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Seattle Designer John Hogan's Glass Experiments Modernize an Art Form

Glass pieces by John Hogan. Photo by <a href="http://charlieschuck.com/">Charlie Schuck</a>.
Glass pieces by John Hogan. Photo by Charlie Schuck.

If, when you hear "blown glass," you think of orb-like ceiling lights or Venetian horse figurines with painstakingly rendered manes and tails, you're on the right track, but you don't know the half of it. For one, "only a quarter of the work I do is actually 'blown,'" explains John Hogan, a Seattle-based glass artist and designer whose eye-popping, elemental creations more closely resemble prismatic space rock than anything one would expect to see on this side of the Solar System. Instead of blown, Hogan's work is—in turns—kiln cast, sculpted, cut, and furnace-forged at temps that can surpass 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Old school artistry abounds, but it's anything but precious.

So, how did Hogan get started in such a niche field? Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, certainly helped. Though a 1960s glassblowing revival in Toledo helped cement its status as a hub for the art form, the city started earning a reputation for its glass industry as early as the late-nineteenth century, when prominent "glass industrialist" Edward Drummond Libbey moved his business, then known as New England Glass Works, from Massachusetts to Ohio. In 1892, it became the Libbey Glass Company and Libbey went on to found the Toledo Museum of Art, in 1901. It was at the museum that Hogan first learned the tricks of the trade, blowing glass as a child on scholarship there. Later, he headed to Ohio's Bowling Green State University to earn a degree in Political Science, but the pull of glassblowing lingered.

Portrait by Charlie Shuck.

After school, Hogan moved to Seattle where, he explains, many of the country's most skilled glassblowers have ended up thanks to a thriving community fostered by the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington, about an hour north of Seattle. "For the last 30 years, artists have been coming here from all over to create work," says Hogan. "Between Murano, Italy, certain parts of the Czech Republic, and Seattle," he adds, "a lot of the best are here." Hogan credits the depth of knowledge and talent in that community for the work he's been able to produce in recent years. "My work is very experimental and the only way to do it was to work with really skilled people."

Photos by Charlie Schuck.

The production process for a typical Hogan piece is one-part inspiration and one-part sweaty labor, with a dash of mad scientist. "Silica and soda and limestone mixed in the right proportion and heated become glass," Hogan says, by way of giving an abbreviated Glassmaking 101. His studio has two furnaces that can hold 350 pounds of glass. "To shape the glass, we work out of a furnace that's similar to a blacksmith's forge," Hogan explains. Though temps can reach upwards of 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, the 1,300-degree to 1,400-degree range is ideal for manipulating glass. Hogan's use of color also contributes to just how captivating the work is. "Certain colors are a little softer than others because of the different chemicals involved," Hogan explains. "Cool colors are softer and hotter colors stiffer."

"Enoki" by John Hogan. Photo by Charlie Schuck.

For "Enoki," an object named for and fashioned after the edible Japanese mushroom, Hogan started with the base. Then, with the help of two assistants (one to maintain the temperature of the piece so that the glass remains malleable, and another to handle the molten rods that are affixed to the base to create the finished form), Hogan crafts the piece. The process took about three hours. When asked if the natural world often serves as a source of inspiration for his work, Hogan demurs. "I try and steer around the 'natural world' thing because you hear that so much." But, he says, form and color are all around us (he's an avid photographer, too) and inevitably find their way into his work.

Hogan at work. Photos by Charlie Schuck.

"South Side of the Sky," a chandelier that Hogan created with designer Erich Ginder. It's available for $10,500. Photos by Charlie Schuck.

Hogan has already successfully collaborated with other artisans—on lighting with fellow Seattlite at Erich Ginder Studio and with Local Ladies and Gentlemen Studio—and sees more in his future. "That's the great thing about the Pacific Northwest," says Hogan. "All the studios are doing completely different things that don't feel like New York or L.A. or parts of Italy. You can just follow your creative instincts."

· John Hogan Designs [official]
· Young Guns 2015 [Curbed]