THE ART OF PAUL SCHWIEDER
by Harry McGee © 2005
The following lecture was presented to Glasfax at Rosebank in September 2005
The young man I’m talking about today was born in Canada, and we take pride that one of our own is making a unique contribution in the world of art glass. Paul Schwieder was born in Saskatoon, sixth in a family of seven. It was the 6th of December, 1963, and I’m sure Christmas was pretty busy that year. I met his Mom and she is a friendly petite lady about my age. I asked his uncle, whom I met, if Paul showed any hint of artistic bent as a kid. “No, he was your average guy.” So we assume he played hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer like all the other youngsters in his part of town. He probably used hand-me-down skates, and was on the local pick-up ball team. And he attended the city schools as the family remained rooted in Saskatoon. Two of his sisters now live in Toronto, and he visits them for family get-togethers.
Paul took off for Mississauga when he was 21 to attend the Sheridan College School of Craft and Design for three years 1984 to 1987. After his second year, he got a summer scholarship as a glassblower at the Harbourfront Glass Studio in Toronto. Then upon finishing his third and last year, he received an Ontario Crafts Council grant which he used to travel to Sweden to attend the Orrefors Glass School. That led to a position as glassblower at the Goteborgs Glass Studio in Gothenburg. Sweden, opposite the north tip of Denmark.
In 1988, he returned to Canada and took a job as glassblower at the Robert Held Studios in both Vancouver and Calgary. But next year, 1989, he moved down to the Bayer Glass studios in Crawford, Colorado, where he was made not only glassblower but the manager of the studio. He worked here for three years, and during that period he won a Fellowship at the Creative Glass Center of America, in Millville, New Jersey. In 1992, he moved to the Czech Republic to attend the University of West Bohemia - Plzen. He was then 29 year old, and this move indicated his total commitment to make a career as a glass artist. The Czechs have a long reputation for producing art glass, second only to Venice.
After two years at the university, he accepted a position as glassblower at the Haparanda Glass Factory in Sweden. Haparanda is almost on the Arctic Circle at 66°N, right where Sweden meets Finland at the north end of the Bothnian Gulf. In the winter it sure is nice to have a warm job blowing glass. And in summer, it is daylight all day long, and that is when a lad of 31 turns to what he was thinking about all spring. Yes, his wife is Swedish, Eva Juneblad.
Beginning in 1995, and continuing to the present, Paul began teaching at Le Centre Des Métiers du Verre du Québec in Montréal. I am going to show slides of his work executed from this time on. In June 1997, he acted as a teacher’s assistant at the Pilchuk Glass School in Stanwood, Washington, opposite the city of Victoria, BC. Here he worked with Louis Sclafani in the blown glass and solid glass workshop. This is close to Chihuly country. And in August of the same year, he taught at the Red Deer College of Art in Alberta. As he continues teaching in Montréal, he looks after levels 1 to 4 of glassblowing.
Once again, in 1999, he was awarded another fellowship at the Creative Glass Center of America in New Jersey. That was the year he had a solo exhibition at the Riley Hawk Galleries in Cleveland. Two years earlier, he was one of the participants in an exhibition of Young Glass at the Glasmuseum in Ebeltoft, Denmark. However, the one in Cleveland was solo. The following year was another solo in Columbus, Ohio, sponsored by the same gallery.
Going back to 1996, the year after he began teaching in Montréal, he participated in an exhibition at the Sculpture Objects Functional Art (SOFA) in Chicago which continued up to last year. But it was in 2001 and 2002 that he participated in SOFA’s exhibition in New York. Then – then – he broke into the really big time – solo at the Sandra Ainsley Gallery in Toronto! You remember visiting the Distillery to see a Chihuly solo. That was the upshot of Marion Hearn’s seeing Chihuly’s work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – the other London. She fired up Carl to have us visit his show in Toronto. We all went. I told Joyce, I’d pay half of one item. She retreated to the ladies room for a few minutes and came out and said OK. That was the beginning of my demise. Because I made the same blunder a few months later at Paul Schwieder’s solo at the Sandra Ainsley Gallery. This time we bought his Selenium Propeller – reflective of a three bladed propeller, but executed in the tenderest pink glass. It stood out among all his other work on display. It was somewhat linked to the aircraft industry I worked for for thirty-six years.
