For those who didn’t already know, the Pacific Northwest is home to some of the finest and most talented creatives in the world.
Blending backgrounds and styles from different nations, artists seem to get inspiration from their roots, before sharing them with those of us who call this region home.
One of the most decorated artist hubs in the Northwest is the Pilchuck Glass School, which is located in Stanwood, Wa. about an hour north of Seattle.
Since it’s beginning in 1971, Pilchuck has housed students from as many as 32 different countries for their summer programs. From May through September each year, Pilchuk offers courses taught by some of the most renowned artists and instructors in the glass-blowing industry.
And with long hours spent conceptualizing and, eventually, completing their projects, students, professors and staff rely on Caffe Vita coffee to power their creativity after sleepless nights of working on their craft—so much so that one student even lasted three-straight days without sleep to create his masterpiece, living on cups of Vita coffee, with the staff having to put him to sleep because of the dangers of being up for so long.
We were fortunate enough to take a trip to meet Pilchuck’s Director of Development, Whitney Hazzard last week. During our tour of the incredible campus, Whitney shared the rich history of Pilchuk and a crash course in the art of glass-blowing, which we quickly learned is a time and labor intensive process.
Founded by Dale Chihuly, along with patrons Anne Gould Hauberg and John H. Hauberg, Chihuly’s philosophy of “artists teaching artists,” became the mantra for Pilchuck’s educational regime, with the some of the buildings built by the artists himself still standing on campus today. Using a $2,000 loan to build his dream school, he chose the venue on the foothills of the Cascade mountains for its view of the natural landscape and its somewhat hidden, rare mushroom plantation.
As Whitney walked the grounds with us, she was quick to show-off the hot shop, where students stood amongst each other, working on glass as hot, fiery stoves were burning.
While the students heated their glass to begin molding it, we got the first-hand experience of what it takes to complete just one piece—and it sure is extensive.
Along our walk, Whitney named some of the renowned alumni who have stayed, taught and worked at Pilchuk.
Artists like Ruben and Isabel Toledo—famous for designing First Lady Michelle Obama’s inauguration dress in 2008—have studied and gave lessons at the school, where they developed a wealth of professional knowledge and experience to share with students.
She also shared incredible stories of some of the men and women involved in the school’s adaptation.
The aforementioned Anne Hauberg’s father, Carl F. Gould, not only founded the University of Washington’s architecture program, but is also credited with constructing famous Seattle landmarks like the Seattle Art Museum and the campus plan at UW.
Another inspiring story involved glass artist William Morris, who began as the school’s shuttle driver before his career began to blossom under the guidance of Chilhuly. Morris is now considered one of the most influential artists in the world.
Following a quick stop for lunch—which included a presentation from the dining staff for new students on why keeping squirrels away is always a good idea—our tour continued to some of the staples on campus like the famous Buster Simpson tree house residence and the Trojan Horse, a beautifully-designed structure made of concrete with glass accents that reflect the natural pizazz. In fact, we saw the leftovers from a wedding that took place in the Trojan Horse just a few days prior.
The Trojan Horse was a secret, rogue project that students built in the nearby woods. Seeing how beautiful it was upon completion, staff could only marvel at how it came to be—much like we all did.
The wedding was between two students who met at the school, coming back to where they fell in love to say their vows as their home state of Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.
Upon walking in and around the sculpture, it was easy to see the romanticism in it.
Words and even pictures can’t describe just how amazing these installations are, so when visiting Pilchuck—which can only be arranged ahead of time for non-students—make sure to conquer the forest surrounding the main campus.
Offering a unique experience in a camp-like setting on the hills above the Skagit River Valley, Pilchuck one can certainly see why this landscape and private retreat appeals to the artists.
While the staff develops a new strategy to feature and sell their art planned for 2015, they host art collectors, events and auctions to promote Pilchuk’s rich history—which anyone can get involved in supporting, as the school’s 36th annual auction event will be held this October.
From incredible art, amazing scenery and delicious food prepared by specialty chefs and bakers, no detail goes unnoticed at Pilchuck.
Somewhat of a summer camp for adults, students are encouraged to be themselves by expressing their personalities through art and around the campus, finding inspiration where needed—which isn’t difficult when walking the grounds.
Pilchuck Glass School may enjoy being the best kept secret in the Pacific Northwest, but there’s a reason why it’s widely considered to be the mecca for glass in the entire world, and it’s because of their approach and expertise in the art.