All About Glass

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Debora Moore: The 2007 Rakow Commission

All About Glass

For Seattle-based Debora Moore, the journey from single mom to an artist whose hot-sculpted glass orchids have a growing international following has not been without a few struggles.

“When I faced adversity, I would take long walks in the woods,” she said in a phone interview. “I have always found serenity among trees and flowers.”

Moore has worked in glass since the late 1980s, and it is still flowers that attract her. She creates resplendent orchids of translucent ivory glass touched with hues of lapis, mossy green, crimson, or cinnamon, and dusted with fine glass particles, then acid-etched to suggest a velvety texture. She also makes complex studies of orchid trees and bamboo shoots, even room-size installations that suggest a primordial forest.

Moore sculpts at the furnace or blows glass. “I work extremely hot and fast,” she says. “The less I touch the glass, the better. I want to retain the pure brilliance of glass.” Color detail comes from frit (powdered glass) or cane (cylindrical lengths of glass), applied hot.

She has tried other materials for her flowers but always returns to glass. “Glass transmits and reflects light in a way reminiscent of sunlight,” Moore states.

Debora Moore

She travels to see orchids in their natural environments, but does not attempt to create exact replicas. “It’s not my intention to be a realist,” she emphasizes. Touring lush rainforests in India, the Caribbean, Thailand, or the Pacific Northwest, she sketches orchids in the field, creating the hues in watercolor.

“What I make is my interpretation,” Moore notes. “The Lady Slipper orchid, for example, is never blue or green. But when light hits it in a certain way, I see striations of blue and green, and that’s how I make it.”

Moore came to glassmaking by sheer determination and the help of mentors. While balancing motherhood and part-time jobs, she couldn’t afford to take glassmaking classes until she received a work-study grant from Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, made possible by the then-director of the school. “I charged furnaces and cleaned the shop while my daughter played in the print studio.”

In 1990, she received the first of three scholarships to the Pilchuck Glass School, just outside of Seattle. There she blew glass with Italo Scanga and Paul Marioni, worked on Dale Chihuly’s teams, and soon was an instructor herself. She also met and married Benjamin Moore, a pioneer of the American Studio Glass movement.

“We complement each other,” she says of her husband, whose work is geometric and symmetrical. “Ben has been blowing glass for years and has a wealth of information. We have deep discussions about technique and aesthetics.”

Understanding the importance of mentors, Moore also teaches glassmaking to at-risk youth at the Hilltop School in Tacoma, WA, which was founded by Chihuly. “My glass class was right next to the detention room,” she recalls. “Kids would walk by, stop, watch, and ask to try glassblowing.”

“Working with glass, they have to learn to work together as teams, even if they come from rival gangs.” She is proud that two of her former students are now graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Moore says that she is privileged and honored to have been selected for the Corning Museum’s 2007 Rakow Commission. “I can’t tell you what this means to me. I hope it will be my best work ever.”

Published on October 14, 2011