Pilchuck Glass School, located in Stanwood, Snohomish County, about 50 miles north of Seattle, was the first residential education center in the world focused exclusively on glass art, and its success helped drive the Seattle area's reputation as an international mecca for that medium. The school began in June 1971 as a one-summer experimental glassblowing workshop co-founded by glass artist Dale Chihuly (b. 1941) and Pacific Northwest art patrons John H. Hauberg (1916-2002) and Anne Gould Hauberg (1918-2016). Chihuly's original idea was to create a laid-back community where artists working in glass could create, share ideas, and learn from each other. With a $2,000 grant from the Union of Independent Colleges of Art, he asked the Haubergs to use part of their tree farm in Stanwood to house the workshop. The 18 students constructed their own sleeping quarters and hot shop; there was no electricity or running water. From this modest beginning, Pilchuck Glass School grew to encompass more than 60 buildings, including studios, a dining hall, cabins, and cottages. Each year, more than 500 artists come from around the world to take workshops and classes; others are selected to attend artist-in-residence programs.
A School on a Tree Farm
In late 1970, Dale Chihuly, director of the glass program at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, approached Ruth Tamura, director of the glass department at California College of Arts and Crafts, to apply to the Union of Independent Colleges of Art (UICA) for a $2,000 grant to hold a summer workshop in glass-blowing at a then-undetermined location. The grant award stipulated that two students from each of UICA's eight member colleges would be chosen to participate. Two additional students joined the group, bringing the total number that first year to 18 -- 15 men and three women. Most of the students were 18 or 19 years old; Chihuly, who was not yet 30, was the oldest person there.
A native of Tacoma, Chihuly considered sites in South Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands before approaching John and Anne Gould Hauberg, whom he had once met briefly. The Hauberg family had been in the lumber business for decades and owned a 15,000-acre tree farm near Stanwood. John Hauberg had bought the property in the mid-1950s.
The 54-acre site that became the home of the Pilchuck Glass School is situated in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Chihuly first visited the property in May 1971 and fell in love with its magnificent sweeping views and pristine environment. At the time, it was just an open field with a few cows: no electricity, habitable structures, or running water. Chihuly wrote to the Haubergs and asked if he could hold the workshop on the site. They agreed and the Pilchuck Glass School was born. The school's website explains how its name was chosen:
"Pilchuck means 'red river' in the Native American language of the region. The school is named after the tree farm where the campus is situated. The tree farm was named for the nearby river, which has substantial iron deposits that cause the banks to turn red" ("Frequently Asked Questions").
Tents, Tarps, and Teaching
In June 1971, three artists -- Dale Chihuly, John Landon, and Art Wood -- and 18 students made their way into the hills above the Skagit River Valley. They pitched tents or draped tarps over planks as sleeping quarters. As luck would have it, it was a very rainy summer, so staying dry was next-to-impossible. Student Mary Ann (Toots) Zynsky recalled those early days:
"It was pretty soggy ... And we were working in the rain all the time. We would wake up with slug trails over our sleeping bags every morning" (Oldknow, 58).
Everyone helped, whether creating makeshift housing or installing the furnaces and annealing ovens used in the glass blowing. "Poles to support the hot shop roof were collected from the forest, cut, peeled, and prepared. [Student] Michael Nourot, who had a background in textile arts, and others sewed the roof from Army tents and tarps" (Oldknow, 60). Other equipment necessary for glass-making had to be made, borrowed, or somehow obtained with very little money.
The teachers and students began blowing glass about two weeks after they arrived. Although the weather proved challenging at times, overall the Pacific Northwest's cloudy skies and maritime climate, where temperatures seldom climb above 80 degrees, are ideal for working in glass.
The original Pilchuck settlement might have attracted talented artists but no one knew how to cook. The group would go into town for food or would cook simple meals over a communal campfire. Store-bought provisions were supplemented by greens and mushrooms found on the hillsides or in the forest. The only available water was from the creek.
By mid-August, the workshop was over and the students had dispersed. By all accounts, it was an incredible experience. Michael Nourot described it this way: "The magical aspect of what we did, it was like opening a door to something that was there. ... And because of that experience, we all got to step through that door" (Oldknow, 31).
