Blown Away, the pioneering glassmaking competition show on Netflix has become part of the common vernacular for glass artists and guests to The Corning Museum of Glass. Numerous visitors cite the show as inspiration for their visit, and with the conclusion of each gripping season, interest in glassmaking classes at The Studio spikes.
As we await news for the upcoming season 4, I caught up with the Museum’s former Curator of Postwar and Contemporary Glass, Susie J. Silbert, who helped to judge the season 3 finale between John Moran and Minhi England in 2022. With 10 artists whittled down to just two, it’s no easy feat to determine who gets crowned “Best in Glass” and wins a prize package that includes a residency at The Corning Museum of Glass. With her finger on the pulse of contemporary glass, Silbert was an inspired choice for the show’s final guest evaluator. To the role, Silbert brought her encyclopedic knowledge of the material, her passion for the glass community and the talented artists that occupy it, an insightful perspective on judging winners, and an energetic charm that is perfect for the heat and intensity of a competition show like Blown Away.
But what was it really like behind the scenes, we asked Silbert to give us her thoughts.
Susie, how familiar were you with Blown Away prior to season 3?
“Because of my role at the Museum, I knew about Blown Away from the very beginning, when it was just in the conceptual stages. And, of course, I watched its effect on the glass world as the show came out. But since I spent all day working on glassy things, I wasn’t a superfan watching all night. Mostly, I was just excited to see so many good glassblowers get attention and recognition!”
What were your expectations before stepping on set?
“I’d never been on a show like that before, so I didn’t have many expectations before stepping on set. But, I was totally surprised about who the finalists were. I knew who was cast for the season and I had my predictions about who might still be there for the end, but I was totally wrong! And I think that speaks to the drama of a competition series!”
What was the overall Blown Away experience like?
“It was great! I was really impressed by how much the crew cares about the artists and gets really into the action. Seeing folks get engaged in the work of artists is what it is all about for me, and so it was gratifying to see that reflected in the crew. And so much happens that doesn’t make it to the screen! The artists are really working, really hustling, and emotions run high. The critiques are longer and there is just a lot of feeling involved. It’s an incredibly brave thing to make artwork at all and to do that in front of cameras and crew is truly next level.”
What was your approach to judging the finalists?
“Because the final artwork was going to come to the Museum, I needed to choose a piece that I knew would survive the travel and could be installed safely in the galleries. Thinking about practical concerns like that is the less glamorous side of curating—and certainly of judging a competition show—but figuring out how to make work that can be reproduced in a museum or gallery context is an important part of an artist’s professional development, so that was a big consideration of mine. The other thing that is interesting—or that I think is interesting now that I’ve watched the episode—is that as a judge, you don’t know any of the artists’ backstories. You just get what they tell you about that piece in the moment and you see images of what they made during the other challenges. It is a really different perspective than the narrative you get from home.”
What has Blown Away done for the Museum and for the glass world at large?
“It has made more people than ever before aware of The Corning Museum of Glass and the world of artistic glassworking. It is incredible to see that awareness spread—the show is so popular! And it is a real draw for visitation to the Museum.
“One of the things I am most interested in—like truly interested in—is the effect the show will have on the glass world of the future. Blown Away is so popular around the world, including many places that don’t have big artistic glass communities. I heard from so many people in Latin America, for instance, that are just in love with the show. So, I think it is a real possibility that in ten years there are glass communities in places there weren’t before and the kinds of the work that gets made will shift and change.”
Would you do it again?
Don’t forget, all three seasons (plus the Holiday Special) of Blown Away are streaming on Netflix so you can get excited for a new season all over again. And if Blown Away inspires you, visit The Corning Museum of Glass to experience our Season 3 exhibition, see artworks made by all 10 contestants plus the winner’s final installation, and then try glassmaking for yourself at The Studio.