Meet the Artist: Dante Marioni
Corning Museum of Glass, February 25, 2010
Tina Oldknow: Thank you all so much for coming, I feel like we’re a very special group to have braved this daunting weather to be here together, and it’s very appropriate, because tonight we have a very special speaker, who is Dante Marioni.
For those of you who may not be aware, Dante is one of the most admired and respected glassblowers anywhere, and that means worldwide. I would even go so as far as to say that he has a cult following. But, I don’t want to embarrass him, so all I will say is that as a person and as an artist he is exceptional in every way. And if you don’t get enough of Dante tonight, he will be blowing at the Museum’s Studio tomorrow from 10:00 to 2:00, and I invite you all to come watch him. Please don’t miss it. You will be glad that you saw him; he’s really great.
In regards to his artwork, Dante considers himself a traditionalist, and he has in fact learned glassblowing in the most traditional way possible. Unlike many artists working in glass today, Dante is not the product of a university or art school program. He has learned his craft from American and Italian master glassblowers—primarily Lino Tagliapietra and Benjamin Moore. Dante was not, however, your typical apprentice. He grew up in a family of influential artists and intellectuals that includes his father, Paul Marioni, a respected artist and pioneer of the American Studio Glass movement; his uncle, Joseph Marioni a painter in New York; and another uncle, Tom Marioni, a well known performance artist in northern California.
As Dante has told me, he spent his childhood listening to discussions about movements and trends in contemporary art. He thought that these kinds of conversations were normal. But most importantly, I think, his world view was shaped by artists, to which he owes much of his success.
Dante remembers seeing his father and his friends blow glass in the early years, but he was too young to appreciate what they were doing and to understand the newness of studio glassworking, not to mention Paul and his friends’ rebellious brand of it. His father’s friends, who were all artists, “definitely influenced me,” Dante says. “I think my education has been from being around leaders of the studio glass movement like Dick Marquis, Fritz Dreisbach, and Marvin Lipofsky. It was a big advantage that most people in glass do not have, and I was very lucky.”
Dante had his first solo show in Seattle in 1987, and I think it’s accurate to say that his success was immediate. Now, his work is represented in museums worldwide from Auckland, New Zealand, to Stockholm, Sweden. Some of the museums who own his work include the Carnegie, the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Toledo Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and of course, The Corning Museum of Glass, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington.
This is not Dante’s first trip to Corning—many of you are familiar with the glass he has designed for Steuben—but it is a memorable one, not because of the weather, but because we have him to ourselves tonight, and he is going to tell us about his work. Please welcome Dante.
Dante Marioni: Wow, gee, I don’t have much else to say after that. Thanks, I’m really flattered to be here. I’m really flattered that everybody, that anybody, came with the weather and everything. And as Tina said, I have spent a lot of time here over the years. Mostly in the service of doing stuff with Steuben. Sorry, I have a little bit of a hoarse voice, actually a lot of a horse voice, so bear with me. But anyway, typically I’m here around this time of year for a snow storm and to do work over in the Steuben plant and stuff like that. This is kind of nice, this time, because I brought a sports coat and I do not have to blow; oh, I do have to blow glass tomorrow, actually.
I’ll give you just a little bit of background on myself, and then a brief description of what I am going to project here for you guys. This is my second Power Point presentation. I’ve got this bag of filthy dirty slides that I’ve been travelling around the world with—not filthy dirty like you may be thinking—and I recently converted them to this little disk. And my son helped out with—a 12 year old—with getting me hooked up with the digitizing of everything.
