From October 17th through 20th, the glass-art community of artists and institutions throughout the Seattle area are teaming up to host the very first Refract: The Seattle Glass Experience, a four-day festival that has the potential to solidify the Northwest Coast as a center of American glass, and broaden its appeal to the wider public. The festival was spearheaded by Chihuly Gardens and Glass that together with the Glass Art Society, funded a research project exploring the Pacific Northwest region as a major center for glass art. It discovered some 700 artists and over 100 studios working in the material, and identified opportunities to expand awareness and cooperation in the field. Inspired by its research findings , Gardens and Glass joined forces with Visit Seattle, the official tourist partnership, to create Refract.
Early indications have been positive with tickets for the festival's kick off at Gardens and Glass on Thursday night, a party titled "Gather" that will include drinks, dancing, and glassblowing demonstrations, already sold out. Visually the venue is fitting for an evening celebration with its magically lit glasshouse and gardens decked out in Chihuly sculpture. While Chihuly has made his mark as the artist central to the glass community in Seattle, it will be interesting to see whether Refract widens the lens through which glass has been perceived in the area to include a broader range of artists working in glass.
Tours of Chihuly's private boathouse, an elaborate space on the banks of Lake Union with views of the city's skyline and containing one of the world's largest hot shops, the artist's personal art collection, and many of his own iconic works, have sold out completely. For such an intimate experience and inside look into the world of this monumental glass celebrity, it is unsurprising the tickets have flown so fast.
Studio tours have generally proven popular. According to Hilary Lee, Deputy Director of Gardens and Glass, "several studio tours and hands-on classes have sold out as there is very limited room. But what is great about Refract is that many of the events are completely free to attend and don't require tickets. One of our goals with the festival was to make glass art feel more accessible, so artists, organizations and exhibitions are opening their doors to the public to come and check things out."
An extensive list of glass artists will have their studios open to the public on Saturday and the Sunday following the festival as well. Artists such as Cappy Thompson and Ginny Ruffner will be welcoming visitors into their spaces to see their work.
Some of the most noteworthy glass galleries in town, including Traver and Vetri have timed their important openings to coincide with the festival, bringing must-see works by April Surgent, John Kiley, Dante Marioni, and Michael Shunke to the downtown area. Other exhibitions to keep in mind include "The Glass Canvas" at Blowing Sands Glass Studio as well as Raven Skyriver and Preston Singletary at Stonington Gallery.
Lee suggests to those who've yet to buy tickets not to miss Fused at Pratt Fine Art Center, featuring Singletary's all indigenous band, Khu.éex’, a glassblowing demo by Dan Friday, and Etsuko Ichikawa creating her signature pyrographs with molten glass. She also says not to miss the one-night-only exhibition, Your Life Story Written in Light at the Western Neon School of Art, Transparency, an exhibition of glass works at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, created exclusively by artists in the LGBTQ community, and the closing party at Pike Place Market, "Raise Your Glass," which will be graced by the presence of Janusz Poźniak from the Netflix series Blown Away.
Many local glass studios will be hosting demonstrations, tours, and workshops. "There has been a lot of interest in the artist open studios because this is a pretty rare opportunity to go behind the scenes and meet so many of our region's incredible glass artists," says Lee, expressing more broadly, "It's been really exciting for all of us in the glass community to come together to showcase what makes this region so special. More than 50 artists and organizations have put a lot of hard work into creating some really special events, exhibitions, and pieces, and we're looking forward to inviting everyone to learn more about glass in the Pacific Northwest.
The range of glass art that visitors can see, from flameworking to kiln casting, hot sculpting, stained glass, mosaics, neon, and cold working, would be a draw for anyone interested in glass but will potentially be a very effective way of catering to newcomers on the glass scene; abuzz with these lively demos and workshops, the city will become a glass theater of sorts, an exciting atmosphere for tourists and locals with any level of glass expertise.
More information on the schedule, events, and venues is available on the official website: