The Extraordinary Pilchuck Glass Center

R.M. Campbell
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
9 October 1977

There are summer schools and then there are summer schools.

Some are more idyllic than others, some are better than others. The Pilchuck Glass Center couples a dramatic sort of pastoralism, striking architecture and first-rate faculty.

Pilchuck is the sort of place which seeks to combine all the elements—space, buildings, people—into something extraordinary. Instead of concerning oneself only with the esthetics of the objects themselves, there is much concern with the esthetics of process: where one lives, where one works, where one socializes. The Pilchuck community—primarily faculty, teaching assistants and students—share the Pilchuck ambiance for at least three-week intervals (there are three three-week sessions during the summer). The experience is designed to be a total one.

Pilchuck was not always what it is today. As of last fall, it became a legal entity with a board of true trustees—they include Philip Padelford, Pat Baillargeon, Frank Kitchell, Sam Rubinstein, Peter Ormsby and, of course, Anne and John Hauberg—40 acres of some of the most beautiful land anywhere, a number of handsome buildings and a solid reputation in the glass world.

According to Thomas L. Bosworth, who has served as director since January, the school began modestly more than six years ago when Dale Chihuly, who functions rather like the artistic head of the school, wanted to begin a summer program and contacted Hauberg. A native of Tacoma, who studied at the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin, Chihuly is a well-known artist in glass and is presently head of the glass department of the Rhode Island School of Design. He has had numerous one-man shows in this country and Europe and has been awarded a number of grants.

Chihuly and other glass artists came to Pilchuck for the first time in the summer of 1971. With minimal equipment and primitive living conditions—they are still not luxurious—they set up Pilchuck on the Hauberg tree farm, approximately a seven-to-eight square mile stretch of forested land north of Stanwood.

Two years later the building program began with Bosworth, who is on the architecture faculty at the University of Washington (he has also chaired two architecture departments: those at the Rhode Island School of Design and the UW), designing the hot glass shop. Its addition was built in 1975, the flat glass studio in 1976, faculty housing in 1976 (some of the original "shelters" built by faculty remain) and a lodge this year. Future plans call for more housing. Students now reside in tents. Toilet facilities are communal for faculty and students.

Faculty for this year included Chihuly, Dan Dailey (Massachusetts College of Art), Fritz Dreisbach (University of Wisconsin), Paul Marioni (San Francisco State University), Italo Scanga (University of Pennsylvania), Ludwig Schaffrath (Germany), Ann Warff (Sweden). Visiting faculty included James Carpenter, Seaver Leslie and Martin Lipofsky.

There are seven furnaces and four electronically controlled annealing ovens in the molten glass shop and 16 separate work tables in the flat glass studio.

Pilchuck, if one goes to visit it, appears to be a place unto itself. And it is. Bosworth's buildings are derived from a variety of sources, strong and vital yet never forcing themselves on the shape and spirit of the land. Wood, huge beams, openness, sharp angles, slanting roofs help to create the effect of being in the woods. The manner in which they meld into the place yet make their own statement is something for other architects and planners to study. They are of the place yet they have their own identity. The influence of Japan is felt, both in the formal arrangement of buildings and the way they invited the land to participate. Both keep their integrity, yet both are wholly linked. There is a grandeur, a nobility, a sense of uniqueness that makes it like no other.

Bosworth says one of the ruling tenets at Pilchuck is that the emphasis in arts and crafts should go to the arts. "There are both aspects in glassblowing, but one can emphasize one or the other. We want to see what the artists do with the glass."

Chihuly, who chooses the faculty, is the dominant figure at Pilchuck. He is interested in the experimental, of stretching the technology of glass as far as it can go. He also sets himself apart from the breed of glass artist like Harvey Littleton. Chihuly stresses cooperative efforts whereas Littleton and others were solo artists. It is Chihuly's belief that with cooperative effort, the field of glass making can be expanded. Pieces can be larger, more complicated. The tradition is European.

Another idea of Pilchuck is that people who make art together should live together. And so they do. They eat together, talk with one another all the time, work together not only in their chosen fields of endeavor but also in such places as the kitchen cooking or washing dishes.

Bosworth calls Pilchuck "intense and vital. The expectation of living is 120 per cent here." There are changes in the wind—adding two one-week seminars next summer—but nothing should interfere with the notion that glass is the central issue at Pilchuck. Now there are about 50-60 people in residence at any one time, 30 of whom are students few of whom come from the Northwest. As the faculty is international so is the student body.

There are lectures in the lodge and also this past summer a performance by the American Contemporary Dance Company as well as Irish music. Those who have been in the lodge, which overlooks part of the Skagit plains and Puget Sound, insist that it would be the perfect site for chamber music concerts. It certainly looks it and Bosworth says its acoustics are good and he hopes to promote chamber music there.

Money is such a tiresome subject. Everyone talks about it so much. And the arts are no different, for the arts, unfortunately, are expensive. The budget for Pilchuck has been underwritten since its inception as a private project of the Haubergs. Its budget now is about $100,000 yearly. With the incorporation of Pilchuck last year, financial support is spreading through private and public sources. Tuition ($400-500 per session) covers only a portion of the costs of running the school to say nothing of capital costs.

There have been shows of Pilchuck glass in the past but this year there are now three: a small one of Chihuly, Scanga and Carpenter at the Seattle Art Museum Modern Art Pavilion (Seattle Center), one of Chihuly's work alone at Foster-White Gallery (311 ½ Occidental S.) and a large exhibit of faculty, teaching assistants and students at the Polly Friedlander Gallery (89 Yesler Way).

The exhibits demonstrate much of the potential of glass. Chihuly's new work at the Moodier Art Pavilion is a case of stretching the technology of glass. The transparent pieces, meant to resemble Indian baskets, are paper thin. His earlier work, basically cylindrical in form, is thicker and employs the painting as a means of defining the spirit of the piece.

Carpenter apparently has left glass, for the exhibit of his work (also at the Pavilion) is purely film and rather ordinary film at that. Scanga (at the Pavilion) has combined some mock religious pictures and big, handsome vases. Successful or not, the three men demonstrate their unwillingness to settle for conventional forms, traditional means, usual functions. They mean to make glass (my inclusion of Carpenter rests on my memory of his earlier work) an important conduit for the expression of esthetics.

The Polly Friedlander show, organized by Chihuly, includes the work of Chihuly, Dailey, Dreisbach, Marioni, Warff, Robert Adamson, Benjamin Moore, Gary Beecham and about 14 others. As such it is the most representative exhibit of Pilchuck in town.

For anyone who has seen much work in glass, the show will be a revelation not only for the size of the pieces but for their daring. Chihuly's influence is certainly felt with some of the work, but beyond that there is great diversity, ingenuity and skill involved in the exhibit. Warff, who is a senior designer at Kosta among other things, has done some of the most beautiful work in glass I've seen. Dreisbach's fragile pieces, Dailey's frosted-like glass, the clear objects of Moore make the exhibit as important as it is. Functional work is stressed over non-functional but there is much for one's eye to linger over.


©1977 Seattle Post-Intelligencer