But anyway, I started to blow glass when I was 15 years old. My dad, as Tina said, was one of the pioneering hippies that blew glass in the ‘70s in California; and throughout the 1970s, my father attended the Pilchuck School up in the Pacific Northwest. And every year he would come home and say we were going to move to Seattle. We lived in the San Francisco Bay area at that time, and there was a lot of drama to hear that. My sister and I liked living in California quite a bit. Eventually, in 1979, he made it happen. If you haven’t been in the Northwest in the summertime, it’s just fabulous, then it rains until July. So, when I was 15 years old, we moved up there, and I started to blow glass right away. I think it’s important to for me to tell you guys that because. . . Well, first of all, I hear all kinds of different stories about the origin, when I actually started, between 9 and 19, and blah, blah. . . But I started to do it because I had the opportunity through Dad’s friends in Seattle, at the time, to get involved with one of the 3 hot shops in the state of Washington at that time, and now there are 200. And it was just fun, I did it for fun, and at 15 years old I had no career aspirations whatsoever, and by the time high school was completing, I was 18 years old, I was 3 years into this, and I was really committed. And I was probably about 35 years old before I realized how fortunate I was to know what I wanted to do when I grew up, before I’d totally grown up, because I would encounter kids or people that I grew up with that still did not know what they wanted to do when they grew up, and they were totally grown up. And I was at the right place at the right time, like nobody else ever has been, as far as I am concerned.
The situation in Seattle, in the 1980s, it was just booming, and I was able to latch on to people who I really admired and go with it, you know. Like I said, by the time I was out of high school, I was completely committed to doing this. Not necessarily that I wanted to be a studio glass artist per se, I just liked blowing glass. Still, it was a fun thing for me to do, and I was able to do it professionally and work in a production glassblowing studio until I was 23 years old. I did five years after high school. And I stayed after work and practiced, and on the weekends, was able to round up a crew of people my age, but actually there’s a story in that as well. In addition to that, my dad and I built a little tiny hot shop, and I’ve have kind of taken it over from him. I still have that same studio in Seattle, a smallish hot shop where we make most of the work that I do.
Anyway I had three friends from high school who I was able to convince that they would find happiness as glassblowers as well: Preston Singletary, Paul Cunningham, and Joey DeCamp, and they all three are in Seattle doing their own respective things. But at that point in time, the early ‛80s, when I was starting out, I was a really big deal because I was the youngest person to go in any of the glass studios that I ever went into. It was really difficult for me to convince people to help me out, so I managed to convince my friends from the neighborhood, really, and then we created this sort of team, and we all helped each other throughout our very late teens and into our twenties. We all worked together, and that was a really big part of me being able to move forward the way that I have.
So, my slides that I have here, I have some images of the people that have been the biggest influences on me, responsible for me being able to participate, really, in truth, and then I have some images of some objects that have been inspirational to me. I think it’s important, I like to hear what people, where they are coming from, at the risk of having the work be completely demystified, which can ruin it. If it’s up to me, a true slide presentation can be left to no longer liking someone’s work, because they described it too good. They didn’t leave anything to the imagination, and I’m probably going to do that tonight, so sorry. I have some images of some objects that have inspired me, which I’d just like to show so that you have some example of where I am coming from. And then a whole bunch of images of typical objects that I have made, and then the newer stuff, the most recent work, and some other different projects.
So, first and foremost is my family: this is my wife, Alison, and my boy, Lino, who’s 12, so it’s a pretty old picture. We don’t live in that cool lighthouse; it would be sweet if we did. This is a typical day not far from my house, it could have been in June or it could have been in December or February, I’m not sure. But that’s what it’s like.
This is my father, Paul Marioni. He has a studio in the same building where my studio is, and we share a love of motorized things. This is a motorcycle that we had for a while together. And I don’t really have to go into too much detail of the influence my father had on me, because in addition to just simply being my dad, he also was my introduction into this. And I made a lot of different choices over the years in terms of. . . I shouldn’t really say it that way. My dad and I are just cut from a different cloth when it comes to the things that we like, and our direction, like the direction that I went based on what I’ve been exposed to, was completely different from what he’s done. And I think that’s great that he helped my kid, ends up doing the same thing, not necessarily that he’s going to do glass. You know, I was able to see and experience all these different things through what my dad was willing to offer me and go with something else, or just a different direction. We both have objects in this building, which is very cool thing for me, but they’re a lot different. You wouldn’t recognize, you wouldn’t guess that two different guys, a father and son, made these things.
