Strong. Calm. Serene. So are the vessels of Sonja Blomdahl. In an industrial neighborhood near Seattle’s Lake Union, the artist turned loose her vivid colors into the unsuspecting gray of her spacious cinderblock and cement studio. If a Scandinavian flavor is detected in the hue of her celestial orbs, it is by chance as she credits rainy Seattle as her primary inspiration. But Blomdahl is in fact of Swedish descent, leaving some collectors of her work to wonder if the Scandinavian sense of style and design is in her blood.
After graduating from Massachusetts College of Art with a BFA in ceramics, Blomdahl studied at Orrefors Glass School in Sweden for six months, providing her with a solid background in efficiently handling her material. Upon arrival at the glass factory in 1976, she had $300 in her pocket. When her apprenticeship was over and in need of cash, Blomdahl went to work as a cleaning woman in a Swedish hospital to finance trips to Italy and the British Isles. Back in Massachusetts, she blew glass in a New Hampshire studio for nine months until Dan Dailey, a former teacher at Mass Art, invited her to be his teaching assistant at Pilchuck.
Three weeks at Pilchuck in the summer of 1978 proved to be a pivotal time in Blomdahl’s career, for it was there that she viewed the Italian master Checco Ongaro demonstrate the double bubble or incalmo technique. She honed this process over the next two years while working at the Glass Eye Studio in Seattle and teaching glassblowing at Pratt Fine Arts Center. After her first exhibition at Traver in 1981, Blomdahl stopped working at the Glass Eye, bought a three-month Euro Rail pass and traveled around Europe. There, she had the opportunity to produce new work in Ann Wolff’s studio in Sweden – a wonderful experience that further entrenched Blomdahl’s desire to establish her own hotshop. She shipped the work made there back to Seattle and had a second sell-out show at Traver, allowing her to build a studio in 1982, where she worked for the next 25 years.
Currently on view in Venice and American Studio Glass, curated by Tina Oldknow and William Warmus, Blomdahl’s work was the focus of solo exhibitions at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery, Alabama; Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks, West Tisbury, Massachusetts; and the William Traver Gallery, Tacoma, Washington. Permanent installations and collections include American Craft Museum, New York, New York; Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas; Museum of Decorative Art, Prague, Czech Republic; Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York; and Kitazawa Contemporary Glass Museum, Kitazawa, Japan, to name a few. She has held teaching positions at Pratt Fine Arts Center, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine, and the Appalachian Center in Smithville, Tennessee.
Blomdahl’s focus has been the vessel. She states: “In the vessel, I find the form to be of primary importance. It holds the space. In a sense, the vessel is a history of my breath: It contains the volume within. If I have done things correctly, the profile of the piece is a continuous curve; the shape is full, and the opening confident. Color is often the joy in making a piece. I want the colors to glow and react with each other. The clear band between the colors acts as an optic lens; it moves the color around and allows you to see into the piece. The relationship between form, color, proportion, and process intrigued me.”
Indisputably one of the most renowned artists in the industry today, Elbo is co-owner of Everdream Studio in Evergreen, Colorado, where he works alongside a number of top industry artists. Having made a name for himself in the pipe world via his dinosaur motif and diverse portfolio of original design work, he says: “My work is an attempt to transcend the function of the pipe by giving my very self to the process. I am led through the open field of my medium by personal life experiences and my reaction to the relationships in my life.”
Beyond art creation, Elbo’s cutting-edge approach to business and marketing has made him one of the most popular and best-selling pipe artists, with an Instagram following of 240K. His business interests and ventures have included everything from Bitcoin to NFTs (non-fungible tokens). In association with Blunt Action, Elbo experimented with the potential for an augmented reality app, which would provide an immersive way for users to experience a 3D computer-generated reality to interact with his creations through their iOS devices. In response to his travels in Japan, the artist also began making plush and vinyl toys, some 4-feet tall, further entrenching the Elbo brand in the hearts and minds of fans and followers.
In 2005, Elbo began working with soft glass in the hot shop at Tyler School of Art and Architecture in his hometown of Philly. It wasn’t until after he graduated in 2009 that he started working with borosilicate glass and making pipes. He credits Zach Puchowitz with early inspiration and lessons on the torch. After running his own successful studio, in 2014 Elbo and JOP! opened Front Street Gallery in Kensington, Philadelphia. The gallery endeavored to bring the city’s most influential, beloved glass artists into the limelight allowing fans and collectors to admire and purchase their newest work. It was essentially a who’s-who of modern flameworking, featuring Philly artists like Zach Puchowitz, Snic Barnes, Marble Slinger (of Degenerate Art fame), Just Another Glassblower, and more. Front Street Gallery helped put Philadelphia on the map as a destination for the ever-growing glassblowing movement.
