Bringing Mickey Mouse to Corning: John Moran Begins his Blown Away Winners Residency

During his time on Blown Away Season 3, John Moran proved himself as a talented glass artist with his amazing sculpting skills and his heavy attention to detail. In each episode, he created breathtaking works of art that captured viewers and glass lovers all around the globe. As the winner of Season 3, Moran secured the opportunity to come to The Corning Museum of Glass for his very own residency. Leading up to his arrival this week, I had the chance to speak with him and ask a few questions about his start in glass, Blown Away, and what his future holds.

Blown Away‘s Season 3 winner, John Moran. Photo courtesy of David Leyes for marblemedia.

Bryn Van Horne: I want to start this interview by talking briefly about your background and what has inspired your work over time. What inspired you to want to start blowing glass?

John Moran: I was at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, and I was focusing on painting and illustration. And it was very, you know, you’re in your studio by yourself. It was really the kind of elite art people who were there talking about stuff in a way that never really resonated with me. So, I was going to drop out of school. But then I decided to take a glass class. Che Rhodes was my TA for one of the sculpture classes and he convinced me to take a glass class. I don’t know how to explain it, but it wasn’t the upper elite artist talk anymore—It was just people doing their thing and they were very genuine about it. It was community. And this way of working that I found really pulled me in and it was something that I’d never had the opportunity to do before with painting and drawing. Glass was something completely new.

Bryn: You have said before that music like Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and pop culture in general, were influences in your early illustrative works. How do pop culture and music continue to influence your work in glass today?

New Times Roman by John Moran. Photo courtesy of the artist.

John: I mean, I grew up in the 90s and everything was very political in films, music, and the arts. I think that’s all still relevant. I still listen to a lot of those same musicians now and I think they’re all pushing the next level of that kind of awareness or social consciousness. I think that’s really key and that’s something I see a lot. I try to find that kind of stuff in pop culture. It’s interesting because I find there’s this divide between what’s happening now and what happened in the 90s. It’s very much this awareness of what is happening around you. Now it’s reality TV and social media. I feel like we’re all kind of living in this fantasy sometimes, or at least we’re putting this idea of fantasy out. So that’s one of the things that I really like and put in my work a lot. It’s this difference between what’s happening in real life and what’s happening in the world around you. And then, what’s happening in the way that we’re putting out the way we’re being perceived or the way we’re putting ourselves out there? So that’s where I guess the pop culture part comes into it. I use a lot of Disney imagery and a lot of anti-corporate imagery that touches on some of the same themes as the music in the 90s that really influenced me. I’m sure there are still political things happening in music. I’m just older now, so I’m not aware of that as much.

Bryn: At Illinois State University while earning your MFA, you learned under glass sculpting genius John Miller. Did learning from Miller influence the way you approach your glass and sculpture?

John: I think John Miller influenced my approach in general. He was somebody I looked up to before I went to school. I think that’s touching back on this whole ‘glass thing’. One of the coolest things about being in the glass world is that you get to meet the people you idolize. You’re meeting and working with your idols; you’re just meeting and working with people. That’s cool because you get to know them as people. John seems like this huge successful guy, and then you get to know him and he’s going through the same stuff everybody else is, which makes it like, “Ohh, I can do this!” It makes it real that you can actually accomplish the same thing. It’s just knowing that it’s not overnight that you become successful. Having that time with John I think really opened my eyes to that. Like, how much effort goes into doing everything and sometimes we fail at some things or we’re not as good at some things as we should be. I think that’s where I learned a lot from John and he taught me how to let things roll off my back, which I’m still not very good at. But he was really supportive. You know, I kind of told him, I didn’t go back to school to be in school again. I wanted to have some freedom to create, and he understood that. He treated me as if I was another artist not as if I was a student. It’s good to have an actual, genuine conversation, not somebody saying, “You know, you should do this, and you should do that,” which is the way it works most of the time.

Bryn: Two of your works from Blown Away, ‘Inevitable Expansion’ and your winning work ‘Behind the Golden Door,’ are now on display here at The Corning Museum of Glass. What has it been like to know that these pieces are displayed in the Museum?

John: I guess it’s a little bit surreal just because I haven’t experienced it yet and I haven’t seen those pieces since I made them. You know what I mean, it’s strange. Inevitable Expansion is one of those pieces that I thought I was going to go home on. I really wasn’t happy with the execution. I mean, I’m very hard on myself when it comes to these things. I was really into the concept, but I just felt like I didn’t get the execution down. It’ll be interesting to see it in person again. I’ve had so many people send me messages about how that piece resonates with them. And it’s funny because it was one that I was sure was not gonna get me through to the next round, let alone win that challenge. But it’s nice to know that those pieces resonate. With Behind the Golden Door, I’m curious to see it because it was one that I put together and I think I got to look at it for 20 minutes or so when it was actually finished. So, I’m really excited to see both pieces. I’ve also had people contact me to say how moving the pieces are, which is really nice.


Bryn: You got to work with the Museum’s Hot Glass Team while creating your final work, what was that like?