My dad has a younger brother, Joseph Marioni, who is a painter in New York City, that has been a huge influence on me. He doesn’t have kids of his own, and he’s always outstanding, and exposed me to artwork and different things from a really young age. My dad likes to say, or has said to my sister and I, “Why can’t you be more like Uncle Joe?” He says it’s a lot easier to be an uncle than it is to be a dad, and I’ve gotten to use that line myself a few times lately.
The work of Richard Marquis. He’s someone that I have known since I was a little kid in California. He was in the Northwest. He was originally from the Bay Area. He was a friend of dad’s from the early ’70s, and I was exposed to his work when I was probably about 9 or 10 years old. And by the time I was in my early 20s, we started to work together, and we’ve remained close friends. He’s been a huge influence over the years, and he is well represented at this Museum. There’s a bunch of pieces in the Heineman Collection of Dick’s—they were enthusiastic collectors—in addition to the permanent collection. He’s. . . my dad’s not in the room, tonight, is he? Dick’s my favorite glass artist. And I’m not related. No, that’s not true.
Then, the work of Benjamin Moore. When I was a kid in Seattle, one of the people that I was exposed to, through my dad, was this guy who had a completely different approach to everybody else that was making funky, spun open, goopy stuff. And that’s Benjamin Moore. He took a design perspective on the studio glass thing, and additionally he was able to blow glass on center, at will. That was a really, really rare thing in 1980. There was a handful of people in the United States: a couple that every time they picked up a pipe, they made an object, that it came out symmetrical. Very, very few people. And I was really enamored by that. I was like, oh my gosh, that’s more how I am thinking than all this other loose stuff. And in addition to me really relating to his aesthetics, he was really kind in accepting a pesky teenager, which I was. So he’s sort of been as much of a mentor as I’ve ever had in glass, I think.
Then, of course, the fabulous Lino Tagliapietra then came along, and changed everything. I met Lino in 1983 through Benny. He would come to Pilchuck. In 1983, Lino did not speak any English. It was his third visit to the United States in 1983, and he came to the studio that I worked at, and it was phenomenal. I didn’t realize this until much later, how fortunate I was. Well, I knew how fortunate I was right away, but now when you see Lino work, if you get to see him blow glass, he makes his own work, which is great. Why don’t you make a Dinosaur or a Bilbao, or whatever he does. Back in 1983, when he came in, he made things like this: he made a cup, a plate, a vase, a bowl, another cup, a different plate, another bowl. Just ran through this smorgasbord of offhand, perfect, traditional Venetian glass pieces. For somebody who was just a sponge for this kind of information, it was golden. It was such an advantage that kids don’t get anymore: to see a master, a proper master glassblower, running through all the classics. Then, as great as it is to watch him. . . Now I watch him blow glass, I can glean things from what it is that he does. Lino doesn’t really understand—when he comes and teaches a workshop or whatever, or demonstrates anywhere—why, after he leaves, everyone is making pieces that look like his. Because that’s what they see him do, and everyone wants to be like him. So, I wanted to be like him, too, but I ended up making stuff like that, not stuff like his artwork, which he had not really thrown himself into at that point. I don’t really have much else to say. I don’t really know if I have the words, or feel lucid enough to put it into words how influential he’s been. But I believe he’s sort of singlehandedly responsible for making everything rise up faster than anyone else possibly could have, including Dale Chihuly.
1983 at the Glasshouse Studio in Seattle, Washington. That was Benjamin Moore in the middle, Lino, obviously, sitting down, and Richard Royal. And I was the helper kid there. A pretty significant, a defining moment in my young life, truly, to be able to witness him, as I just said.
