The Art of Glassblowing
Indie-alternative music drowns out the sound of electric fans blowing hot air in the warehouse studio of glass artist, Christopher Morrison. Morrison, a Bellingham local, has been working with glass for 30 years and has owned his studio for 20 years.
Morrison teaches classes at his studio during the regular school year and also during the summer. He has been teaching glassblowing classes for Western for five years now. On Aug. 8, he will open an art show at the Western Gallery. The gallery will exhibit the culmination of three years of work done by Morrison outside of his class schedule.
“There will be a threshold piece in the middle of the gallery and people will be able to walk through that,” Morrison said. “There will be a full-length mirror so you can actually see yourself walk through it, so there’s a component of self-reflection.”
The artist’s journey is a focal point in the gallery. Around the gallery will be a series of 15 pieces that are reminiscent of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey,” which constitutes the basic plotline of storytelling.
The gallery will also have a collection of contemporary bowls and vessels, as well as a collection of glass umbrellas. “All of these pieces have in common, an elaborate color pattern that we call quilts, and that’s what will tie everything together,” Morrison said. These quilts also tie into the overarching theme of the fabric of the universe and the artist manipulating that fabric, Morrison said.
The creative process of blowing glass starts at the drawing board. Morrison’s classes start with talking about students’ passions for the craft and a show-and-tell presentation of their art. Creative design, image work and communicating through drawing are all introduced prior to working with glass, Morrison said.
“We get the students drawing pages and pages of ideas, talk about how that relates to their passion and what they might want to do for their final project,” Morrison said. “It’s a very difficult thing to learn how to do.”
Western graduate, Lindsey Allen, said glassblowing is an addictive adrenaline rush. “It’s stressful, but it’s a good stress. It’s really accomplishing to get a piece in the oven,” Allen said. A piece can go wrong in a lot of ways while transitioning from the oven to the cold shop and every step of the way presents a new challenge, Allen said.
Allen first learned about glassblowing when she visited Italy in the eighth-grade. “It opened up a whole new window for me,” Allen said.
She started taking glassblowing classes when they were first made available to Western students about five years ago, and has stuck around since then. Allen now assists in teaching Morrison’s classes. In the future, she wants to own her own studio and sell functional, contemporary pieces, Allen said.
Morrison attended Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, and studied art. At Hartwick, Morrison started blowing glass, and later attended Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington, where he finished his degree. After apprenticing in Tucson, Arizona, Morrison moved to Seattle, and started working for Dale Chihuly, one of the most renowned glass artists in the business. After working for Chihuly, Morrison started teaching classes, both in Seattle and more recently, at Western.
Chihuly cofounded Pilchuck Glass School after working at the Venini glass factory in Venice, Italy, where he observed the team approach to blowing glass.
Glass blowing can be done either as a solo project or as a team collaboration. Morrison learned the team approach method from Chihuly and employs it in his studio, which his assistants said kept them coming back when they were students.
“I really like working with teams and people,” said Mike Jess, a Western graduate. “Especially when you have people that work really well together, things are more fluid and more fun.” Jess helps facilitate classes and with production of glass art.
Blowing glass is a complicated and time-consuming art, it takes years to develop the experience necessary to create the complex work, Morrison said. He can only use about 60 percent of the work he creates, simply because the glass breaks or is damaged in the process of making
glass art. The time put in is worth it, however, because no one else has work quite like his, he said.
Morrison was a member of the advisory board for Western’s College of Fine and Performing Arts. He has a 20-foot long piece hanging in Village Books in downtown Bellingham, a sculpture in the lobby of the Cascade Brain and Spine Center, and does commissions for fine art galleries and gift galleries.
Morrison said he is proud to be working with Western and says it’s rare to find a local artist who collaborates so closely with Western.
In the future, Morrison said he hopes to collaborate more with the Western Gallery and continue to make intricately designed glass art.