Ann Daley: How did you come to develop the glassblowing team? Dale Chihuly: Right after I started to learn how to blow glass in 1966, I noticed right away that an extra pair of hands (another person) could help realize your ideas much better. In 1968, I was fortunate enough to go study in Venice at Venini, one of the great Venetian factories. There glass is blown in teams of four or five people. I think in every factory in the world, glass has been blown in teams. In factories, there were no individuals working with glass, so the entire tradition of glassblowing developed with the idea of a team. When I got back from Italy, I began to work with a team of three or four people. My teaching at R.I.S.D. and Pilchuck Glass Center gave me access to a lot of young talent, and I was able to form teams of very skilled artists and craftsmen. The team is a rather contrary idea in art, which is such an individualistic process. The twentieth century particularly holds the concept of the artist working alone in his studio. That isn’t necessarily the way all art is developed. There were all those ateliers during the Renaissance as well as other times when artists did often work in groups. But in our time we don’t do that very much. It can be done, and an example of that in the twentieth century is film, of you consider that an art form.
AD: Where do you think the Venetian tradition is headed? DC: Our team continues the tradition in an interesting way. In Venice, where the best glassblowers are, the tradition is disappearing rapidly because of lots of social and economic circumstances. There probably aren’t going to be as many great glassblowers there much longer. It’s interesting that just now—only 20 years since we’ve started working with glass in this country—we’re just beginning to reach the skill level where we can begin to carry on the tradition of Venetian glass. It’s ironic that we’ve developed various skills as individuals that could ultimately perpetuate the Venetian tradition.
AD: Is that part of why you bring the team out for a lot of residencies? Do you feel the responsibility to pass on your knowledge of the Venetian tradition to others? DC: For the last 15 years I’ve either taught or made my own work. I always kind of had the desire to do both. Since I’ve quit teaching, I feel in many ways taking the team on the road is my way of teaching. I’ve always taught by example. Putting the team on the road is the best sort of educational thing I can offer, but there are other reasons, too, that don’t have to do with education. All the people on the team are artist-craftsmen who are primarily interested in their own work. By traveling to different places, they get to see things, and so do I. Visiting four or five different locations a year we wee a lot of young people’s work, and that’s exciting too.
AD: Can you get serious work done in the residency environment? DC: We definitely can do serious work in the residencies. We go in with the attitude of starting to work. It’s not a demonstration. We immediately try to throw ourselves into the situation to develop work, and that is tough when you’re working with different types of glass. Generally we go on the road trying not to be innovating new techniques. We usually try to take up right where we left off if we’re working on a series. We can get serious work done. Sometimes it’s very good work. I don’t know what it is about throwing yourself in odd situations, but the work changes, even though we do it in a similar way to how I’ve done it before. It comes out differently because of the circumstances. So in one way it forces us to try new things. It takes a lot of concentration and a lot of organization to have work develop in one short period. I think another reason I like to travel with the team is that I’m sort of fascinated by and maybe even proud of the fact that I’ve been able to put together a group of often young artists who are willing to set aside their own egos to work part-time for me. It sets a good example for students, showing them they can use each other to work on ideas.
AD: From what you’ve seen of young artists, do you think there is enough really innovative work to sustain a vital tradition not just technically but artistically, too? DC: Glassblowing has been done in factories for the last 2000 years. Individuals did not have the opportunity to work with glass. It was very secretive. Because glass was done in factories, most techniques and ideas were developed for commercial production. It’s exciting that people now are developing techniques which they don’t have to worry about duplicating. Glassblowing is unlike ceramics in that way. In ceramics, which has a long tradition of artists working with the material, there’s very little that can be developed that’s new technically. In glass, people come up with techniques which are frequently fresh. That makes it especially exciting to work with. Traveling all over the country I see people who are doing just that—coming up with ideas that are innovative. Finally, both aesthetically and technically, things are starting to happen.
Published in Five visiting artists: Albert Paley, Nance O’Banion, Howard Shapiro, Wendy Maruyama, Dale Chihuly, Pittsburgh: Carnegie-Mellon University, College of Fine Arts, 1984, p. [24-27].
©1984 Carnegie-Mellon University