From here, I basically started to make wine glasses. That was the thing that Lino actually did mention to me, through Benjamin, that to make wine glasses with the same person, for seven years, you would be able to make anything. I think that’s an over-simplification. But I took it to heart, and I did my best. I didn’t set out for that seven year thing, but I have these guys that work with me, and I was able to really practice. Making wine glasses was a really great way to learn about a lot of things in glassblowing. First and foremost is skill. They’re small and fast, and you go through a lot of them in a day, and you figure out proportion. I never really pursued it, other than as kind of a hobby. Like, I made things for myself, like those colored cups. This was sort of an homage to the seven best cups I had made up to that point. I soaked them in acid and had this block built.
This is a more recent piece that I did, on a rare occasion when we melted good glass. So anyway, I would do this, actually pretty much up until the time my kid was born. I would blow glass quite a bit. Once my son was born, I really backed off. I didn’t feel like working all the time, going into the studio just to goof around and make wine glasses, because that’s not what I did for a living. I would go in, do what I do, make my work, and then I came home. So most of these things are around 12 years old.
This is the goofy chandelier I did. These people approached me in the city of Tacoma, which is Dale Chihuly’s home town, and they were developing a building with these developers, and they said they had been long-time fans of my work, which I knew was baloney. And they wanted me to build a light, a chandelier, for this building, which I had never done, or even entertained the idea of doing anything like it. So, I went, I took to the meeting this thing. I was going to pitch this idea on the installation of goblets that I had in a show I had at the time. When I had the meeting with them at the Elegant Scow, they had this wall display of all these goblets. I don’t have this image, I am sorry. I sat there listening to them, I literally, on a napkin, drew this idea I had, and they were “Great, that’s just what we had in mind.” But really, they just liked my price point way better than a Chihuly chandelier. I’m proud of it. It’s an interesting object. As you can see, it’s just made out of green goblets, but it would have looked cooler in a bar than it does in a building. Once in a while, I go look at it, and there are people who have flipped pennies into it, which I like. Anyway .
I built this. When I made the goblets all the time, they just got piled into boxes in the studio, or a box, I should say. That was of these dimensions: two foot tall, or two foot by one foot square, box, lying on its side. After passing it for years, I got the idea to build this end table for my house, which is what this. . . I fancied this was a cute little end table. Around the time we had the kid, it was not a real practical object.
So, through making all those goblets, and I’m skipping ahead a little bit, but not really too much, because I like to show this image. This is just a typical stemmed goblet that I make to sort of underscore what I do, what I feel I do. I think that more people than would care to admit that blow glass, would, I feel, that it’s process-driven, in a lot of cases. In any craft material, as you develop skills, you think ahead, and then additionally, as you do things, the process, from the end of your arms you see stuff occur that you think might end up somewhere else at some point in time, or inspire you. In the case of those goblet stems, I created these pieces that I ended up calling “Gambo” vases, which is the Venetian word for a leg or stem of a goblet. And they’re about three foot, or a meter, 36 to 39” tall. But, I’d been making them for a few months before I realized—that was, like, a little self realization for me—to understand that I was making work in this way, and not abstractly fetching stuff out of nowhere.
And then additionally, I mentioned before I started, there’s some objects that have been inspirational to me, and this is a piece that I have at my house. And this child- proof cabinet in my house is full of treasures, things that I‘ve collected over the years. This is a piece that was designed by a Swedish artist, a ceramic artist, in about 1938, named Tyra Lundgren. She came to the Venini factory and she created this series of. . . actually, she was most famous for this series of blown glass fish, which work for me and all, but she did a series of these leaf-shaped dishes that I just find really beautiful in their simplicity. And this piece literally inspired me to do these, and though these bear no resemblance to that piece, I don’t necessarily set out to recreate anything. It’s just having an object to look at, be it in a book or in the living room, it’s a lot of where things come from. I guess that’s kind of obvious, because lots of artists have that same method, but for me, it’s pretty literal, there’s actually even a particular period, a very specific. . . I call these “leaves,” as well.
