By Jesse Bacon, Catalyst Director at Social Impact Studios.
Jesse says: I have an especially close relationship with glass. When I was growing up, my parents sold glass for greenhouses and windows. I’ll always choose glass: both my water bottle and coffee mug—my constant traveling companions—are made of glass.
Because glass is commonplace and transparent, we can literally see right through it, and perhaps overlook it. We might miss that all glass goes through a remarkable transformation—silica melted at temperatures of up to 2400 degrees Fahrenheit. It is this property, which you could call magical, that has fascinated Peter Patterson, who has been a glassblower for decades. My interview with Patterson continues below.
Peter Patterson has been a glassblower for 40 years, and teaching for the last 20 of those. He received his degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he worked with different types of media, including photography and textiles. Patterson liked glass, but didn't think you could make a living doing it. The irony was that the fashion illustrations he focused on instead became obsolete as soon as he graduated and he lacked computer skills which were not taught in school at that time.
This setback led him to evaluate what he really wanted to do. As a Hearing Impaired person, Peter was looking for a bit of seclusion to develop his art and became a glassblower. He worked at a stained glass shop as a manager then went out on his own.
Because Peter didn't have a lot of practical experience, he went to Penland School of Crafts 8 or 9 times, studying with artists like Richard Ritter and Josh Simpson. These artists would go to become big names in the field of glass, but were accessible in the environment.
Peter loved the atmosphere at Penland. “Everybody would find their zone, their chosen media, and after a couple days , you could feel the energy and the buzz. It was always like that, everyone focusing on creativity and craft, and it was incredible. Everybody gets into what they were doing, and then everybody migrates to the glass house after hours.
As a nice bonus, at the end of session, you could sell your artwork. I remember once or twice I actually made enough to pay for the whole session."
Peter thinks a lot of the art programs with 1-2 year concentrations are enough to start you down the road. Everybody needs marketing or you'll just be floundering. At an art school at a university, Peter got a great art education and exposure but the practical part was nonexistent, and he had to reinvent himself afterwards. He is very glad that programs like Penland exist.
Around 2001, Peter became a teacher. About three quarters of his work is leading events with groups such as homeschoolers, community colleges, park districts. He even helps girl scouts and boy scouts get their glassblowing badge! "Teaching provides a different satisfaction, compared to doing art shows where people may praise your work, but you have to be worried whether it will sell." He has now taught enough artists that the Chicagoland area is becoming a hub for glasswork, in part because of him.
The best thing about Peter's current work is that he gets to use hot glass every day . “To capture the hot glass and make it do what you want to do, that' s fun, and it's play. How many artists get to say that? Teaching students in glassblowing means watching the enlightenment, someone gets it. People like blowing glass, I can see it in their own eyes.”
People get the one-of-a-kind experience of making a piece on their own, but Peter can still help them by walking them along. These pieces take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes each. The students get the experience from start to finish. The most common reaction students have is realizing how much work goes into glassblowing and get a new appreciation for the medium.
Peter loves glass because “it's up to you to control it, it's always changing and moving on you. There is no medium so fluid and transparent.”
To work with glass, students need to be able to follow instructions, be enthusiastic, have basic motor skills. “The glass studio is never dull--most of the time students are excited, and always have a lot of adrenaline going.”
One of the unique features of Peter's work is Glo-Glass, a glow-in-the-dark glass art. Peter met a scientist that was trying to do this. “We worked together to develop a formula that was compatible with my art glass in the studio. Now I can create pieces that glow in the dark."
Currently in his work, Peter is expanding his marketing and his social media presence. Peter has been blowing glass for almost 40 years, and he wants to pass on his love and appreciation of working with hot glass to others.
If you come to a Craft school, you can learn from and become one of Peter’s successors! Check out Peter's website here.
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