists, glass is a medium that has no bounds. Earlier billed as a neon artist but now labeled as a post-human contemporary artist, Dylan Neuwirth realizes the range of glass in his conceptual works of art. As a vital part of Chihuly Inc, Neuwirth has worked around Chihuly’s maximalist glass sculptures near and far, often installing enormous creations around the world. Through his time in that particular operation, and with his keen knowledge of where talented artists working in glass are located, Neuwirth has brought together large neon works for Bumbershoot as well as splendidly crafted works using glass in unconventional ways. As a post-human artist, Neuwirth is sure to share something fantastical in conception with the evening’s audience.

Drawing from history, Diane Wright has conducted scholarly research on one of the greatest glass artists of all time, Louis Comfort Tiffany. Wright is an expert on Tiffany’s marvelous stained glass windows, many of which reside in Seattle. Tiffany, a skilled artist and son of the famous Charles Tiffany—yes that would be the founder of Tiffany & Co—was an innovator in glass in the early 20th century.

Glass art wouldn’t be as accessible without dedicated individuals who support the artists and show their work. Among the speakers is Sarah Traver, director of Traver Gallery, a gallery that has been responsible for furthering many artists’ careers, and a space that facilitates learning, sharing of ideas, and insight to the glass community, collectors and art enthusiasts, such as myself. Traver has lived with art glass her entire life, seeing it evolve and grow as the world takes notice of the talent working in and around Seattle.

And a late addition to the evening’s line-up, but a vital part of the glass community, Susan Warner oversees an institution solely devoted to glass art. As Executive Director of Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, Warner curates art glass from some of the world’s greatest artists, while also giving emerging artists a place to seek inspiration and knowledge. The museum has an active hot shop with a team of highly skilled artists on hand to assist in any conceivable project. Well-known artists working in glass and even other mediums create new work in the hot shop, in front of museum visitors on a weekly basis. The hot shop plays host to Chihuly yearly, as well as artists like Maya Lin and Patti Warashina, who bring their skills in other mediums to the glass community in this rare and wonderful opportunity.

Pecha Kucha has really put together a stellar group of artists and individuals for this look at glass in its many forms. No doubt the crowd on hand will be awed by the magic of glass and the inspired minds behind the art it is capable of becoming. The evening’s program is just the right primer for anybody to delve into a wonderful world of art glass. But it shouldn’t stop there, as glass art can be found all over Seattle, displayed proudly in corporate collections in downtown lobbies and museum cases. Galleries like Traver, Abmeyer Wood, Stonington and Winston Wachter represent some of the world’s finest artists, and glass pieces are nearly always on display in these welcoming spaces. Traver’s Vetri gallery bridges the gap between functional glass and fine art, displaying works by emerging artists alongside exquisite goblets and stemware made by local legends. And if that weren’t enough, possibly the largest gathering of glass art in one place can be viewed next Thursday as part of the Pilchuck on Display exhibit, a one-night-only showing of emerging and established glass artists’ work before it is auctioned off the following night to raise funds for one of the glass community’s greatest resources, the Pilchuck School of Glass.

Pecha Kucha presents “Glass: Subcultures of Mastery” from 6-9PM on Friday, October 11 at the Seattle Art Museum.

Jeremy Buben
Jeremy Buben goes to art galleries, museums, performance dance shows and the best gumbo restaurants in Seattle. All of the time. You can read more of his suggested events and short subject posts at his blog Le Dandysme.