John: It was really cool actually. I knew Helen Tegeler from Philly, I had met Tom Ryder before at Alfred and I knew Eric Meek from a long time ago. But all of these are in different contexts. So, it was really nice to actually work together. We had fun and it was seamless. It was really smooth. When I explained my idea, I think it took a little bit for them to understand what it was and where it was going to come from because my drawings were just terrible. But, once we started piecing things together, I think the team really saw what was happening and got behind it. I couldn’t have done it without them. Like, I can’t make 30 roundels, you know, that’s not my skill set. All of that input was really awesome, and I am really looking forward to that again in Corning.

John Moran on the set of Blown Away. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Bryn: You make work that advocates for the beliefs you have. What has it been like to find your artistic voice and to keep growing the power of that voice, especially after winning Blown Away?

John: It’s hard to say because I feel like it ebbs and flows in my head, probably more than anything. Like, you get these really busy periods, and you think, “Yeah, it’s going great!” Then things slow down and you’re like, “Oh my God, what am I doing?” And I think that. That’s been the same way from before Blown Away, and now it’s just more visible. Like I said, it’s funny. You try to ignore the haters but it still gets in your head even when you don’t think about it. So yeah, there’s this back and forth about that. And then I think it’s really influenced the work that I’m making because of that perception-based work. It was something I started during COVID because we were all locked in our rooms basically and were trying to understand the world outside of us. I think the coolest thing is that I get people that will contact me, or I’ll do a talk and people will be there to really hear the talk or to see me working. With this, I think you’re able to give context to the work to people and then it makes it all make more sense. So many people do reach out and say how much something resonated with them. And that’s really important to hear because it does mean that my work is resonating with people and impacting them.

Bryn: You have also created merchandise that fans can purchase! You have created clothing items like shirts, hats, and hoodies. What has it been like taking your glass designs and applying them to clothing designs?

John wearing one of his own custom-made t-shirts at The Corning Museum of Glass.

John: Yeah, it’s cool! Actually, there are two things. So, in 2016, I was in Frauenau (Germany) teaching and Nancy Sutcliffe, who is an engraver, asked me if I would make something that she could engrave. I made a skull, and I was like, “God, this just doesn’t feel right to me.” So, I put Mickey Mouse ears on it. During that time in Frauenau, they did a ‘make your own t-shirt’ event at the end of the class session. I made a Mickey Skull t-shirt. I’ve always wanted to have merch and I always like to wear glass t-shirts. So, I bought a vinyl cutter and a heat press, and I started making shirts myself. The original shirts were all done by me in my studio. Through 2018-2019, one of the biggest ways that I could support my studio was by selling shirts, which was funny. Right now, there is a company that produces them on demand, which is really nice. The death of Mickey Mouse and copyright, that’s what that whole piece is inspired by. It’s cool to see them popping up on people really randomly now. It’s very inspiring that it resonates with people. I think that’s why we do things or at least why I do things. I want to make cool stuff, but I want to make cool stuff with meaning. When I know that people feel and appreciate the meaning it adds another layer to me.

Bryn: You will be coming to Corning for your Blown Away Winners Residency, what will you be working on during the week?

John: I don’t have an exact plan yet, well, I have like three plans. I’d like to do at least one piece from my Bare Essential series, which is the series of ripped-open teddy bears that have their guts spilling out. I’ve also been playing with some new drawings of those and trying out some different poses or them becoming a little bit more human-like than stuffed animals. When you get into their eyes and you get into some of the other features they have, it is almost like they’re alive. And then I have these Mickey Mori white figures that are full figures that I have been doing stuff with. I’m planning to make at least one of those as well. So, I am kind of leaning toward that and then I’m also thinking about some new ideas I’ve been sketching out recently. I’m just not sure if I’ll be ready for them yet, but the idea is to make these more classically inspired sculptures, based on Greek mythology and Roman mythology. The reimagining has to do with perception in the way we tell stories or the way that we hear things and understand them. So, I’m trying to figure out how to flip that story on its head and make it make sense, but I haven’t quite figured the exact plan out. So yeah, I don’t have an exact plan yet.

The Hallowed Family by John Moran. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Bryn: Corning is known for being a glass town, with a deep history in the medium. What does it feel like to know that you will be creating artwork specifically here in Corning in just a few days?

John: Yeah, I’m pretty excited! I’ve been to Corning before. I have been to Corning a handful of times actually. I have usually visited for Glass Art Society (GAS) conferences. I’ve only worked in the hot shop there once and it was a demonstration for a GAS conference. It’s really cool and I’m excited to be back. I am excited to spend more time in the hot shop. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen the new Amphitheater Hot Shop, so I’m pretty stoked to see that and to work in it. I remember the first time going to Corning was in the late 90s. I went with my school, and it was such an impressive feat to be there, so now to be doing a residency at The Corning Museum of Glass is really exciting. It’s cool.

Bryn: What plans do you have after your residency in Corning? What can fans be on the lookout for from you?

John: Immediately after Corning, I’m actually going over to Alfred. I am going to do some work with some of the students there, do a short workshop with the students, and make some work there. After that, I’ll be in Detroit for the GAS conference. I have a show with Habatat Galleries during that time. So, if anybody is in that area, it would be a great time to come check out what’s going on.

Ready to be ‘Blown Away’? Join us at The Corning Museum of Glass April 3 – 7 as we host Blown Away Season 3 winner John Moran!

To keep up with John and his glass journey, check out his Instagram @johnsleepymoran

Did you miss Blown Away Season 3 and John Moran’s work throughout the competition? Catch up now! Blown Away is currently streaming on Netflix!

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