There’s a subtle romance dripping amidst molten glass and a metal rod — a spool reels in its “object-to-be” as high temperatures engulf a hot art studio. Once the end of the rod glows like bullet-shaped magma it becomes infused with air from a single blow, expanding to a scorching bubble. The intimate procedure is sacred to those who dabble in the practice, years of experience are necessary to manipulate the art of glass blowing, after all. How does someone decide to embark upon this craftsmanship in the first place? For Morgan Graff, it was the allure of the unknown which pertains to the nature of glass and the enchantment within it, which led her to the medium.
Graff graduated with a bachelor’s of fine art with a concentration in glass at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts in 2002; however, she was unaware that she would follow the path of a glass blower. “For whatever reason I seemed to have the hand skill and kind of an innate understanding [for glass blowing],” Graff said. She actually started as a graphic design major but could not bear sitting in front of a computer all day.
“I knew I wanted to do something with my hands; while I can draw, I’m not a painter by any definition,” Graff said.“I played around with the idea of wood but I’m not a precise person either, and I didn’t know anything about glass so it was kind of a mystery to me.”
While art school helped Graff understand her calling, she would need work experience to become proficient in a hot shop. “When I graduated I asked my teacher how to become a good glass blower — she said ‘go get a job,’” Graff said. Taking up her teacher’s advice, Graff voyaged to Seattle and New Orleans. “School is not too much about becoming a great glass blower,” she said. Naturally, it’s the practice that makes perfect.
Graff said it wasn’t the cities which influenced her, but rather than the people who she collaborated with. The “newbie” was working as a freelancer long before she had the ability to pursue her own artistic visions, and took up varied jobs which ranged from being a part of a production line to helping manipulate pieces the size of her torso (a giant glass book in particular).“I didn’t get that many chances to make my own work because I was broke just coming out of school,” Graff said.“I was working a lot and I couldn’t make things I thought about because I just didn’t have the skill yet.”
And surely enough, Graff’s skill flourished. The glass blower even became involved with the Pilchuck Glass School, international center renown for glass art education. There, she worked her way up for nine years from starting off as a member of the maintenance crew to a staff position where she was in charge of a hot shop.
After years of her assorted experiences, Graff has finally curated the necessary technique to execute her artistic vision; though by no means does she cease to grow. “This is the time where I’m starting to be able to make things that I imagine and want to make, so I’m still kind of finding my voice,” Graff said.
The artist said that the earlier pieces she made in her life represented self-reflective and simultaneously cathartic pieces to work through. Since then, her aesthetic has changed. “I have one major scene [as far as conceptual work is concerned] which is usually childhood memories,” Graff said.“I think a lot of the [memories] are happy and whimsical and the glass should provide that.”
While Graff loves the versatility of molten glass, she is a patron of minimalism; in fact, it’s the extravagance of the medium which sparked Graff to embrace a modest style. “I tend to like simpler things,” Graff said. “I don’t like things that have a ton of color on them; personally, I like things that are more monochromatic.”
And by no means does “simple” translate to “easy.” For someone who has worked in the glass blowing industry for about ten years, Graff continues to work at the required skill to render her artistic expression.
“Not everyone gets to do what they love for a living, so there’s not one part that I favor over another. I enjoy the whole process. I don’t think people realize how much glass there is in their life — it’s part of the reason why I was interested in it,” she said. “It’s taken for granted a lot and if you start looking around you’d be surprised at how many things you use and see every day that’s made out of glass. Some of the simplest things still really surprise me sometimes.” – Morgan Graff
Want to learn how to blow glass yourself? DO IT! You can take classes at Morgan’s Glass Blowing Studio here in town. See the website for more information.
Written by Elizabeth Hinojos
Images by Kim Woo and by Sarah Greene Reed, commissioning agent Arthouse & Glenda Kronke
(See images for specific credential)