by Andrew Page
Looking back on how Pilchuck Glass School grew to prominence in the art world, one has the benefit of knowing how the story turned out. In the beginning, however, there was no plan for a repeat of that 1971 summer experiment. There was only the impulse that fueled a risk-taking idea—to escape the rules and constrictions of the status quo and blow glass in the woods. A year after the shooting of four students protesting the Vietnam War on the Kent State campus, established systems seemed bankrupt, and the need for change incredibly urgent. From the “back to the land” movement that inspired many to live closer to nature, to experiments in new ways of teaching that upended the rules of traditional academia, a hunger for fresh approaches drove a generation.
Looking to expand beyond the RISD glass program he ran, Dale Chihuly launched the Pilchuck experiment as his response. That the test was successful and repeated in subsequent years is testament to the people that joined with him, especially John and Anne Gould Hauberg, who, after witnessing the intensity and commitment of those who braved the miserable conditions to blow glass, became the key supporters guiding the transition to the international art center we know today.
As an observer of the glass art world, I’m sometimes asked what advice I can offer today’s up-and-coming artists as the established gallery and collector ecosystem gives way to an as-yet-undefined new reality. I point out the parallels to the early years of glass art. In the 1970s, artists survived by landing academic positions, and through grants, such as the $2,000 Chihuly was able to win from an academic consortium to fund the inaugural Pilchuck summer. In 1977, one of Chihuly’s former RISD students, Richard Yelle, founded the New York Experimental Glass Workshop in a basement on a gritty New York City street, which has since bloomed into UrbanGlass, celebrating its own 45th anniversary this year. Both success stories speak to the power of the glass community to not only provide for artists, but to harness their collective energy and ingenuity to draw a crowd. Funding in some form often follows.
Especially in our age of digital interconnection, that larger community can take many forms. Consider this issue’s cover article on Helen Lee and her GEEX initiative, or read the interview with Blown Away winner John Moran, who speaks to the power of the global audience streaming programming can provide. And, of course, don’t miss our in-depth conversation with Dale Chihuly about Pilchuck’s origin story. Our historical and contemporary coverage reveals how the lessons of the past hold the keys to the future of the field.