Jeff Mack‘s career as a glassmaker has offered him a variety of opportunities, from factory production to working and studying with world-renowned glass artists. In January, Jeff demonstrated his historically-influenced glassmaking techniques at 2300°: Drink It In. I caught up with him after the show.
You’re here from Toledo. Have you been to the Museum before?
I’ve been to Corning quite a few times; as a student, as a teacher; as a teaching assistant in The Studio and as an artist-in-residence. I just love glass and I love coming to Corning so this is a real honor and privilege to come and do this program here.
So tell me about what you do in Toledo.
Well I have a family and I spend time with them. I have three daughters and my wife. And I work at the Toledo Museum of Art where I’m the glass studio manager and I make glass for the museum there too. I also make glass there for myself. I work with a lot of great people there. There’s a wonderful glass community and the Toledo Museum of Art not only has a wonderful glass collection but also has a great art collection.
And you also worked at the Henry Ford.
I have worked at the Henry Ford Museum up in Dearborn, Michigan. There I managed their glass studio and we made a production line of glass that emulates early American glass.
That’s what I want to ask you about—a lot of your work has historical influences. Why is that?
Part of that was working at the Henry Ford Museum and getting interested in the history of industry and glass. The glass industry has such an amazing history. I’m also very fascinated by the history of Murano glass and their culture. I studied a lot with various Venetian and Muranese glass artists who come to the United States. I’ve also traveled over there and gotten to study glass in Murano which was amazing. I just fell in love with that culture and the amazing technique that they possess and have passed on here.
What initially got you interested in glass?
I went to Bowling Green State University as an art student. I was majoring in graphic design and I took glassblowing as an elective and just fell in love with it. It was a passion from the beginning. It was something that I enjoyed—I loved the fire, it’s very exciting, it’s hot, it’s very active—and then just seeing really, really great glassblowers like Lino Tagliapietra and so many others who inspired me to just want to do that and be good at it. So I pursued mastering the techniques of glassblowing.
Talking about the masters—in just watching tonight, you almost make it look too easy—you have this crazy technique and you just put together these complex pieces. Tell me about what’s going through your head when you are making these really complex pieces.
Usually, taking a step ahead. When I’m at the furnace, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I sit down. So you’re just thinking ahead and doing little things—putting a tool in a certain place because you know your hand is going to be there… But I’ve been doing it for over 20 years and a lot of the simpler things come really naturally now so I don’t have to think too much about it. And some of the things I made here, I’ve made different variations of before, so I’m familiar with the steps.
That’s the one thing about doing it. What’s on your mind. There really can’t be much on your mind but that, while you’re doing it. And that’s one of the beauties of it. It’s like a meditation, because you have to be completely focused, you have to breathe, you have to not forget to, or your hand will shake or you know. So that’s what’s on my mind—what’s happening right there; right then; that team working together. It fascinates me, I love it.
Let’s talk about what you worked on tonight and the team that you worked with.
Tonight I worked with Chris, Dane and Eric and they’re great—all very skilled glassblowers. I wanted to make some kind of wine related thing because of the theme of this evening’s wine tastings at the Museum. The most fun thing for a glassblower to make a lot of times is Venetian style glass just because there are so many little parts and so many little things that you have to do that add to the complexity and the difficulty levels. It adds that extra edge of excitement. So, we made some Venetian style glasses. I made a variant of the Coppa Guggenheim which is a famous glass that the Corning Museum has one of the originals made by Giuseppe Barovier. I got to look at that today with the curator Audrey Whitty and we got to talk a little bit so that inspired me and got me to thinking about that piece. We also did a dragon stem goblet which is a piece that I got to make many times with the late Elio Quarisa. Also Eric Meek who was working with me today made that piece so we’re both very familiar with the steps.
I haven’t seen the Guggenheim cup yet in person!
Oh, well it’s right in the galleries here!
Last question: I want to know about your dinosaur pieces, because they are really cool.
A lot of what I make, and the things I made tonight, are absolutely technique based. The dinosaurs are a piece that are, in that form, something that I love. When I was a kid, I loved dinosaurs. My dad would take us to the library every week and I would go the section about dinosaurs and about paleontologists and I loved looking at the dinosaur bones. So, it is a form that is very familiar to me, it makes me feel cozy and I love it. It’s something that’s in me, that I took the techniques of glassmaking and applied to my own vision.
In glass, you have to understand if you are going to make it yourself; it takes many, many, many, many years to master the material to a point where you can make exactly what you want. And I think any glass artist would tell you that. A lot of artists who work with glass end up working with a technician who can help them with that. But I focused on technique for many years and this was probably one of the first things that was very original to me was making this form. So, those are special to me, I love making them. And other people seem connected to them too—the fun—it’s a neat form. A dinosaur makes you think about a lot of things—extinction, you know, interesting beautiful forms that really aren’t around anymore. So they’re in our imagination.