This is a much more recent series that I did, but in the roar about fiddlehead ferns or something like that, but I’m really bad. My wife and the guy that work with me are my focus group. They look over the stuff that I make, and my wife is really quick to point out that I’m really bad at titling stuff. There’s a lot of leaves that you’re going to see in the next 15 minutes. They’re things that I call “leaves” that might not look too leafy to you, but anyway. Again, that Tyra Lundgren dish was a starting point for me, and there’s a period of Venetian glassmaking that . . . Oh, here’s some leaves that I did about 12 years ago. I worked with William Morris a lot, not a lot, but off and on throughout my youth. I’m just going to assume everybody is pretty familiar with what he does. He’s a well-known artist in the Northwest. Everything he does, he applies the color, the powder on the outside of the surface, on the outside of the piece once the object is formed, versus the way somebody like myself, or lots of other people typically do, where you start with a piece of color, and then put clear glass over it, inflate it, and that’s what you have. Surface and polish it later, or whatever. Billy just sifts this, this, like, talcum-fine powder, colored glass, onto the piece, and it’s a nasty process if you don’t have all the proper equipment. And I really wanted to get it out of my system, I wanted to have a go at doing it, so I made these leaves, which I was really pretty happy with. The guys that work with me were not happy about making them, because of the powder, and the mess, and stuff. And lucky for them, nobody else was happy with them, either, so I still have them. I always point out that I see. . . To me, those look like beautiful, graceful leaves floating to the ground, and other people see stomachs and pancreases, and stuff like that, so I still have all of them in my studio. Super valuable someday.
This is another piece that I purchased in an antique store. It’s a Vittorio Zecchin, from probably the late 1920s, again a Venini piece. It’s just a beautiful little pilgrim flask, and it’s been in my house for years, and I sort of ended up taking it with me. . . These pieces are quite large, a lot of them are kept over the years. This is getting pretty big, and they’re probably 36-38” tall, in some cases.
But, it was a starting point. Tina said I had a very traditional sort of training, which I suppose is somewhat true, but I didn’t, insofar as, from the point of view of the studio glass portion. I mean, I didn’t apprentice in a Venetian glasshouse, or anywhere else for that matter. I pretty much apprenticed at Pilchuck School, and was able to meet everybody through my dad, and go in and watch other people blow glass, this, that, and the other.
But, the work that I admire is of a very traditional nature, obviously, from what I’ve been showing you. Like the Martinuzzi piece from 1930, but I guess I’ve been really hung up on this period that modernism had entered into, came into, Venetian glass. The Venetians referred to it as the Novecento, the turn of the last century, once they got past Art Nouveau, which I personally kind of glossed right over. Once it moved into Art Deco. . . This whole modernism movement took root in the 1920s. I’ve been kind of hung up on that. And objects like this piece, which I’ve admired long before I knew any of this. I just saw it in a book, and I ended up making a series of them. Again, these are probably my favorite things I have ever done. These 10, I simply just refer to them as “Ten-Handled” vases.
This is 1966, Tapio Wirkkala for the Venini factory. I have this. He has become one of my artistic heroes. He was invited to come to Venini in the 1960s, and I have this fantasy that I, I just made this up. The work he did prior to coming to Venini, he worked in a lot of different media, like wood, and he designed knives and products. He was a product designer, but also an artist, and he designed some work for the Finnish glasshouses and it was rather clunky. That’s not a fair word. It was thick and crystal-ly and it was, basically, he worked around their skills. I don’t know that that was what he was thinking, but the Finnish guys couldn’t have pulled this off. And I have this idea that he might have showed up there, in Murano, and seen what the Venetians were up to, and then designed these objects around their skills, because nobody else could have put together pieces like this. At that time, or probably at any time, than these Venetian guys. Specifically, at the Venini factory.
