Glass-blowing - something we first experienced on a school field trip approximate age 12, something that never fails to fascinate. There is no denying that glass-blowing is an admirable skill with awe-inspiring technique, not dissimilar to magic when it comes to impressing people. When searching for a glass artist for Makers' Mrkt it was the smooth curves and colours of Drew Spangenberg's work that caught our attention, his ability to create stand-alone pieces with practical possibilities made him our number one pick for our first glass creator. We hope you enjoy learning about the man behind the work.
You initially intended to study photography before taking a glass class and being converted to the medium, what was it about that hot glass class that was so captivating for you?
Immediately, it’s the intense heat and hum of the furnace, a little daunting at first but undoubtedly caught my attention. Once I saw my lecturer take a gather of glowing, moving, molten glass from the furnace, I knew I wanted to try it myself. Once I tried it, I very quickly realised how insanely difficult it was just to take a gather of glass and keep it on centre. Less immediately, the thing that captivated me and kept me coming back was the constant pursuit of getting better. It’s a difficult medium and when you see growth in your skills, it's immensely gratifying. Beyond a material sense, I love the fact that you need a team of people working closely together towards a common goal. I just get to work alongside my mates every day.
You've travelled to the acclaimed Pilchuck Glass School on two separate occasions to assist recognised artist David Walters. You also tutor up and coming artists yourself, how important do you think it is for creatives to share knowledge with those in their community instead of viewing them as competition?
It is vital! What can I say… Pilchuck Glass School you mention was set up in the 70s by a group of American glass-makers that really had no idea what they were doing, they were figuring this incredibly difficult material out for themselves. While in Venice on the island of Murano they had mastered and been producing glass skillfully for hundreds of years, however, it was a cardional sin for a Venetian glass-blower to share the secrets of the trade outside Murano. Dale Chihuly (founding member of Pichuck) invited Lino Tagliapietra (meistro glassblower from Murano) out to Pilchuck in 1979 to teach and controversially Lino accepted. Lino came over and taught these guys how to “do it right”. The US now has one of the strongest, most skilled glass scenes in the world in particular in the Seattle area. This is a result of selfless teaching and sharing of skills first from Lino but many have followed.
Here we are lucky to have a very strong glass community at the JamFactory in Adelaide. The associate training program the Jam runs is renowned for producing skilled makers who then go on to become members of the community feeding knowledge back down to new trainees. It’s a fantastic environment to work in and I would say not a very competitive one.
Tell us about your studio space, what kind of equipment does a modern glass artist need? Do you work alone or share a space?
My main workspace is the “hot shop” at the JamFactory. I hire the facilities there as well as assisting other artists, as glass is a medium that typically requires teamwork. I hire these facilities, as running your own hot glass studio is extremely expensive and requires a lot of maintenance. The main equipment needed is a Furnace to melt the glass, this stays on 24/7 burning between 1140º and 1250º celcius, a Glory Hole is the chamber we use to reheat the glass, which burns around the 1200º mark. Beyond these larger pieces of equipment there are a number of hand tools required.. tweezers, sheers, jacks, taglia, sophietta, block, just to name a few. These all have different uses, many have multiple uses. The closest we can come to touching the glass with our hands is by using a pad of folded, wet newspaper.
What are some of your favourite things in your creative space? What do you like to be surrounded by when working?
As my main working environment is a busy, noisy hot shop I’m not concerned too much with how it looks but more so comfort for my assistants and myself. Music is a must however! Creative at home and in my studio away from the hot shop I like to be surrounded by plants, music is still a must, and if I can, ill be outdoors.
Your work has a slightly vintage-inspired look to it, is this actually the case? What influences your glass style?
I must say some of my stuff does have a bit of a 70s feel to it but it certainly is not a direct influence. I draw from forms and colours I find aesthetically pleasing and generally my work is quite minimalistic. I do however take inspiration from the Memphis Design Group of the 1980s who used a lot of bold shapes and colours. The other thing I consider when making artwork is composition. I like to make complementary forms that relate to one another, rather than a singular object with no context.
Glass blowing is a rather niche industry, how did you build up to where you are now, did you work in other jobs and slowly turn a hobby into a job? Tell us about your journey.
Glass blowing is certainly not your typical trade and it has definitely been a slow but steady build over the last 9 years. After University I was lucky enough to undertake the JamFactory associate training program for two years. That is intensive glass blowing for two years with no real time for a second job. Coming out of that programme I made it my new years resolution to not get another job to support myself and really make a go of just being a glassblower. We are very lucky in the glass industry because we almost always need at least one assistant, which means there is always work. My main source of income is through assisting other glassmakers and not producing and selling my own work.
What makes a workspace and inspiring place for you?
There are a number of things I find inspiring about the places I have worked. Location is one… Pilchuck Glass School is located in the middle of a huge pine forest. Everything is built from logs and you are just smack bang in the middle of nature, it's beautiful. Around the JamFactory it's inspiring to walk into a bustling, busy studio where the music is cranking and the furnace is humming and at one time there might be 12 or more people on the floor all working in teams to create something.
We've all been confined to our home-spaces a lot more lately, what are some of your favourite things at home, what makes home feel good to you?
My most prized and essential room in my house through this time is my music room. Before glass came along music was my first love, I've played the drums since I could walk and a number of other instruments have followed. I've been really investing this free time into playing and recording music and it has been refreshing to throw myself into a different art form, yet one that relates to glass in a number of ways. I feel rhythm and coordination are essential to both disciplines.
As a person working in creative community why do you think it's important for consumers to shop locally and support independent businesses with their spending?
In a world where there are a lot of mass-produced, temporary products I think it is now more important than ever for people to buy local and small batch production. Buying something one-off and durable that you can reuse and love forever and something hand made with a story is so much more significant and satisfying than something from Ikea… The challenge is on the artist to make something unique enough that the viewer wants to spend the money on it.
What are you working on at the moment, is there anything coming up that you'd like to talk about or share with our audience?
In this current climate virtually all glass making has come to a halt and events and exhibitions are up in the air. During this time ill be drawing and painting, planning new works for when I can get back in the hot shop and investing in playing some music because its good for the soul! AMEN.