Artist Edgar Valentine’s explorations into functional glass art and unique figurines and characters are now on view as part of the Museum’s latest exhibition, GATHER: 27 Years of Hilltop Artists. Featuring a variety of contemporary glass artworks as well as paintings and mixed media, GATHER highlights the outcomes and reach of the Hilltop Artists program while shining light on the opportunity gaps faced by these artists. Valentine recently took time to speak with Tacoma Art Museum and speak to their journey making art through glassblowing.
What is your earliest memory of Hilltop Artists?
Edgar Valentine [EV]: My earliest memory with Hilltop Artists is coming in for the summer program, working on the torches with my best friend Troy, and looking over at the kids on the hot shop floor and thinking, “I can’t wait to do that!”
Which artists inspire you? Are there any specific pieces of art that inspire you?
[EV]: My biggest glass artist inspiration has always been Karen Willenbrink, simply because of her talent, views of the art form, and outgoing personality. I wouldn’t say I get inspired by any specific piece of art, though—mainly just styles and techniques that help advance my own ideas.
How did you continue your training after Hilltop Artists?
[EV]: After Hilltop Artists, I first started my career at the Glass Eye Studio, and then left to work at Tacoma Glassblowing Studio. That’s where I decided I wanted to advance my skills and keep my fundamentals up to par, along with taking classes around the state with sculptural glassblowers to progress my art career.
What is the best part about working with glass?
[EV]: The best part about working with glass is taking a hot liquid and turning it into a solid piece of work—one that can be displayed for entertainment or be a part of daily usage.
What should exhibition visitors know about your art? About working with glass? About Hilltop Artists? What are the important things about glass that someone wouldn’t know just by looking at it?
[EV]: I want viewers to know my art is very specific. It’s not really meant to be a “What is it?” kind of piece. It’s very straight and to the point. That being said, I want the viewer to take away whatever they feel on their first approach. My intentions for creating could be completely different from what the audience receives. I love that. But, one of the most important things about glass that most people don’t know just by looking is that there are multiple different types of glass and there are multiple ways in which it is worked.
What would you say to a student who was considering signing up for Hilltop Artists?
[EV]: To any student considering signing up with the Hilltop Artists program—give it a try. It’s a school activity that is rare to come by and is instructed by great teachers.
Who are some fellow glass artists, or artists in general, who have inspired you throughout your career?
[EV]: Being here in Tacoma and the greater Seattle area, we are lucky to be surrounded by a flood of amazing glass artists, some of the biggest names in the game. Of course, all of the glass sculptors here in the Pacific Northwest are artists I’ve always looked up to. Ever since I started going to the Pilchuck Glass School, I’ve been inspired by artists who come from all over the world to create glass together. Even if there is a language barrier.
What message, if any, do you hope to convey through your work?
[EV]: Honestly, a lot of the time my work doesn’t hold a specific message, but rather a story. One of the most meaningful works I’ve made was on Blown Away because we were given prompts that were always pretty personal. But usually I like to just create things that I see in daily life or my dreams.
In what ways do you share your passion and engage with the community and fellow artists?
[EV]: Ever since I was a young skater kid, I’ve always loved collaborations. Like when an artist collaborates with a clothing brand and the artist’s style is clearly present but there’s still the brand logo—I think that is so cool. I really try to branch out with other artists to collaborate or to work with other things I like that would work well with my art. For example, Sig Brewing Company here in Tacoma let me design a beer flavor and make five pint glasses to release with the can drop.
What does your creative process look like? How do you get started on a new piece? How do you know when it’s “finished?”
[EV]: When I’m getting ready to create a big new piece that I’ve been designing and planning for a few weeks, it’s usually at least a 24 hour process of mental prep. Throughout the day before, I’ll be daydreaming of how the piece is going to go—how much glass I’ll need, when the color will be applied, how many puntys, et cetera. Which leads into the night where I’ll usually either dream about making the piece or just stay up all night thinking about it. Overthinking that is. Once the time comes [to make the piece], it always seems to come out smoothly. I feel like I get nervous and intimidated because breaking glass is frustrating. I’ve been doing this long enough, though, that I almost have an auto pilot and trust in my skills. The piece isn’t done until I say so.
What does generosity mean to you as an artist? How do you emulate this?
[EV]: In the glass community, there is a generosity of companionship. This medium revolves around teamwork. From what I’ve seen, we all tend to get along pretty quick because we all have a similar mind set of “get stuff done and have fun.” I always try to share the wealth of glass knowledge I’ve collected from other workers along the way, knowing it will come back to me.
Is there a piece you think is most representative of who you are as an artist and the themes/stories you try to convey?
[EV]: I don’t personally think there is one specific piece that represents my “theme.” Anything I create tends to fall into two different styles of work: I like to do realism with wild and natural life, but also gritty, urban style sculptures.
Are there special challenges to working in glass that others might not expect?
[EV]: One of the biggest challenges I never thought of until I started getting older is how much of a toll working with glass puts on your body. My eyesight and hearing have most definitely gotten worse ever since I picked this up full time. I’d personally choose that over back issues from sitting at a desk all day or injury from professional sports.
Banner photo courtesy of David Leyes.