Well. That was an interesting day.
My friend Kerri took me along on a tour of the Pilchuck Glass School, a sprawling campus up in the woods north of Seattle dedicated to the Nine Glass Arts. I did not know until today that there are nine different branches of glass art, and I still couldn’t tell you what they are – the docent didn’t ever explicitly list them off. It was gorgeous; there were amazing views from its perch high in the mountains, and lots of quirky buildings built from local lumber.
Glassworking isn’t my thing, so I didn’t recognize any of the tools and techniques on display (well, okay, I saw a lot of familiar stuff in the print shop – apparently Printing With Glass is one of the Nine Glass Arts, and, um, the part of my brain that is a total freak for cool spot inks and whatnot immediately started thinking about cool things I could do with that), or any of the names being casually dropped aside from Chihuly (because you cannot live in Seattle and not vaguely know who he is), but what I did recognize is the general shape of a bunch of artists coming together to share resources and techniques, and maybe even trying to set their egos aside – the docent had a story about how she got help learning to use a lathe on glass from a guy who she later realized is one of the lead designers at Waterford Crystal, for instance.
And I also recognized the complicated dance between money and art; the place was set up about forty years ago by Dale Chihuly and some of his glassmaking buddies, on land donated by the owners of the Pilchuck Tree Farm, who also sunk a lot of money into supporting it over the years as it grew from “some guys doing occasional glassblowing sessions in the woods” to “a super-prestigious School of Glass Art that regularly hosts some of the top glass artists for teaching and residencies”.
Really though it made me want to find more excuses to get the hell away from the city and just sit somewhere peaceful and draw. Maybe alone, maybe around other artists. Where is the lovely tree-lined retreat for digital artists. Well I do have a couple friends who are kicking around the idea of acquiring some space up in the woods, building a few tiny houses and keeping some chickens and goats, and letting friends stay there for a while once they have more tiny houses than they need for their own shelter…
It’s like, a group of artists needs a few fundamental things: space to work and to keep their less-portable tools, other artists to help spread out the cost of that space and their tools, a library of both reference works for their own craft and works from outside it (because everyone should be looking to both the work that inspired them to take up this particular craft, and to work from far outside it, unless they’re happy just cranking out functional-but-uninspiring work), and other artists with a wide variety of skills – newbies need mentors, old hands need people to pass all their One Weird Tips on to, and all of those artists need folks who can look at their sketches and finished works and offer useful critique. And somewhere to eat, somewhere to excrete, and somewhere to sleep if the group workspace is way the hell away from civilization like this one is. I didn’t recognize the vast majority of the tools and processes but I sure as hell felt at home with the general shape of the place as a Bunch Of Artists.
Here’s some photos stolen from Kerri’s Facebook post about it:
(Yes, the “Hot Studio” does indeed imply a “Cold Studio”, where they do stuff that doesn’t involve fire – it’s full of water-cooled devices for grinding, carving, and smoothing glass. When we passed through it was also full of a dude in an absolutely fabulous sparkly purple rubber apron, which it transpired was designed by someone associated with the school, for some of the specific needs of grinding glass. There is also a “Flat Studio” where people mostly do small things involving much smaller amounts of fire than the furnaces in the Hot Studio; why it’s the Flat Studio, I’m not sure, in part because apparently nobody is quite sure. Tradition, you know? Kerri didn’t photograph these other places, and I left my phone in my purse for pretty much the entire tour.)
Afterwards I told Kerri that I am basically going to hassle her every now and then for the rest of the year about her obvious desire to apply to take a class or two next summer. Because I am an artistic enabler, damnit. GIT THAT PORTFOLIO IN SHAPE GIRL. She apologized for excitedly burbling about what she saw at the place and I was like, dude, I know how I felt the first few times I was in a Real Animation Studio, carry on, I’d be worried if you weren’t excited.
(Me? I found it interesting, and I wouldn’t turn down a collaborative project or something (or an opportunity to just hang out there for a week with my tablet, drawing the same kind of stuff I normally do) – but I don’t think I have a burning desire to learn a Physical Craft to go along with my drawing skills right now. I am however currently juggling a long-buried desire to make hideous noises with an electric guitar against the growing urge to get my ass back in the pole dance studio and get back in the kind of physical shape you need to do that… I’m pretty sure I can’t really do both at once.)
Docent: “This is one of the biggest annealing ovens outside of industrial shops.”
Me: “Damn, you could dispose of a LOT of bodies at once in that.”