In 2013, Elbo relocated to Colorado and became one of a stable of the industry’s best glassblowers including WJC, Eusheen, Adam G, and N8 Miers working at Everdream Studio. Created as a space for all creatives not just glass, the studio provides a secluded environment with not many distractions, enabling Elbo to focus on his craft and the development of art.
Pipe making represents the American renaissance of sculptural art, Elbo believes. “I want pipe making to be synonymous with high-end art, but I don’t believe it’s there yet. I thought it was, but the more I’m exposed to true high-end art, I see that pipe making has a long way to go. The biggest hurdle we have to get over is the close-mindedness in the industry. We need to take bigger risks, create things not for other people to see but what we want to see. If people begin to do that in our industry, it will naturally evolve into a higher form of art.”
In Nancy Gong’s installation for RIT’s Innovation Center, titled, In Art, Science and Life, What is the Question?, a wide range of complex topics are referenced, ranging from RIT’s nine colleges to everything from the binary system to the black hole. A grand representative of her body of work in glass, the commission was heavily inspired by the marriage of science, technology and art.
An accomplished glass artist with world-wide recognition in contemporary architectural glass art, Gong’s focus is on large and small commissioned work including installations, fine art designs, sculpture, donor walls, gifts and awards. Her designs embrace traditional techniques of stained glass craftsmen and stone carvers, combined with new materials, fusing, laminating and other new and emerging technologies. Developing skills in laminating and fusing glass has allowed Gong to display her colored glass art outdoors. Fused glass techniques enabled the artist to create impressionistic designs with soft edges, moving her art more towards abstraction.
Having mastered her own style of creating texture and painting, Gong depicts various levels of contrast using striking color, motion and spontaneity. As the ever-changing light plays against her integrated design elements, a unique living, breathing work of art is created, beckoning the viewer to see and experience something new and fresh with every passing look. American born of Chinese descent, her free-flowing modern designs echo the spirit, energy and beauty of all living things.
Inspired by Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder and Phillip Stark to name a few, Gong studied at the Naples Mills School of Arts and Crafts, the Allofus Art Workshop, SUNY Empire State College, Corning Museum of Glass, the prestigious School of American Craftsmen at Rochester Institute of Technology, Narcissus Quagliata design workshop, Norm Dobbins stained glass workshops, the famed Orsoni Smalti Veneziani in Italy, the Glass Art Society, and the American Glass Guild. She continues to hone her skills in workshops instructed by contemporary masters such as Quagliata, Kenneth von Roenn Jr., Martin Rosol, Tim Carey, Kathy Jordan, Deborah Coombs, Amanda Taylor and others.
As owner/principal designer of Gong Glass Works since 1979, Gong designs and fabricates commissioned architectural and fine art glass projects for residential, commercial, institutional and public clients. Her commercial and public clients include The Akron Civic Theater, The City of Rochester, ARTWalk of Rochester Inc., Beckoning Path, Corning Tropel, Duke University, LiDestri Foods, Rochester Museum and Science Center, State of Vermont, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, and Virgin Travel/Vacations. Her sculptures and fine art glass designs are acquired for private collections throughout the world, and are often presented as special gifts.
For her achievements in the world of glass art, Gong has been recognized by PBS – WXXI Arts in Focus, Who’s Who in Contemporary Glass Art, The World’s Who’s Who of Women, and 2,000 Notable American Women. She and her works have been profiled in over 20 professional publications, including: Interiors & Sources, China Daily News, The Design Journal of Korea, Stained Glass Quarterly, Professional Stained Glass Magazine, Builder/Architect Magazine, AmericanStyle Magazine, Beautiful Glass Magazine, Glass Now, ARTform, SOFA Chicago, and Guild Sourcebook of Architectural & Interior Art and Architects + Artisans. Professional memberships include the Glass Art Society, the Stained Glass Association of America, the American Glass Guild, AIA Rochester and New York, and the Society of American Mosaic Artists
Gong states: “My focus is to design artwork that speaks to the ages. If it’s good design, it will endure. My main goal is for artwork to bring peace and joy to the spaces through an experience. I want to feed the souls of people who are utilizing the space.”