I have this piece in my house, Lino Tagliapietra gave it to me, and because he’s 100%—he’s 99.9%—sure it was made by the greatest glassmaker of the 20th century, who was a Venetian guy named Mario Grasso. So, Lino gave it to me so I have a good example. And it’s, in essence, this very simple piece. The technique of putting two bubbles together is called incalmo, when you join two pieces, or bubbles, together to create the different bands in this case. This is a piece I made, and there is a detail of reticello inbetween the bands of the piece.
Anyway, there is more work that I will show in a little bit that Tapio Wirkkala inspired. . . But, that last piece I just showed you skips right ahead, because throughout the 1990s, this is typical of the works that I did—large, colorful, and the last decade as well, large, colorful vessels. The influences come from all different kinds of things, but primarily other glass objects that I have seen. I mean, obviously, a bowl which is cut, with a kylix in the middle, is of Greek origin. But the pitcher and the flask are things that I have seen, probably not necessarily in real life as a glass piece, but in an old master’s still life, or something like that. There are a lot of depictions of Venetian glass in those Dutch paintings. And these are sort of updated versions of those kind of signature objects—the pitcher and the bowl—that I did. And different vessels, I have pretty much stayed with the vessels. I made a few different sculptural objects that I will get to, but for the most part, I have been very vessel-centric. This is a pretty recent piece that I did, with these leafy items and animals.
About 10 years ago, I put those aside, as I said, typical of all the work that I have done up to that point. And all that stuff was a decoration that hadn’t really been a part of what I was doing. I had been really enamored with the form. As a glassblower, that’s the challenge. The color is really the easy part, to be honest. The easiest part of doing this is applying the color, particularly the way that I do it. It was just a simple, big chartreuse pitcher, with black trim or something, which is minimal as it gets, technically. About 10 years ago, I started to embrace the idea of doing some different sort of traditional filigree and zanfirico stuff, and you can’t really see from this, but I started to make vetro a reticello,.
Lino Tagliapietra always encouraged me to learn how to do a vetro a reticello, but I didn’t really have any interest in pursuing that, because it is so difficult to learn to do. Just in the service of making a wine glass, or a dragon-foot goblet, or something. I didn’t take the time, and I was a little too short in my attention span to focus on doing something like that until I had an idea, and that idea manifested itself through these pieces, which I refer to as “Finestra” vases. Because finestra is a window, and all of them had that shoulder that was transparent. In this case. , the yellow reticello and the red interior piece These pieces are about a meter high. In my studio, the work comes back to my studio, back to the cold shop, and I just put it on the floor. They stand up on the floor, or if I have them at my house, that is the way it is. The first time I exhibited them, I got to the gallery, and they were all up on plinths, and you couldn’t even see the shoulder, and that’s not the idea. And the dealer said, “I am not putting them on the floor, it’s not going to happen,” so I lost interest in making them.
But from there, it segued into really being more interested in making and working with pattern. In particular, thisreticello thing I really threw myself into, and I created all these different series. I’m using this really super fussy, this very exacting, technique that has been the singlemost challenging thing that I have learned how to do. I don’t like to say—I think the word “master” gets really overused—but I don’t consider myself a master, really, of anything. But, having said that, being able to put on handles and what-not, I got pretty good at it, that I could do. But the reticello was—is—like still 50/50; half the time, when we make a big piece that has 120 chains in it, half the time it ends up in the garbage. That’s a lot. I mean, half the time pretty much anything you make can end up in the garbage for different reasons, but to do reticello, for me, it has to be perfect. I want a bubble in every little square. I want the whole flow to be in a particular—the angle of the two different twists, and stuff like that. So, it’s been a really, really exhausting endeavor for me, but great at the same time. But, I’m also not inherently superstitious, but when I do come home from work and gloat that I’d finally figured it out, then I usually fall into a slump. I’ve had a really good run before I came on this trip, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.
