Glass artist Cat Burns, had a pretty interesting year in 2020, but she wasn’t able to talk about most of it until now. From studio instructor to TikTok sensation to star contestant on season 2 of the Netflix series Blown Away, Cat’s year was full both on and off the screen.
But it wasn’t always easy. Success, just like glassblowing itself, can take hours, weeks, months, and years to master. Ambition, hard work, dedication, and a belief that you can do anything can lead you to success, and these are all qualities that Cat has in abundance.
While Cat is enjoying her moment in the sun, we carved out a few minutes to ask her about the big reveal and discover what made 2020 so great.
What made you decide to apply for Blown Away Season 2?
I decided to try out for Blown Away to challenge myself. I live by a rule that if something scares me, I should try it, just to prove that I can. I applied to the first season and didn’t get in so I honestly applied thinking I wouldn’t get in again.
What did you think about the first season of Blown Away?
I think it did a lot to put an ancient artform back on the map! Our art form hasn’t been this big in pop culture since Dale Chihuly showed up.
What do you think the show has done for glass as a material and the artists who work in it?
There have never been this many beginners in glass, everyone is fighting over class space because glass is trending again thanks to Blown Away becoming a household name. All the artists I know from the show rave about how it’s helped them further their careers.
What’s your most memorable experience from the show?
That’s a toss up between two.
The first episode where I threw up and almost passed out from the heat… OMG! Probably don’t use that, but it’s so funny looking back at it. (Sorry, Cat, but we’re using it!)
Also, the episode before the finale. Chris and I both had similar pieces, and everyone said “If your pieces go head to head, do you know yours can beat him,” and I just knew in my soul that I could. My mom always tells me to go with my gut and I heard her voice in my head clear as day and I knew it was the right choice.
You’ve been involved with The Corning Museum of Glass for a long time. What’s your history with the Museum?
I came to the Museum because, with all my heart, I wanted to become a better glass artist. But I couldn’t afford school after community college. The Museum has taught me more than I think any school could have because of the constant stream of master glassblowers working and teaching here. I got paid to learn firsthand from people at the top of their field and I could not be more grateful for the lessons the Museum has taught me.
How was it to work with the CMoG team for the finale of Blown Away?
Honestly, it felt REALLY weird, but I knew I could trust them with any task and it would be conceived immaculately so I felt comfortable talking through my design and leaving it in their capable hands. I have the most respect for the CMoG team and the finale would have been impossible without them.
I started off 2020 having every drop of work I had scheduled for 2020 vanish. The Shops came to me with the idea of taking a color concept I had developed earlier and reworking it to fit the Pumpkin of the Year. It went through a few inceptions before we landed on the right rainbow for the 2020 Unity Pumpkin. The first order in June was for 50 and by the end of the year, I had made almost 600! They just spoke to everyone; that need for some color, joy, and unity. TikTok was a major component, the rainbow felt a little defiant and unifying at the same time, racking up millions of views and totally changing my year.
Your making-of video blew up on TikTok. What was that like?
The love the TikTok community had for the Unity Pumpkin was completely unexpected and overwhelming at times. Because of Tiktok, I went from losing all my work to growing my business to where it is now in just five months. I will forever be grateful for my followers on TikTok.
Your work focuses a lot on mental health, why is this subject important to you, and what do you hope people learn from your work?
I’ve struggled with mental health for as long as I can remember. The first time I remember wanting to not exist anymore I was six years old. I have been diagnosed with anxiety, SAD, BPD, ADHD, I even got schizophrenia once. At this point, I just think everyone has their own crazy that can’t be defined. Art has always been my diary and therapy; it’s how I talk about my feelings without the words getting me in trouble. Struggling with mental illness for so long has led me to be really good at masking, and I think my art is a way of exposing myself in a way that feels safe. I hope in exposing myself, others will feel seen and validated because it can be hard to do that for yourself. I hope talking about mental health becomes as easy as talking about the weather because it is just as fluid and important.
Your work also centers around your eyesight, can you share that part of your story and how it impacts what you create as an artist?
I’ve had glasses since I was two for extreme nearsightedness and my mom was almost completely blind by the time she was 40, so losing my vision is something I’ve understood as a possibility all along. The UV from blowing glass certainly does not help! For the past few years, I have also been suffering from a type of retinopathy where fluid tears my retina on top of beginning cataracts and color blindness. Luckily my left eye isn’t advancing as fast as my right! It also means I need to be more selective in how long I expose my eyes to melting glass. I will definitely need some surgeries on it eventually. It only just started to rear its head in my work as I was selected as a 2020 Artist-in-Residence at The Studio in Corning for a body of work pertaining to it before I even applied to the show. (Cat’s residency was rescheduled due to COVID and will likely take place in 2022 as her schedule allows.)
Can you talk about your final installation for Blown Away? Mental health was a big component of that, what are your thoughts about presenting something with this theme to a global audience?
At the time, just being on the show was a personal test in not breaking down long enough to make it all the way to the finale, so when I got there, it felt like breaking a dam. If I was going to expose myself, I had to be totally honest to myself and to the audience so that they felt safe enough to also walk into the piece and listen to their internal voices. I wanted participants to let go, to feel the light and shadows within the piece, and to start to appreciate the same balance within themselves.
Anything else to add?
Go get a glass of wine!
You can see one artwork made by Cat Burns alongside pieces by each of the ten contestants from season 2 of Blown Away, on display at The Corning Museum of Glass as part of our new exhibit, Blown Away Season 2, on display through January 2022.
Also, tune in next week, on Wednesday, February 17 at 7pm, for our next episode of Connected by Glass to hear from Cat and other season 2 contestants as they discuss life on the show. Cat Burns will also give a demonstration at the Museum’s Amphitheater Hot Shop during the presentation.