Elizar Milev


Elizar Milev

Elizar Milev – Ph.D. in “Glass and Porcelain Design”
Pilchuck glass school is an international center for glass art education based in the mountain area of Stanwood, 50 miles North of Seattle, Washington, USA. It was founded by the internationally recognized artist Dale Chihuly [1] with the support of Anne and John Hauberg in the summer of 1971. The school starts as a camp at the place of a wood yielding region and in the following years it expands into a glass processing campus. The location, the climate, and the rustic environment are ideal for creating art with glass and are integral to the spirit of Pilchuck. In this remote corner of Washington State, people from all corners of the globe meet, techniques develop, and ideas form. The “artists teaching artists” philosophy of Dale Chihuly is still alive and holds true at this place. 

Posted 16 March 2015

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How was the idea of creating an international creative centre in the mountain area of Seattle conceived?
At the age of fifteen Chihuly lost two of the most important men in his life – his brother George and soon afterwards his father of the same name. This loss has considerably influenced the development of the idea of a united cohesive glass family. “Perhaps in compensation for the early loss of his brother and father, throughout his adult career Chihuly has sought out and bonded with male artists who either became like fathers (e.g., Stanislav Libensky), like brothers (e.g., Italo Scanga), or like sons (e.g., William Morris). Over time, his partnerships have expanded to encompass an extended surrogate family of glassblowers, whether working daily in his “Boathouse” studio or on call for periodic special projects.”1
As a student Chihuli takes part in organizing antiwar student protests. These collective actions reinforced his believe that these can be translated into the development of glass work in the USA. “During the downtime that resulted from this strike, a graduate student named John Landon and I began to talk seriously about starting a glass school.”2

[1] Burgard, Thimuty, Chihuly the Artist: Breathing Life into Glass, 2008. ://, 2014
2 The same source

Dale Chihuli in his house in Seattle                                                    

In 1976 Chihuly lost his left eye because of a broken glass part from a windshield in a car accident. Just three years later he got a serious injury of his hand while surfing. These serious accidents show Dale that working in a team is inevitable.
In the beginning Chihuly decided to build a small summer camp in the wild nature where he worked on his projects with some of his close colleagues dealing with glass blowing. Only two weeks after they had settled in the region, they were ready with the first furnace and started working [3]. After the first summer, the investors Hauberg saw the results and the artists’ willingness to work, and decided to support their idea in the future. This is how yearly en plain air classes tradition in this remote, untouched by man region started. While in the beginning they were organizing only summer en plain air workshops, at the moment the furnaces are working throughout the whole year. 

The building of the camp started with the emblematic “Hot Shop” [4]. Afterwards, the lodge was built and gradually it became a small glass-craft village maintaining one of the richest and most diverse centers for glass art in the world. According to the idea of Chihuly, not only different artists and students from all over the world are visiting the place, but also investors who support the lively being of Pilchuk. Only fifteen years after the first glass blowing a whole campus had been built, meeting even the most elaborate requirements of the glass artist. The architect of this interesting premise structure is the American Tomas Bosworth. The idea of the whole campus and its buildings is in harmony with the initial idea of staying close to the nature. The outward of the building is also corresponding to the same idea – they are built entirely of solid wooden materials and resemble mountain huts. Despite the inflammable materials used, the ateliers are perfectly equipped and safe.

From the very beginning of Chihuly’s idea realization, there have been many prompting offers for restructuring of the campus to include visual arts and glass crafting. However, all of these ideas were rejected. 

The studior at Chihuli’s house in Seattle                                              

All of the glass artists from all over the world

  The organization has an interesting policy. Each session the personnel changes, including the cook, librarian, teachers, ateliers supervisors, etc. Each and every one of them is a glass artist and has applied for the given position with a portfolio. They are only selected after having been interviewed by a jury. Everyone else is welcome to visit and look around. This methodology allows for a maximal exchange of experience and participation exclusively by professionals. Artists are bound to work on their artistic projects and to demonstrate their skills. Students have the opportunity to visit the lectures and demonstrations of different classes and, if they have the chance and the desire, to experiment and to learn. The idea is that every single person residing there should leave with a good feeling and enriched with valuable knowledge and skills. The freedom to experiment and the facilities are among the signs of organizers’ high professionalism. On a daily basis artists are trying to elaborate on a new technology, new methods of work and to help their colleagues in the further creative development of this ancient and magical art. Students also have a considerable contribution in the development of the glass art. Sharing information is beneficial for every artist who uses this knowledge for the realization of new art ideas when going back to his or her studio. The difference in the methods of work, the aesthetical perceptions and the technological approaches are extremely impressive.

