At Paiko we carry pieces that are simple, beautiful, functional, and whenever possible handmade, often by local artists. Part of what makes something meaningful is knowing where it came from and how it was created, so we love to provide the back-story to things we are especially proud of in the shop. As part of our on-going “Paiko Ohana” series, we met up with artist Geoff Lee, who creates stunning hand blown terrariums for us at Paiko. Tucked away in Kailua is his studio, Island Glassworks where he was kind enough to take some time to sit down with us and tell us a little bit about his work and glass blowing in Hawaii.
How did you get started in glass blowing?
I started blowing glass in 1990 at Punahou School & I liked it. I did my undergraduate work in Wisconsin, & did glass blowing there as well. Then I took a year off, worked at an apprenticeship at a studio out in Seattle, & then finished up school & worked around the country as a journeyman glassblower. In 2000 I moved back to Hawaii to go to graduate school at UH & got my MFA. In 2003 after I graduated, I realized that if I wanted to continue to blow glass I would have to start my own business because there really wasn’t the opportunity [on Oahu] to continue. So then I started [Island Glassworks] in 2005.
One of the things I wanted to do when I opened [Island Glassworks] was to make glass a little more accessible. Unfortunately it’s a very expensive medium, energy wise, material wise. & technique wise, it’s hard to get a handle on, & very equipment & labor intensive. So I’ve made the studio available to other artists that want to use glass, but can’t afford to start their own studios. What I enjoy is when I get people in here, they appreciate just what goes into the process, you see this stuff, & it’s always the same thing “I never knew it was so hard”.
On your website you decribe your work as using “traditional Italian techniques”. Can you tell us a little more about that?
There’s different ways to blow glass- glass blowing has this very long history, starting in the Middle East. If you look at other cultures, every culture kind of spontaneously learned how to carve wood, to work with ceramics & even metal, if they had it available. In order to make glass you needed a history of ceramics, because you had to have glazes- & glaze is essentially glass, so you had to have that chemistry knowledge, as well as a history of using metals because you need metal tools in order to make the glass, & you needed to be able to get stuff hot enough. Then you needed the materials to begin with, if you don’t have the raw material, your culture’s not making glass. You needed all those things, the science of fire, the knowledge of ceramics, & the knowledge of metal in order to take that next step & make glass. Glass was a craft that only one group of people figured out, & as those people migrated from the Middle East to Europe creating trade routes, the craft was spread. Especially when the Romans kinda took over & started trading, glass started to travel. With the Roman empire they started blowing glass, which made it lighter, thinner, you could make it faster, it became more of a production item. Then the Venetians took glass & mastered it. So when I use the term “traditional Italian techniques”, it refers to all that global information that then was condensed down to the Italian island of Murano.
So glass history has this linear history, it’s not like ceramics which popped up independently everywhere. [Glass] had been a strictly utilitarian factory process for most of the time, it was never really an individual art form, until the craft movement of the 1950s & 60s. Fine art started to consider things other than metal & paintings actual artwork, & you started having a revival of fine woodworking, fine ceramics, & glass was kind of rediscovered as an individual art form. [Artists] were able to get the technology out of the factory, these BIG factories, & shrink it down to something that the individual person could use. Instead of a building that was three giant furnaces with 50 people working, making product all day, you could shrink it down & go from a 10 ton furnace to a 200 lb. furnace, where two people could be working on individual items that were unique & more sculptural.
Does living in Hawaii influences your work?
Um, I guess everything influences my work, I mean I think the difficult thing about being an artist & wanting to make a living as an artist is that you have to compromise aesthetically. I want to make things I love to make, but I also want to make things that can sell, & the biggest challenge is finding that middle ground. But growing up here, growing up surfing, going to the mountains, it’s like the people, it’s the culture, it’s the environment. I love to surf, and it’s fun making waves, & I love going to the beach with my son & looking for shells. My wife & I used to do that, take the dogs for walks to Sandies & look for shells in tidepools, so it’s taking all things that I love, & now it’s become things I like to make.
How did you get started working with Paiko?
I knew Tamara from a friend of hers & then from surfing, so then she & Courtney were looking at terrariums one day & thought “oh I know a guy who blows glass”. They called me up & asked me if I would make some for them, & so I did! It was pretty straightforward.
We’ve been picking people’s brains to find out what their favorite spots on the island are. What are some of yours?
There’s three places, I LOVE going to Queen’s Market in Kalihi to get Kimchee, if you’ve never gone to Queen’s Market, you have to go, it’s the BEST kimchee on the island. They make it by bulk & I love taking my son there, he’s so blonde. . . & I love going to my firend Jeff’s house on the beach at Diamond Head, an area called Brown’s, to surf & hang out & pick mangos. & going up to North Shore to surf.
More Paiko Ohana: Tricia Beaman, Kevin Whitton