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Posted 01.10.14

Glass technician’s master course in Pilchuck: “Out of this world!”

This summer, Glass technician Amy Whittingham attended an expert Summer Camp in Glass at Pilchuck Glass School after raising funds through a Kickstarter campaign and financial support from the college.

Here, Amy tells us all about her experience in the US – from night time near-bear encounters to how her experience has inspired her to pass on her knowledge and skills with our students.

Amy on meeting Dale Chihuly: for me, that was awesome

"I made it to Pilchuck!

This summer I did my first ever solo trip flying across the Atlantic to study at Pilchuck Glass School, and the experience was out of this world. Travelling by myself was one of many hurdles to overcome, I have never felt brave enough to do this before so it was a big deal for me. I stayed in a quirky hostel called Urban Hideaway in Vancouver for a couple nights, then got the Amtrak train over the border to Mount Vernon, a small town an hour north of Seattle. A lovely glassblower called Zach picked me up, as he drove us towards Pilchuck, a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation grew as I approached; what were the other students going to be like, or the tutors and technicians, would I be able to create what I wanted, what would I be making? All these questions were whizzing round my head, so many unknowns….

For me it was really motivational. I’ve realised there’s definitely more hours in the day.

The campus is set on a beautiful cedar wood farm, there's a murky pond for swimming in and hiking trails through the forest leading up to inspiration point (and if you go further disappointment point), surprisingly both, unlike the latter, have fantastic views of the surrounding lakes, islands and mountains. On our first Sunday off we went on a three hour hike, our lecturer didn’t really know where he was going, it wasn’t too bad until we had to climb through stinging nettles. I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops, and one of our group fell backwards into some of them (fortunately not me).

The facilities are phenomenal at Pilchuck, a huge hot-shop, a sand casting hot-shop (where we were based), a lampworking studio with more torches than I have ever seen in one place and a glass lathe, a mould making studio (my favourite place), drawing studio and finishing studio. Everything is geared towards being able to make whatever you can imagine in glass.

We worked hard from 8am till midnight every day initially on conceptual projects, collaborating on an interactive installation in the founding fathers birch trees. We created lots of blown glass droplet and rock forms, that we learned how to mirror, and a glass helmet with horns that was meant to heighten the sounds of the trees, but actually just reverberated the sounds of the wearer (imagine putting your head inside a goldfish bowl).

For the college I would really like to bring in some workshops on artists that I’ve researched, quick presentations with the aim of expanding our students’ knowledge.

Then focussing on our own ideas we were encouraged by tutors and international glass artists Ben Wright and Stine Bidstrup to work outside of our comfort zones. I was intrigued and excited by various stories of sightings around the campus, and decided to maximise the prospect of seeing a bear in the woods. As bears are nocturnal I went on loads of midnight walks through the trees without a torch... I didn't see any bears, but that doesn't mean that they didn't see me. I recorded some of the walks and interviews with staff and students and this became part of an installation I created in a 'hunting' shed. I’ve since created a series of limited edition prints from some of my sketches of the woods.

The most successful glass works I created were spiky sandcasts and extremely heavy, so way over budget to send home. Instead I went to galleries in Seattle, the highlight being a visit to Dale Chihuly's Gallery and Gardens... on the day that he happened to be doing his yearly book signing (FATE!!!).

The experience really widened my knowledge of other glass makers.  I met loads of fantastic glass artists – including Heike Brachlow and Stine Bidstrup – and meeting Dale Chihuly, ‘the daddy’ of the studio glass movement and co-founder of Pilchuck, really topped the whole trip. 

For the college I would really like to bring in some workshops on artists that I’ve researched, quick presentations with the aim of expanding our students’ knowledge.

I spent a lot of time on conceptual work. I learned not so much about process but more about finding out new ways to approach projects. For me it was really motivational. I’ve realised there’s definitely more hours in the day.

For the college I would really like to bring in some workshops on artists that I’ve researched, quick presentations with the aim of expanding our students’ knowledge. Artist talks are inspirational and informative and constantly shows students all these different perspectives which will help them develop.

I made it to Pilchuck Glass School with thanks to the support of Plymouth College of Art and the fantastic pledgers from my ‘Fly me to Pilchuck’ kickstarter campaign. My next adventures include exhibiting as part of a group called Emerge at Made London from 24th to 26th of October and a new academic year at Plymouth College of Art.

- Amy Whittingham is a technician on our BA (Hons) Glass programme.