Popular Program is a Glass Act
Students learn hot and cold techniques in Mānoa art studio
UH alumnus Geoff Lee in the Kailua studio where he will meld hot and cold techniques of working with glass
Vibrant colors, clear cool surfaces and interesting shapes draw you in. It’s art you want to pick up, get closer to and examine from all sides… and it attracts 40 to 50 students a semester to the glass program at Mānoa. What’s the big draw?
Professor Rick Mills believes there are three reasons-the material is intriguing and visually compelling, the process of creating with glass is challenging, and students build a strong sense of community and camaraderie in the program.
Origins and experts
Claude Horan, who headed Mānoa’s ceramics department in the late 1960s, launched the glass program and built the university’s first glass furnace next to his ceramics studio. The program advanced after Mills was hired in 1989. He’s well known in the glass community. BFA candidate Kate Manganaro came from the University of Illinois to study under Mills. "I knew people Rick taught. They told me that it was a great program and that he expects a lot from his students. He is also warm and encouraging."
Because he is the program’s only instructor, Mills offers students additional perspectives through events co-sponsored with the Hawaiʻi Craftsmen Organization and a visiting artist program. Starting with a $2,000 grant from the State Foundation of Culture and the Arts in 1989, the self-sustaining visitors program has hosted more than 40 prominent glass artists.
Visiting artists present lectures and workshops and create pieces alongside students. Many also donate the artwork they create during their residencies, with 100 percent of any sales returning to the program.
As a result, students have crafted beside such notable artists as Dale Chihuly, William Morris, Dante Marioni and Ginny Ruffner from Seattle, Bertil Vallien from Sweden and Irene Frolic from Canada. "You get a chance to pick their brains," says Geoff Lee (’03 MFA). He says students may think they are doing well, then someone from outside comes along and "you realize, ʻHey, there's a different way to do this.’"
Manganaro appreciates the morale boost. "You get to see someone who is successful in their work, and they give you ideas about your own work. It’s like a breath of fresh air."
Hot and cold
The program teaches two types of glass processes, hot and cold. Students learn to blow, cast or fuse molten glass or fabricate, sandblast, cut or engrave cold glass.
Many gravitate to blown glass. "There is something inherently beautiful about glass," says Manganaro. "I enjoy even just watching people blow glass, watching their movements and flow. It is like a dance."
Lots of young boys are fascinated with fire, observes Lee. Working with glass is a way to harness the fascination to a creative process. "Many people are excited about the finished piece, but I’ve always been more interested in the process of making the piece."
Lee carries creation a step further, using surface treatments such as gold leafing, sand blasting and painting on his blown pieces.
The medium is physically demanding and the material is challenging to work with. Once you begin a blown glass piece, it can’t be put down; it has to be finished, explains Mills. "You are heating glass to 2,300 degrees. You can’t let it cool too much or you risk cracking your piece. The molten glass is the consistency of honey. You have to rotate it constantly to hold its shape."
Blowing glass solo has many limitations, so teamwork and trust are key. "Students give as much assistance as they receive, helping each other during their studio time each week, often up to eight hours," says Mills. No other medium in the art department demands such an ongoing partnership. A strong sense of responsibility develops. "There is no difference in how I approach doing my own piece or assisting on a piece. I do the best job possible," says Lee.
Passion and practicality
Manganaro adds, "When you work with a partner you develop an unspoken language. You are in the moment, but you are also trying to visualize what they want to do five moves down. You also realize how important it is to build friendships and apprentice with people. The best way to learn is to assist people who have been there longer."
Working with glass can become addictive—a positive addiction, but an addiction none-the-less, she says. Manganaro spends about 12 hours a week blowing glass and another 24 hours in the studio. She feels the medium attracts extremely passionate, obsessive and expressive people.
Mills also stresses technical aspects behind the art. The university’s studio is the largest glass melting facility in the state—using approximately 20,000 pounds of glass a year—and students design and construct almost everything, including glass furnaces, annealing ovens, benches, tables and auxiliary equipment. A new furnace must be built from the ground up approximately every three years.
Students come away with practical knowledge and problem solving skills that make them valuable resources in other studios or in starting their own studio, says Mills.
Students who want to remain in Hawaiʻi face challenges in continuing their art. The state doesn’t have many open studios, and the alternative is costly.
"I reached a point where the choice was simple. To create the work I want, I needed to build my own studio," says Lee. He hopes to open Island Glassworks in Kailua in May. The studio will give him a chance to sell Hawaiʻi-created products, teach classes and offer studio rental space.
In addition to Steven Correia, an alum of the early program, many noted artists have emerged from the Mānoa program since Mills became chair. Among the master of fine arts recipients are Bernice Akamine, K. C. Grennan, Paul Larned and Bud Spindt. Notable BFA graduates include Sheila Blackard Academia, Scott Fitzel, Kip Howe, David Naito and K. C. Smith.
"Students’ perseverance and growth as they meet the challenges of becoming practicing artists are inspiring," says Mills.
Glass man Steven Correia
When Steven Correia’s parents gave him a high school graduation trip to Hawaiʻi, little did they know it would lead to an exceptionally successful art studio, works in major museums and private collections and a California junior high school named in his honor.
Correia returned to Hawaiʻi, took a UH ceramics class from lecturer Suzi Pleyte Horan, observed the glass program her husband, Claude Horan, was developing and promptly transferred to Mānoa.
"Hawaiʻi is a great place to create," Correia says. He was drawn to glass because of the way it reflects and transmits light. "When you work with glass you get immediate satisfaction. I enjoy gathering the molten glass and forming it," he says.
Correia received his BFA (’72) and MFA (’79) from Mānoa and an MA (’77) from the University of California at Los Angeles. He planned to teach, but sister Patricia Correia’s success in selling his artwork opened another path. In 1973 he founded Correia Art Glass in Santa Monica—one of the largest studios in the country still using freehand blowing. The studio is now run by other siblings.
Correia’s work resides in collections at the White House, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Corning Museum. With a growing national reputation, he looked for a new challenge. In 1988 he started Correia Crystal, switching to optical crystal worked in a cool state. Fascinated with the material’s purity, he strived to create pieces that are more minimalist and sculptural in nature.
"I like the clarity of optical crystal. This type of glass doesn't have bubbles." It reflects 99 percent of the light striking its surface, making it almost as clear as air itself. Correia’s pieces bend light in ways handmade glass can’t, allowing a spectrum of colors to emerge. His sculptures have been commissioned by Fortune 500 corporations. Tiger Woods owns six originals commissioned by the Professional Golfing Association.
In 1986 Correia installed his kinetic laser light sculpture "Southern Lights" on an 11-story building in La Jolla, Calif. It projected green laser beams that, on a clear night, could be seen up to 20 miles away.
"It created a lot of interest—including speculation that it was a secret CIA project or device to contact aliens from outer space," the artist jokes. Serious again, he continues: "Working on this type of light sculpture is like climbing into a perfume bottle and using light to create art from the inside out."
Correia also has collaborated on performance art that incorporates crystal, dancers, music and light.
What does this glass veteran tell young artists? "Take some business and marketing classes. The Internet age affords more avenues for marketing yourself and your art," he says. The more you know about it, the better your chance to keep on creating.