A garden of glowing spikes, a ceiling of sea creatures—Dale Chihuly’s influence upon Washington’s art scene is felt in every gallery walk and at every art show. With patrons Anne Gould Hauberg and John H. Hauberg, Chihuly founded The Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood in 1971. The Haubergs weren’t just patrons, they were philanthropists steeped in the arts community in Seattle. The Native American art at the Seattle Art Museum is from their collection. The Haubergs funded the foundation out of their deep respect and admiration for Chihuly’s work.
The Pilchuck Glass School’s beginnings were humble. At that time in the U.S., most glass was made in factories in an industrial setting. Few people knew how to blow and sculpt glass in a studio, and what glass was made by artists was considered garden store kitsch. Chihuly pushed the boundaries of that expectation, and took glass art from kitsch to sculpture, shifting the reputation of glass artists—a shift that is still happening today as glass is used in new ways. As a teacher, Chihuly shared his passion, craft, and tools with students, guiding gaffers and sculptors through the complicated process of making art, challenging them to experiment, fostering their sense of exploration and creativity. Today, the Pilchuck Glass School is a year-round operation, with workshops, intensives, and residencies, and it’s one of the best of its kind. Glass artists from all over the world are drawn LIFESTYLE Spotlight Artist to its student body and faculty, and its alumni are listed among the finest glass artists working today. That foundational spirit of generosity and experimentation has become the hallmark of the Pilchuck Glass School.
Glass art has deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, and the Pilchuck Glass School is a big part of that. “People were drawn to its back-to-theland location and the idea of blowing your own glass in a studio setting,” said Executive Director Jim Baker. “The school developed a set of artists, they developed a market, and they set up studios and stayed.”
Unlike most media, a lot of glasswork is cooperative, even collaborative. Under the best of circumstances, large, complex glass sculptures require teamwork for timing and melding pieces in just the right way, or an entire piece can be destroyed. The students at Pilchuck aren’t just taught the basic craft of glassblowing, they learn how to operate as a team, how to take the individual vision of art and collaborate with other artists, while maintaining artistic integrity. They don’t fixate on issues of authorship or competition. Baker said, “Teams shift the credit. One leader will be on a piece then step back and let another leader take charge of the next piece. There’s a deep generosity at work.” That deep generosity, Baker said, is in large part a credit to Chihuly and the other glass artists in Seattle. They model that mutual respect and deep appreciation in their own lives as successful artists.
Pilchuck has an interdisciplinary approach to their artists-in-residence program, which is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Paul Allen Foundation. The artistsin-residence program brings in artists from other media to learn glassblowing and glass art from the students at Pilchuck. In turn, the Pilchuck students learn from the visiting artists. An interesting way of combining influence and inspiration, this approach of informing art from the roles of student and instructor is typical of the modesty and exploration that define the Pilchuck experience.
Glass as an art form has been in transition for a long time. Gaining acceptance in the art world hasn’t been easy, but as artists experiment and use glass in new and inventive ways, it has started to creep into high art circles. “Pilchuck is both leading and following the conversation in the art world at the same time,” Baker said. “We are always challenging our students to create the best expressions they can with their materials and push it along the line of exploration.” Keeping an eye on the outside art world’s impressions of glass art and pushing the conversation back at Pilchuck is a shift for the school. “It’s like inventing a language while using it.” In addition to their campus near Stanwood, the Pilchuck School also operates a gallery in Pioneer Square in Seattle. Wherever the future of glass in art is leading, you can be sure that whatever evolves started at Pilchuck Glass School.