My dad has some dried opium poppies sitting on his desk in his studio. Don’t ask me why. I took one downstairs, one day, and created this piece. I don’t have anything else to say about it, I was just enamored by the form of this un-blossomed, dried-out opium poppy.
The acorn has been something that I have admired since I was a kid. I like the way that it curves, obviously; in nature, I would go around picking it up, and finding this cool little nut with the beret on it. But in graphics, as well—I really enjoy graphic arts and line drawing and what-not—and the way the acorn is depicted in graphics is enough for me. I am not interested in making them anatomically perfect, true to acorn form. I am happy to interpret my own way, and they’re instantly recognizable as acorns. It’s been a good way for me to explore working with different forms and patterns, and as you can see, it was a bit of a departure for me to make work like this, where light came through it.
I grew up listening to my dad talk, and lots of other artists talk, about how great glass is, because it transmits the light. Bertil Vallien famously said, “Glass eats light” and blah, blah, blah. I like the glass because you can blow it. It’s pretty much the activity, the tradition, the teamworking—these are the things that drew me to doing this, more so than the obvious alluring aspects of the material.
Here are some pieces that I did starting about 15 years ago. Myself and my friend Dick Marquis were really enamored by the work that Carlo Scarpa made in the 1940s and ’50s in Venice, comprised of murrine. And we set about figuring how to do that, and then ended up going our separate ways. Dick made pieces that way, and I made these things, mosaic pieces. They were, at the time, a real departure, because I considered them sort of architectural, and a lot of people look at them as, like, a building, with all the windows and what-not. It’s been a fun way to explore pattern, as well. I put this image in to give you an idea of the scale. When I make these pieces, there is a team of seven people that help me out. And not all of them I made. I did for a few years.
About eight or nine years ago, I was approached by these folks that had purchased some of my work before, some collectors, obviously. They said that they would like to commission me to do something for their house. It could be anything that I wanted, and that their fondest wish would be that it would lead me into a new direction. I was just flabbergasted at the generosity of this proposal. I just couldn’t believe it. It came at a good time, too, it was around 2002, I guess, I had been kind of slowed down a bit, and so it gave me something to do. And it gave the people in the studio something to do. I set about making this big wall with all these little pieces. I would show up at the studio, and all day long we would make these pieces. There were about 8” high, and they created this big wall, I think, 144 objects. It took about a year to finish, because while I was doing this, I was inspired to—through an image that I saw in a book that I have at home of the Barovier, the glass of the Barovier. There is an image from about 1920, from the Biennale, where they have these very cool sort of Deco objects, vessels lined up on shelves. If you click the picture, it’s obviously black and white, but I believe the objects were in clear, or a tinted clear with black details on them. And they just lined up a dozen of these three shelves, with corresponding numbers, and that’s the image that’s in the catalog. I just thought it was a really nice way to make a composition, so that’s what I did. It took me about an additional six months to complete the commission, because I kept poaching the good ones off the wall, and I made these little units of 12. I did them in all kinds of different formats and colors. I no longer do it; we really got sick of making them, thousands of little 8” high pieces. They were. . . we are coming to the end here.
These are some of the newest works that I’ve done. Again the inspiration harkens back to some of the work that Tapio Wirkkala did. If you are at all familiar with what he did do, he is well known for his laminated birch wood furniture. My particular favorite is this dish that he made in 1951, of laminated birch wood. The laminate then created the veins of the leaves. Those pieces inspired me to make these objects, which you can’t really tell, because they are not good in person, but you move around them, you see the moiré effect of all the canes. They’re quite tall, and again very much about pattern. They’re a real departure for me, because they’re loose. They’re the first thing that I have made where I’m not all that completely concerned if something’s just a little bit askew. You know, the foot, for example, in this one: you see it leans off to the right. I like that. And the stem of the first one I did like this, where I bent the stem. I like that too. Liberated me, too, after making stuff on center for so long. Then again, it’s the reticello pattern.
