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Posted 11.08.17

Glassblowing in the mountains of Seattle at Pilchuck Glass School

By Ben Lintell – Guest blog

Having previously spent time in, and been inspired by, the prestigious Studio Le Four in Paris, BA (Hons) Contemporary Crafts graduate Ben Lintell decided a new adventure was due. Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Pilchuck Glass School was the clear choice for Ben's next challenge.

Here, Ben reports back on his time attending one of their sought after short courses, working alongside established glass artists and meeting his idols.

In June of 2017, having graduated from Plymouth College of Art, I wanted to repeat my previous summer's experience in Paris working for Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert by working with more of the worlds best in glassblowing.

I decided that I wanted to venture into the American glass scene and applied to study at the acclaimed Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, WA. Seattle has become the heart of the studio glass community over the past few years and every other person in the city has some involvement in the world of glass.

Pilchuck Glass School is situated in the picturesque foothills of the Cascade Mountains

Just over an hour drive from downtown Seattle, up in the hills and surrounded by dense woodland, is Pilchuck Glass School. An incredible place built for artists to live and breathe the material of glass.

There I had been accepted to study on an advanced glass blowing course taught by two of my favourite artists and glass making hero’s Nancy Callen and Mel Douglas. The pair have been collaborating for the past five years and both explore the relationship between form and line, which was the topic of our class.

Nancy had worked for the maestro Lino Tagliapietra for 19 years and in her long career has created some truly incredible work. Mel’s practice is seated within cold working, using engraving tools to create beautiful, subtle marks on the surface o the glass, which explores the beauty of line.

The experience of meeting these people I had idolised for so long was incredible. All around campus, there were incredibly skilled artists in glass. Five courses were taking place at one time on this small campus. We spent nine days eating, drinking and working with incredible artists like Michael Shunke, Josie Gluck, Jen Elek, Cappy Thompson and Dick Weiss.

My classmates and I were all rather star-struck and a little intimidated, but there was no time to dwell on this. We had nine days of intense work to do with not a moments rest. From 8am till 11pm we worked in both the hot glass studio and the cold glass engraving studio with two, one hour breaks to eat.

Pilchuck Glass School glassblowing studio

Nancy and Mel’s class was very conceptually focused. The pair set various tasks aimed at considering different ways of exploring and visualising line within a form, without simply focusing on techniques in the hot glass studio, as is the temptation.

"I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have experienced such a loving community, ready to give and support artists around the world."

This way of working was extremely freeing. I had a feeling that without the very defined and constricted task guidelines, I perhaps would have defaulted to my comfort zone and brought my previous work into play far too much. The tasks gave us specific colour pallets and goals that allowed for complete creative freedom. Through this, we were pushed to explore completely different ways of working with our material.

The studios at Pilchuck were of an exceptional standard. Anything you could imagine making in that studio is possible. The atmosphere while working was incredible, especially blowing glass under floodlights at 11pm, surrounded by other students from various courses that had come to watch the glass blowing. It was this atmosphere that truly made the experience exceptional.

The people I met and the relationships I developed there are priceless. I could not have asked for better mentors, friends and family in Mel, Nancy and my course mates. That was not just exclusive to my course.

The way I was welcomed by the other tutors, TA’s and students was one of a family. We all had to give so much of ourselves that we all bonded very quickly. Those relationships we all made were the best thing about the experience, on top of the exploration into new forms and the technical knowledge we all gained from Mel and Nancy.

"The atmosphere while working was incredible, especially blowing glass under floodlights at 11pm...It  was this atmosphere that truly made the experience exceptional."

All of this made leaving Pilchuck very hard and emotional. But it is exciting to be part of that community and foster the relationships we all began at Pilchuck. This, however, was not the end of my trip to America.

After some quick sightseeing in Seattle, I flew to Connecticut to meet and work with another idol of mine, Josh Bernbaum in Vermont. I reached out to Josh and his wife Martha before leaving the UK and the pair welcomed me with open arms, travelling 2 hours out of their way to have me for three days at their home and studio in the mountains of Vermont. 

'Free Fall', a piece from Ben's latest collection

Josh and Martha were exceptionally open and giving, answering all of my questions and imparting as much knowledge as possible. On the second day, Josh and I undertook a collaboration. Josh prepared his colour and patterning of beautiful Venetian cane work and passed it to me to form into a piece of my new series of work that I had begun developing at Pilchuck. To have worked with Nancy Callen, Mel Douglas and Josh Bernbaum on my work was simply incredible and something I will never forget.

Coming back from the US, I want to bring all of the ideas and positivity I have experienced into my next body of work. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have experienced such a loving community, ready to give and support artists around the world. It is this positivity that is so important, and I want this next chapter of my work to revolve around evolving my practice and playing my part in the glass community.

Follow Ben and his adventures in glass on Instagram: @blintell