In terms of aesthetics, one can observe the richness of cultures from all over the world brought together and displayed at joint exhibitions. The differences between the countries and continents can be sensed in the exhibition area as far out as from the entrance without even communicating with the artists. It is natural that every one of them uses to a great extent the characteristics of their cultural heritage. This way the sense of aesthetics of Indians, Australians, Chinese, New Zealanders, Taiwanese, Japanese, Americans, Europeans, etc. contradicts but at the same time reveals another very important characteristic – a common interest towards discovering their feelings and thoughts. The richness of the different materials satisfies each and every idea or experiment. A 17 day period spent there changes every specific perception of glass, both as material and as a way of self-expression. The work with glass is just like a child’s play when the equipment is in place and one loves the material– this is what creates and unites the community in Pilchuk. An artist’s satisfaction with their work is crucial, not with the break; how they enjoy a successful 14 hour day of work; how they admire the skills and successes of their colleagues without envy, how they share their experience and satisfaction of the work and are eager to help if you want to know… This freedom and line of thought is translated in their personal art work, freedom of speech, ease of work and professionalism.

Yearly 17 day summer courses are carried through. The courses are divided in different classes including the main techniques of glass blowing, different casting methods, cold processing, working with a torch, neon, glass painting, stained glass, fusing, slumping. The ateliers are in immediate proximity to each other, separated according to the main processing techniques – “Hot Shop” (the atelier for glass blowing), “Casting Shop” (here the glass is cast{?????-ed} into different molds made of sand, plaster and metal), “Flat Shop” (a studio equipped with torches for bending and welding of neon tubes and Pyrex rods), “Kiln Shop” (furnaces for fusing and casting), “Mold Shop” (area provided for creating molds for the different techniques), “Cold Shop” (engraving, grinding, polishing). Besides this, the campus provides different accommodation premises, separate ateliers for guest-artists, administration, own gallery, glass supplies store, lodge, metal processing and woodworking atelier, studio for graphical techniques and screen printing, library. Every studio is designed to satisfy the needs of the artist as far as having the freedom to think about their project rather than the actual execution.

The Bulgarian artist Lachezar Dochev shares his memories of the Cold Shop coordinator joking: “If we don’t have it, then you don’t need it”. The equipment is enough to bear the inflow of artists and to allow them to work together by helping and supporting each other.

The premises and the equipment are an essential part of the work of the artists but certainly are not the sole reason which makes this center one of the most popular places for education and artistic development. Every session well-known artists in the field are invited. 

The initial appearance of „Hot shop” in 1971

Hot shop Pilchuck Glass School

The mountain area of Stanwood

The significance of the guest artists

As early as in his student years Chihuli started travelling around Europe, studying and putting together (getting to know) his big glass family.
Some of the most notorious glass artists have taught at Pilchuck invited by Dale:
The creative team Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtová – born in the former Chechoslavakia. Professor Libenski dedicates his time both to artistic activity and teaching. Some of the leading modern artists have studied glass aesthetics in their school. Among them are Bulgarian artists such as Ekaterina Getsova, Prof. Konstantin Valchev, Prof. Doctor Rayko Raykov, Angelina Pavlova, Lachezar Boyadjiev, etc.
Klause Moje is a German artist developing the fusing technique as well as teaching.  In 1979 he was invited to be a lector in Pilchuck where, until this day, the technique of glass blowing is being used.

Ji?í Harcuba – engraver, teacher and an artist of great fineness. 

Chris Taylor and Stefanie Pender are American artists who say: ‘Pilchuck is a place where one can go wild and work without any limits. Here is the Mecca of the freedom-loving artist’3. Chris compares Pilchuck with Corning Glass – New York, USA, one of the richest centers for glass, research and art wise: I would say that Corning is excellent in terms of research activity, there’s everything there from primitive glass to the most novel, modern trends in this industry today. Pilchuck, however, is a place of hard work. We ourselves are from New York and since 2001 we’ve been applying for assistant positions in the courses for glass blowing every two years.”4

During the 5th summer session in 2014 in Pilchuck I had the pleasure of meeting Ruth King – former Artistic Director of the school.  As a guest painter, she was invited to do art and share her rich experience gained through her active work as an artist. She was happy to share her technical skills in casting glass as well as her playful way of thinking. The young artist Adam Cohen was also working with her. 
3 Interview with Chris Taylor and Stefanie Pender. November 2014
4 The same

Other interesting guests were Stephen Cartwright, he demonstrated sand casting; Jim Harmon – combination of sand casting and glass blowing, he was the leading lector in the glass casting course. Justin Ginsberg – main coordinator of ‘Cast Shop’; Neal Paustian and many others.

