I’m not often asked to be the muscle for somebody so when I am, it’s kinda neat. And what could be more fun than hauling glass in Seattle?

My friend Becky owns a gallery in downtown Portland (Fireborne, you should visit), which carries everything from little glass bugs to jewelry to big honkin’ sculpture. She’s getting ready for the Christmas rush, needed to clear out older pieces and bring in new, and wanted to make some exchanges in Seattle. Somebody had to schlep boxes and hold doors for her… was I interested?

Does cobalt turn glass blue?

We headed up Tuesday morning with an SUV-ful of returning vases, sculptures, bowls and such. We hit up several successful glassblowers, all with hotshops on premises and a charming eagerness to show us their newest work.

I had a ball. Nuthin’ like helping someone else spend money on art.

seattlestonesAt Seattle Glassblowing we sought stones, intriguingly sensuous chunks of glass with lots of colors and tiny streams of dichroic flash. They’re paperweights that feel great in the hand, and we picked through a couple hundred looking for Becky’s.

The place is a combination gallery, cafe and hotshop, just down from the waterfront so they get a lot of cruise ship business. It’s stuffed to the gills with blown glass, glass sinks and jewelry, works reaching 7 or 8 feet tall, and they clearly know what they’re doing, business-wise.

They pointed out colors and patterns that moved well with non-glass addicts, were frank about colors that didn’t (pink and fuschia). It kinda reminded me of the old potters’ maxim: Even ugly pots sell if they’re blue.

In blown glass, reds and neutrals also sell well. Becky picked out a sophisticated vessel in khaki, olive and cream, which reminded me of my design mentor’s favorite admonition: “Watch Miyake. His colors are ALWAYS right.” (Issey Miyake, the fashion designer)

seattlekidsA young mother stepped into the gallery with her little boy and girl. “Do NOT touch, and stay right beside me, or we can’t go in,” she warned. The woman behind the counter sighed in relief.

A case of glass penguins entranced the little girl, about four, and she settled in for a girl-to-bird chat. “Hello, Miss Penguin,” she said confidently, “I’m Dara. Were you cold in your home?”

Becky finished her transaction while I hauled boxes to the car and glanced across the street to The Wexley School for Girls. It didn’t quite fit the usual insanely cheerful-but-boring private school image. It was painted butter yellow and electric blue, and a naked minotaur strode across the side of the building. Maybe a hundred rubber chickens hung in the storefront windows like Christmas lights, and the guy standing just inside didn’t exactly look like a science teacher…unless science teachers in Seattle sport ninety-‘leven tattoos, mylar pants and a mohawk.

seattlewexleyIt’s actually an ad agency, I discovered, with a rather cool website. While I was counting chickens, the most massive man I’ve ever seen stopped me on the sidewalk.

He was trailed by a skinny little man half his height, chattering and prancing to his iPod. The man, wide as he was tall, waggled a finger at my nose. “The trick,” he said solemnly, “is to make them THINK you love them, even if you don’t.” He nodded, and they marched past me, toward the docks.

Good advice, I suppose.

The hotel made dinner reservations for us at Cutters. I hadn’t been there in ages, and it turns out Cutters will send a shuttle to your hotel so you don’t spend an hour searching for non-existent parking. Terrific seafood with an early dinner special that makes it affordable–plus corner window views of Pikes Place Market and rain pelting down on Puget Sound. (DEFINITELY opt for the smoked salmon chowder. I could have made it the whole meal.)

Becky’s a lot of fun even without the glass, and we chattered about gallery practices, homelife, the vagaries of artists and their recordkeeping, interesting plans for Fireborne and my addiction to animation. We worried a bit about leaving the SUV parked on the street with a load full of glass–the desk clerk said they’d never had a theft in a car unless it held something worth stealing–but the SUV wouldn’t fit their underground parking lot.


About 3am I woke up and looked out the window, saw the space needle silhouetted through a construction site.

seattleroccoOur morning visits included Michael Roco, who blows twisting, organic vessels and enormous chandeliers. His new work was laid out on the kitchen table for our inspection. While Becky picked through the luscious colors and shapes I took in one of the most eclectic collections I’ve seen in awhile: Lutes on chairs, renaissance paintings hanging next to wonderful glass, an old victrola perched on rococo carvings and enough old crystal chandeliers to open a lighting store. The sun slipped past the rainclouds for a second, through the crystals, sending thousands of rainbows across our faces.

A small casting in the window sill caught my attention–womens’ faces displayed Janus-style in a transparent apricot glass. Michael obligingly turned on a fluorescent light and the sculpture glinted green; Gaffer’s Semillon casting crystal, one of my favorites.

“Do you like it?” Michael asked shyly, “I don’t do many castings…”

He really ought to do more.

seattleartbyfireMy favorite spot was the last, a little gallery in Issaquah. Renee and Lenoard’s bright and airy Art By Fire is glass school, showroom, gallery and hotshop rolled into one, with some really lovely work. A birthday party had taken over the hotshop, making Christmas ornaments while Becky and I delivered old glass and began winnowing the new.

Primarily a glassblowing shop, they aren’t afraid to sell other stuff, or work from other artists. I fell in love with Renee’s huge frit painting of horses, reminiscent of the caves of Lascaux, and new castings by Tim Chilina made me think of Stephen Rolfe Powell kicked sideways.

seattleartbyfirenewbieI headed out to the hotshop while Renee and Becky negotiated, watching Lenoard and his crew help awed newbies gather, color and blow swirly balls. The crew did most of the work, but “I made this. Just me,” said one executive-type guy, grinning wide with pride.

A boy, maybe 15, finished up his Christmas ball with a foot “so I can put it right by my bed,” and came out front to pet the shop dog. “Did you see that?” he asked me, “I was holding glass that was more than 2000 degrees!”

I’ll bet he remembers that for a long time.