Catching up on a Bear hunt…

Having set myself a goal to write a blog post every month. It’s hard not to notice my first two blog posts from a couple of years ago. When I was busy promoting my Kickstarter campaign and looking forwards to the prospect of going to Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle. I don’t know why I didn’t continue writing, most likely a lack of time, possibly a lack in confidence about what I achieved by going out there. This goal has given me the opportunity to look back at that endeavour and finally share with you my ‘I made it to Pilchuck story.’

I made it to Pilchuck!

On the 4th Of July 2014 I flew across the Atlantic to study at Pilchuck Glass School, and the experience was out of this world. Travelling by myself was one of many hurdles to overcome – I had never felt brave enough to do this before, so it was a big deal for me. I stayed in a quirky hostel called Urban Hideaway in Vancouver for a couple nights. Then got the Amtrak train super early in the morning over the border to Mount Vernon, a small town an hour north of Seattle.

View from the Amtrak

A lovely glassblower called Zach picked me up. As he drove us towards Pilchuck, a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation grew; what were the other students going to be like? Or the tutors and technicians? Would I be able to create what I wanted? What would I be making? All these questions were whizzing round my head, so many unknowns…. At that point I don’t think anything could have prepared me for Pilchuck.

The campus is set on a beautiful cedar wood farm, there’s a murky pond for swimming in, and hiking trails through the forest leading up to ‘Inspiration Point’ and – if you go further – ‘Disappointment Point’; surprisingly, both have fantastic views of the surrounding lakes, islands and mountains. On our first Sunday off we went on a 3 hour hike – our lecturer didn’t really know where he was going. It wasn’t too bad until we had to climb through stinging nettles – I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops, and one of our group fell backwards into some of them (not me).  

Disappointment point

The facilities are phenomenal, a huge hot-shop, a sand casting hot-shop (where we were based), a lampworking studio (with more torches than I have ever seen in one place) and a glass lathe, a mould making studio (my favourite place), drawing studio and finishing studio. Everything is geared towards being able to make whatever you can imagine in glass.

Pilchuck casting shop
The Casting Shop

We worked hard, from 8am till midnight every day, with a focus on conceptual projects, initially collaborating on an interactive installation in the founding fathers’ birch trees. We were all sent off to sketch in the woods for a few hours, draw and sketch and record till we were bored, and then continue to draw some more. On returning to the group we each had to present ideas on the systems of light, sound and energy of the forest. Pooling individual sketches, negotiating and working towards a immersive glass installation.

Drawing our ideas for systems

We created lots of blown glass droplet and rock forms, that we learned how to mirror. Hanging these from the trees and creating a stone circle. Somehow we also created a huge glass helmet with horns that when worn was meant to heighten the sounds of the trees.

Ben Wright in the bubble

The course ‘a finely crafted idea’ then progressed to focus on our own ideas. We were encouraged by tutors and international glass artists Ben Wright and Stine Bidstrup to work outside of our comfort zones. This I found incredibly difficult. However, I was intrigued and excited by various stories of bear sightings around the campus. I started researching bears including fighting, tracking and traps. After initially wanting to make glass ‘bear shit’ to put in the woods, which got poo pooed (excuse the pun), I discovered that American porter loos are called honey buckets. I became focused on creating a honey bucket mock bear trap. 

Quick model of my idea for a honey bucket glass bear trap

After a group critique it was pointed out that this wouldn’t be pushing my ideas far enough either. So I  decided to maximise the prospect of seeing a bear in the woods. I sketched in the woods. I went on loads of  late night walks through the trees without a torch… I didn’t see any bears, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t see me. I recorded some of the walks. I filmed interviews about bears sights with staff and students. I edited together this short set of stories about sightings of bears replacing the word bear for ‘it’. Looking back at my research I found this incredible image of a man in a nail suit that was designed to use for fighting bears.

bear wrestling
Internet image of a bear hug?

It, this image of the Russian bear suit and the video, alongside some gnarly glass sandcasts with nails sticking out of them, all became part of an installation I created in a ‘hunting’ shed.

IMG_4825 hunting shed
The hunting shed

Unfortunately I haven’t got the edited version of the ‘it’ bear stories any more although I still have the original recordings. To be honest I would like to put the sequence together again although I would not have a clue what to do with it now. I guess that’s one of the down sides to working out of your comfort zone. Alongside the dashed expectations of making loads of beautiful glass pieces.

On my way back I had time to visit some galleries in Seattle, the highlight being a visit to Dale Chihuly’s Gallery and Gardens… on the day that he happened to be doing his yearly book signing (FATE!!!). I met loads of fantastic glass artists and meeting Dale Chihuly ‘the daddy’ of the studio glass movement and co-founder of Pilchuck really topped the whole trip.

I made it to Pilchuck Glass School (session 4 in 2014) with thanks to the support of my family,  Plymouth College of Art and the fantastic pledges from my ‘Fly me to Pilchuck’ Kickstarter campaign.