Although the $2,000 grant might have seemed substantial at the start, by the end of the summer Chihuly had spent about $7,000 more than that. When John Hauberg asked Chihuly how much he needed to open the school the following year, the artist estimated $25,000. The Haubergs agreed to fund the school for a second summer.
Chihuly remained director through the third year and then decided running a school was not what he wanted to do. Others took over the school leadership, although Chihuly continued to be involved.
John H. and Anne Gould Hauberg: Pilchuck Patrons
Anne Gould Hauberg, daughter of prominent Seattle architect Carl F. Gould (1873-1939), was born and raised in Seattle with a passion and appreciation for art and architecture. Her father designed the Seattle Art Museum on Capitol Hill (later home to the Seattle Asian Art Museum) as well as more than two dozen buildings on the University of Washington campus, including Suzzallo Library. Anne studied architecture for a while but never received a college degree. Instead she chose to apply her energy and interest in the arts to the preservation of historic buildings, many of which were located in Seattle's Pioneer Square. She also was a vocal and effective opponent of the planned redevelopment of Pike Place Market in 1963.
With her husband John H. Hauberg, she began a lifetime of supporting and collecting art. John came from a long line of Midwest pioneers and philanthropists. The Hauberg family was from Illinois, where they ran a successful lumber business. John Hauberg moved to Seattle where he met Anne. The couple was married in 1941 and had three children. (They divorced in 1979.)
"Since the 1950s, John and Anne Gould Hauberg had been involved in a vast number of personal and civic arts projects ... According to John Hauberg, 'Annie wanted very badly to have some kind of art enterprise up there on the hill. It's such a beautiful site ... it deserved some attention ... So when Dale came along and proposed the school, which obviously was to be just temporary, we thought, Gee what a great thing to get people's attention'" (Oldknow, 50-51).
Of the two, Anne played a greater role in the overall success of Pilchuck. "'If it weren't for Annie,' Chihuly said, calling her by a nickname used by close friends, 'there would be no Pilchuck Glass Center ... One of the things she liked about art was the artists. She really enjoyed getting to know artists'" (Romano).
Glass Art Comes to the Pacific Northwest
In the mid-twentieth century, glass as art, also called studio glass, was virtually unknown in the United States. Most glassware was made in an industrial setting. Even decorative glass, such as that produced by Steuben or Tiffany, was made in a factory.
"Chihuly pushed the boundaries ... and took glass art from kitsch to sculpture, shifting the reputation of glass artists ... As a teacher, Chihuly shared his passion, craft, and tools with students, guiding gaffers and sculptors through the complicated process of making art, challenging them to experiment, fostering their sense of exploration and creativity" (Badgett).
In the late 1970s, the school started inviting renowned glass artists from around the world to teach their specialties and to share their once-proprietary artistic procedures.
"'People were drawn to its back-to-the-land location and the idea of blowing your own glass in a studio setting,' said [Pilchuck] Executive Director Jim Baker. 'The school developed a set of artists, they developed a market, and they set up studios and stayed'" (Badgett).
Classes, Workshops, and Residencies
In 1980, an artist-in-residence program was added, enabling established artists to work independently. Ten years later, an emerging-artist-in-residence and a print-making program were added. Marge Levy, Pilchuck executive director from 1991 to 2000, explained that "The artists-in-residence are selected; they don't apply. The school looks for artists who are at a particular place in their careers and who have the right temperament and sense of curiosity to be successful in that environment" (Levy interview).
By 2019, the school was welcoming some 500 artists each year, among them both established professionals and novices. Classes are diverse, from engraving and glass blowing to kiln casting and neon; most last one to two weeks. Many Pilchuck students come from the Pacific Northwest but the school draws from an international community as well. In 2005, for example, Pilchuck students came from 31 different countries. According to its website:
"[Pilchuck's] studios and shops are equipped for glassblowing, hot casting, kiln casting, coldworking, flameworking, neon, fusing, glass painting, stained glass, and printmaking and includes a wood and metal shop. Housing is warm and rustic and most accommodations require a brief walk through fields and forest to reach the studios. Everyone eats, works, and sleeps on campus for the entire session and quickly bonds to create an intimate artistic community" ("Campus").
By its very nature, working with glass requires a team approach.