In the course of Anjali Srinivasan and Amee Sones’, apart from the basics in slumping, laminating, casting, blowing, the newest techniques of Puffy Glass and Micro-beads Glass were also demonstrated. Anjali discovered the Puffy Glass in her studio by accident. What is interesting about this technique is that the artist makes the glass like dough and shapes it with bare hands before the high temperature firing. Glass frit, flour and water are used. The result after firing the dough is a structure combined with clear glass which gives you a nice feel of contrast and rhythm [5]. The actual technique allows for different molds to be used as well as for the glass to be shaped freely. This gives the artist a great extent of freedom. Due to its porous structure the Puffy Glass is a few times lighter than other types of glass.

‘Micro-beads glass’ or the micro glass pearls [6], as they are called, are bought as raw material and are used in the paint for different street markings.  Due to its high ability to reflect light it is very suitable for “Pate de verre”, but Anjali and Aimee applied that glass to other effects in glass blowing.
Chris Harman is a teacher in the Art and Design College in Ohio as well as a designer. I met him in Aimee and Anjali’s class. He shares the experience gained at Pilchuck:
“What I learnt at Pilchuck? One of the most valuable experiences you can gain there is to fail. You can try new things and experiment in a way that you cannot at home.

In short, Pilchuck is a place that everybody dealing with glass should try and visit at some point of their life. This year I visited Pilchuck for the first time.  I was in two different roles – as an assistant and as a student for a whole period of seven weeks.
The role of assistant was more appealing to me since it is closer to my job as a college professor. I was able to assist my colleagues realize their ideas. In many cases in a manifold way and in a short period of time.
I gained a different experience when I was a student. I was able to focus on experimenting with new techniques and worry about the concept afterwards. I had the chance to try casting, screen printing, slumping and organic experiments with glass. Left alone, I probably wouldn’t have the time to try out new things like these.  Or if I do them on my own, the time frame would be much larger.  After all, as a teacher at the university, I felt that my casting techniques were missing something. Now I have students willing to use the micro pearls in Puffy Glass. I believe that this will help them create better works and I owe it to my teachers and my classmates in Pilchuck, because all I know, I have learnt from them and now I can pass on to my students. Will I be able to give them all they need? No, but at the very least I can help them in a more competent way.
With this interview I would like to say: this is like a crash course at the university. You have a very short period of time for intensive research.” 5

Puffy glass  - Chris Harman                                                                

Right to left - Anjali Srinivasan, Elizar Milev and Amee Sones 

Puffy glass  - Chris Harman                                                                 

Bulgarian presence at Pilchuck Glass School

In 1993 Prof. Konstantin Valchev was invited to assist Gene Koss. He shares “In the 80s, my professor Stanislav Libenski and I, visited Pilchuck, it was very interesting and educational I would say. Libenski and Chihuli were quite close. In fact, Libenski designed the first kiln for kiln-casting there and often invited him as a guest artist or lector. My stay there helped me establish long lasting personal and professional relationships with the people I met. I would say that it also influenced my teaching.”6

10 years later the Bulgarian artist Lachezar Dochev, graduate of the Latvian Academy of Arts in Riga, was given a  full scholarship from Pilchuck, and specialized in hot casting in the class of Mitchell Gaudet. He returns to Pilchuck the following two years but as an assistant to Janusz Walentynowicz, in his combined casting class in 2004 and for his first teacher – Gaudet in 2005.
“It was useful being a student but a bigger challenge being an assistant. When you think and solve the problems of others you learn more and that helped me in my own work too. It would be a pleasure for me to go back maybe as a lector, and I assume it would be an even bigger challenge.”7

This is only a fraction of the people who have had the chance to experience of Pilchuck facility but each and every one of them is of the opinion that it was a very enriching experience.

In 2014 I visited Pilchuck myself with the purpose of finalizing my dissertation work: ‘Trends in the development glass casting in Bulgaria. Aesthetic and technical aspects.’ I appreciate having had the chance to work at the Pilchuck facility and having met all these people. Out of all the schools and art centers I’ve seen so far, Pilchuck is by far the richest one in terms of facilities, experience, professionalism and attitude towards the artist as an individual [7].

I would like to thank to Luchezar Dochev who recommended me Pilchuck, , Jane and George Kaiser which got me scholarship for my stay at Pilchuck, American foundation for Bulgaria which sponsored my traveling, to my teachers Anjali Srinivasan and Aimee Sones and the teacher assistants Jean Fernandes and Meadhbh McIlgorm, all of the staff at Pilchuck which were very kind and very useful for me.
5 Interview with Chris Harman. August 2014
6 Interview with docent Konstantin Valchev. November 2014
7 Interview with Lachezar Dochev. October 2014

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