These are the last two slides; it’s the most current work that I have done. This is something that I did on my own, for myself. It’s a chandelier, a fused glass chandelier. I’ve always had an interest in lighting and chandeliers and what-not. It didn’t really stem from that kooky goblets chandelier that I did. I just, I’ve a personal interest, and I made this piece for myself, and it hangs in my partner’s and my glassblowing studio’s apartment. It has 14-foot ceilings and I don’t, I have no place to keep it. So, I don’t get to see it that often, but, anyway, it’s something. It’s an example of an object that’s now segued into other things I’ve done. A couple of them are architectural commissions for the Bullseye Glass Company in Oregon. Sorry, I do not have any images of the pieces that are relatively recent, but they’re not entirely unlike these things. And they may likely be a new direction for me. As much as I enjoy blowing glass, and that’s all I’ve ever done professionally, I really like the idea of maybe not blowing glass, but still working with it. I’m about to purchase a kiln and have the ability to start doing some experiments of my own.
And lastly, I have these images of the work that I did here for Steuben. I think it’s about, in the summer of 2000, I got a phone call from Joel Smith, who’s one of the design directors, up until recently, here. I was at the Pilchuck School when he called. My wife called and said, “Oh, Steuben called today and would like you to consider designing a line of stemware.” And I thought about it for about 10 seconds. No, I don’t want to do that, it sounded like a high school homework assignment. As stupid as that sounds, I’m a maker, and when I design things, it happens at the glassblowing bench. It was just a reverse process for me.
At the time I was at Pilchuck School, in the service of other artists, doing their designs. They show up in the morning and paint a picture on the wall. I go ahead and—me and the person I am working with goes ahead and executes it. So, the idea of drawing pictures, mailing them off, and getting paid for that was just crazy. My wife convinced me that it would probably be in our best interest to start diversifying our income base, so I went ahead and pursued it. I sequestered myself in the basement with some beer and a bunch of pens and pencils, and I just drew pictures of goblets. Laid them all out, and figured out which ones maybe were. . . it was a process like that. Then, I used a finer pen on the next round. Sent them over here to Corning, and then got the yea or nay on some of them. These ones were actually pretty popular. . . It was a really fun thing to do, and it went from there, to where I actually worked over in the hot shop on several occasions. They really wanted me to design some objects the guys can make there. I found it really difficult to do that, I didn’t think I was the best person to work for Steuben in that capacity, but I ended up doing OK, doing it this way, which I consider to be the hard way. So, that stem, and these candlesticks, and then, finally, the champagne bucket. Which I always liked the irony in it, because it’s this fragile crystal object that you use in the service of imbibing. You’re going to chip it. It’s inevitable. Then you have to get another one.
And I believe that’s my last slide. I’m really happy to answer any questions that anyone has. Thank you very much. (Applause). No questions? All right, let’s have a drink.
(Question from audience)
Dante Marioni: My dad is, my dad primarily concerns himself, he makes a living primarily by doing architectural commissions in glass. He also makes and exhibits his own artwork, just really slowly, like one show every couple of years. His primary focus in the last 20 years, in terms of his livelihood, is in doing architectural commissions. . .There’s a beautiful window, a stained glass window that he made in 1974, it’s here in the Museum. I hadn’t seen it until last year, when I was here in December for an activity I was doing. I hadn’t seen it since 1974, that particular window. Then, when I was a kid, my dad. . . I remember when he made it, it was purchased by the Museum right away, I think. So, it was sold, but still in his studio, it was leaning against the door, which I thought was a really stupid thing he did. Then, I opened up the door without seeing the stained glass window, that was covered with Grateful Dead posters and stuff, and it just blended in. And I just caught the window with my foot. . . so to see that every time, it’s bittersweet. He built a lot of stained glass windows in the 1970s, how he started out.
OK, thanks again. (Applause)
Tina Oldknow: Thank you all, everyone have a safe drive home.