"Unlike most media, a lot of glasswork is cooperative, even collaborative. Under the best of circumstances, large, complex glass sculptures require teamwork for timing and melding pieces in just the right way, or an entire piece can be destroyed. The students at Pilchuck aren't just taught the basic craft of glassblowing, they learn how to operate as a team ... They don't fixate on issues of authorship or competition" (Badgett).
Those who were students one summer might return in later years to teach the next generation. Artist Sean O'Neill described this creative culture: "People want to share what they have learned without hesitation. Artists come with ways of working with glass that they have distilled over years, techniques from all over the world, and they just hand it all over" (Clemans).
As a nonprofit organization, Pilchuck has been funded primarily through student fees, grants, private donations, and an annual fundraising auction. There is also a small but growing endowment. The school's success and reputation have trickled down through the regional art community, enabling other institutions to find funding and audiences. These include the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle's Central Area neighborhood (which opened in 1976), the Tacoma Museum of Glass (2002), and Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center (2012). The University of Washington created the Dale Chihuly Endowed Chair in Glass in 2008.
"In the Seattle glass community, all roads eventually lead back to Pilchuck ... And it's fair to say that without Pilchuck, there would be no Seattle glass culture" (Updike).
A Magical Place for Artists
Artists attend Pilchuck for different reasons, but most come away impressed by the school's energy and passion along with its low-key, friendly, and collaborative approach. Artists who specialize in other media come to learn glass art from faculty or from other students who in turn learn from the visiting artists. "An interesting way of combining influence and inspiration, this approach of informing art from the roles of student and instructor is typical of the modesty and exploration that define the Pilchuck experience" (Badgett).
Northwest glass artist Benjamin Moore (b. 1952) spent the summer of 1974 at Pilchuck and later referred to those early years "as an artistic Wild West," telling Seattle Magazine:
"The infancy of the school was rough and wooly ... We had all our meals in an army cook tent, and there was another tent for slide lectures ... [Today] students come from all around the world to this magical place, the beautiful Northwest ... and have a life-changing experience, so they stick around. It's built an incredible community" ("How Seattle Became ...").
Maya Lin (b. 1959), who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., while an undergraduate student at Yale University, was an artist-in-residence at Pilchuck in 1994. She arrived expecting a more traditional and high-powered art-school environment; what she found was quite a bit different:
"I was amazed to find the school's fundamental, down-to-earth funkiness; its very low-key, unegotistical approach to creativity; and its strong sense of solitude and privacy ... At Pilchuck the whole world opens up to the artist. The possibilities are endless. There is an energy at Pilchuck that is just charged and which can never disappear because it is in the nature of glass itself" (Oldknow, foreword).
In 2003 artist Judy Chicago (b. 1939), well-known for her large installations that examine the role of women in history, culture, and politics, was an artist-in-residence. At Pilchuck she took on a new skill, learning how to etch and engrave glass. Two years later, Pike Powers, then Pilchuck's artistic director, recalled her stay:
"She was 'a very structured woman, very careful about how she spent her time,' Powers said. 'She came out of the city at rip-roaring speed. She had a great time; she talked to a lot of artists; she had a little cocktail party in her studio residence and invited a number of guests and talked about her work'" (Wright).
Pilchuck has always been about relationships, according to former director Marge Levy:
"These relationships play out in different ways. There are artists working with other artists, artists working with collectors, and artists working with educators. People realize how important Pilchuck is and they want to keep it going. These relationships help nourish the place" (Levy interview).
Innovative and World-renowned Center for Glass
Pilchuck's bucolic setting and the artist-helping-artist approach continue to spark the creative process.
"New and experienced artists alike often make tremendous conceptual and artistic progress in their short time at Pilchuck. Combining a deep focus on glass, access to a variety of resources, a picturesque Pacific Northwest setting and an ever-expanding international community of artists, Pilchuck has become the most comprehensive educational center in the world for glass artists" ("Mission").
From a primitive summer camp -- "Woodstock for art hippies" (Updike) -- to a world-renowned school of glass, Pilchuck continues to attract the best of the best. "'Pilchuck is no longer a family,' Levy adds, 'but a community, a place for the storing of skills, the exchanging and supporting of creative ideas. And with so many international artists coming here, it's a worldwide community, a very loose-knit tribe, something very humane and timely'" (Kangas).