Richard Royal, a native of the Northwest, has become recognized internationally as one of the most skilled and talented glassblowers in the Studio Glass movement. Bodies of work such as his early Diamond Cut series to the more recent Geometrics are the hallmarks of his successful career in glass. The artist began working as a glass sculptor in 1978 at the Pilchuck Glass School, located north of Seattle. After spending a number of years as a ceramist, the birth of a new artistic movement appealed to the young artist.
Working his way through the ranks, Royal became one of Dale Chihuly’s main gaffers. This relationship lasted for a number of years and consequently led to Royal’s emergence in the art market in the 1980s. He has since been an independent artist exhibiting work internationally in both solo and group exhibitions.
Wrote gallerist, Ken Saunders: “When Royal joined the staff of Pilchuck it was ostensibly as a maintenance man. In those early days a guy hired to clean up and a guy hired to drive a truck – Royal and William Morris respectively – might easily find themselves assisting the world’s greatest glassblowers as they worked the hot glass, in demonstrations for students and for themselves after hours and after the summer sessions had ended for the season.
Though Royal was introduced to glass as a student at the Central Washington University he pursued an interest in ceramics and in 1972, he and fellow student Ben Moore built a studio in their hometown of Olympia, Washington. There they created a line of production objects made from clay. The young men worked compulsively and energetically but typically found themselves in bohemian circumstances. Royal made his rent money building high-end wood furniture and endeavored to keep the studio viable while Moore enrolled in the under-graduate program at the California College of Arts.
At CCA Moore met Marvin Lipofsky, who was running the glass program, though Moore did not participate in glass at that time and went on to earn his undergrad degree in ceramics. For graduation, Moore’s parents gifted him with a session at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington. There, Moore met Chihuly who liked his energy and encouraged the young artist to help out during the summer programs at Pilchuck and later to attend RISD to earn an MFA in glass. As the small staff of the school expanded to accommodate the explosion of interest in the programming, Moore reached out to his buddy Royal, inviting him to join the staff in 1978. Royal jumped at the chance to get out of Olympia where maintaining the ceramics studio had become a lonely enterprise. ‘I’d heard about what was going on at Pilchuck but I was just thinking about having a job and getting fed regularly. I had no idea what was going to happen…it changed my life.’
After spending the summer of 1978 at Pilchuck, working maintenance and, on many occasions, assisting in the hot-shop during classes and after hours, Royal was invited to stay for the fall to assist Chihuly with his work. Chihuly was assembling a large team that he felt would allow him to create ambitious, large- scale sculptures and installations…
Once winter descended on the Pacific Northwest the team was forced to abandon Pilchuck for the season. Chihuly filled his calendar with Visiting Artist Residencies at colleges and universities around the country and took members of the team with him. Royal recalls the excitement: ‘We’d take over the art department and during our demonstrations the hot shop would be standing room only,’ the team putting on what amounted to a performance with Chihuly playing the master of ceremonies breathlessly directing the action. ‘We would hit the campus like rock stars.’
While Chihuly developed a very specific vision of a large studio employing extremely gifted crafts people to handle very specific tasks in an effort to harness the best each had to offer to the process, most artists working in glass in those days worked in very small teams, basically a handful of artist/friends who took turns leading the creation of their own works with the assistance of the others. ‘We all had our own ideas. In fact, when it was your turn you were expected to have your own ideas for your own work.’ And led by the example set by Dale, ‘everybody was completely supportive of the others and willing to lend a hand if need be.’ Dale set the tone, ‘really supporting whatever each of us wanted to create.’
Royal continued working with Chihuly for nearly 30 years until 2006,. He simultaneously worked at Benjamin Moore Inc. beginning in 1984.
Wrote Saunders: “Royal’s first series of blown objects to find commercial and critical success, the Diamond Cut and Shelter Series, were begun at this time… The most important technical characteristic of this early work was the overlay of color on the outside of the bubble – a strategy that turns the usual process of picking up color first on its head. Royal describes the process: ‘In the Diamond Cut Series I overlaid four or five different colors on the outside of a bubble, brought the blank down to room temperature and used a diamond band saw to cut through those layers…I wanted to create an object that would allow you to look at the outside and inside simultaneously…This was a personal metaphor for exploration, looking inside.” The Shelter Series extended this metaphor reflecting profound changes he was going through emotionally, financially and professionally.
In 1989 his engagement and subsequent marriage to Jana led to Royal’s Relationship Series. The form consists of a top and a bottom of equal size that meet and entwine around a smaller vessel at the center of the sculpture. ‘The Relationship pieces…show two equal entities coming together around a single idea.’ Central to these works was the artist’s sense of scale. Royal committed early on to working in the largest scale that was technically feasible.
Those early bodies of work especially reflect the profound influence Moore and Chihuly had on the artist’s work. Moore’s tight technical approach was itself influenced by Italian Design. Moore blew on-center and his work is often characterized by a restrained use of color. Chihuly, on the other hand, had an organic sensibility but his approach to the creative impulse was as much informed by Warhol as by nature. His pieces were gestural, gaudy and loud in color and in form. Royal thinks that his work has benefited from the influence of these two opposites.
In Royal’s latest body of work, the Geos, the artist has sought to capture the qualities of kiln cast glass in his blown glass constructions. He has emphasized simple and subtle coloration and given the individual pieces a sculptural presence by referencing organic forms as opposed to utilitarian objects. The artist is also reinventing his Diamond Cut series, creating fresh new objects (such as those seen at the top of this page).
Royal’s work can be found in such noteworthy museum collections as The Mint Museum of Art + Design, The High Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, The Tampa Museum of Art, and the Daiichi Museum (Japan). His artwork is also included in the SAFECO Collection, PricewaterhouseCoopers, IBM, and the Westinghouse Corporation. One of the first Artists-in-Residence at the Waterford Crystal Factory, Royal continues to teach as both a guest artist and faculty member at various universities and the Pilchuck Glass School. A past grant recipient from the National Endowment for the Arts, he has served as a visiting artist at the Corning Museum of Glass, the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Ohio State University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.