As you may know, the Gallery e-mailed us photos of two objets d’art that Paul was delivering to the Gallery this spring. Jodi wrote “We have just received two new pieces by Paul Schwieder into the gallery, and thought that you would enjoy seeing them. Both pieces are spectacular! I have attached the two images for you to see and have listed below the details for each piece. Please let me know your thoughts.” When I had the gorgeous images on my screen, I called Joyce. She could read the reply I had typed “They are both lovely. Thanks for sending.” Joyce spoke to me. So I added: “PS. We'll take the egg.” Jodi found the PS a little unconventional, so she e-mailed back: “Thank you for getting back to me. The “Golden Egg” is an incredible piece and the glow that comes from it is even more wonderful. I would just like to confirm that you would like to purchase this piece.” Sandra’s son, Daniel, told us when he delivered the objet that within minutes, a Torontonian had offered to buy both pieces. He who hesitates is lost.
How does Paul do this stuff? He explains that up until a few years ago, he did it by himself – from conception to blowing to finishing. Now, he hires the highly skilled trio of Mark Wiener, Keith Bump, and Rob Phillips at Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks to execute the blowing of the glass forms or blanks to scale drawings. These drawings are now usually done to his specs by Eva, his wife and partner. “Once the blanks have been blown, cooled down and the pontil ground off, I bring them back to my studio in Stowe. Sometimes the blanks will sit in my studio for years at a time before I will begin to work on them. More often however the process of design and execution will begin immediately.”
Paul says that if the piece is to have a shiny interior, he coats the inside of the blank with a water-soluble resist that he can remove upon completion. Then the design is drawn on the glass and the whole covered with the resist which is a thin rubber material that has an adhesive backing on one side. Next, he cuts the resist away until only the parts that are to remain are left covered. Then he places the object in a sandblaster and removes the exposed glass with abrasive media. By gradually removing resist, he can control the angle of abrasion to shape the glass remaining. He says “the analogy I use is that of a sculptor using a hammer, chisel and a chunk of stone, only I use air, abrasive and a glass blank.”
Needless to say, as the work progresses, it becomes much more fragile. So he has to turn down the air pressure, which slows the process. It is a judgement call as to when to slow down so the thing doesn’t crack. He says “ I have become much better over the years but I would estimate that at the beginning of my career I probably broke approximately 70 to 80 % of all the pieces in the last five hours of work.”
The sandblasting process itself can take from 30 to 150 hours depending on the complexity and fragility of the design. That is in addition to the blowing, grinding and designing the pieces. When the sculpting is finished, he changes the coarse abrasive to a fine one to give the piece a satiny feel.
Because of the time that sandblasting takes, Paul tries to maximize what time he has available by delegating. He shows his wife the specifications and then she draws the design on the glass. Such pieces are signed Paul S. But sometimes Eva will conceive and draw her own sketches for the glassblowers as well as her own designs upon the blanks. These pieces are signed Eva J. and Paul S.
What make Paul run? His inspiration comes from nature, also from human artifacts and personal relationships, even his unconscious. He says “any time I feel myself getting lost in the creative process....I simply refer back to my original concept and start again.” He also recognizes that he is influenced by the qualities inherent in the material he works with: strength, fragility, transparency, opacity, fluidity and stasis.
He finds that people often comment that his work reminds them of sea creatures or sea forms. But, he protests, having been reared in Saskatchewan, it is not the sea, unfamiliar to him, but rather the grand sweeping gestures and vast subtle movement of the prairies. Wherever he may roam, he is a prairie boy in his heart.
Interestingly, he seems almost surprised to accept that his most successful works are often executed in a kind of fog. “The forms are usually simple and unique, and to me, evocative of someone, something, or someplace....Too much thought inhibits the expression – and causes the piece to look forced.”
Paul found that his medium of molten glass had an almost female-like disposition and, with it, he tried to express his relationships with mother, sisters and girl friends. It had to be alluring and seductive as a form, forcing the viewer to assess the strength of a relationship one could maintain with it. It was always more pleasing when the sandblasting enhanced the concept.
Joyce and I like his art, particularly when it is executed with tender colours. Our first acquisition, Selenium Propeller, was obviously inspired by a human artifact. But the one we just bought, called Golden Egg, is to us a very strong statement of a unique form in nature. It looks light but is actually quite heavy. Given the right lighting, it glows from within creating an enchanting aura around it. Canted as it is, it is similar to a flower bud emerging from its calyx of solid gold. It rests on three little rubber hemispheres. Although insured, it could never be replaced.
Joyce and I have collected antique glass for forty years. She started and I followed. We have learned much and enjoyed much. We are both old now and while we have a few days or years left, it is time to break away from the past, establish our perception of where the world is going. How better can we grow than by patronizing a young Canadian that is younger than all our children.
If Paul Schwieder were to walk in here, you would see someone my own height, weight, but with the light of the future in his eyes. When we met him, he was very understated in close-fitting black polo and black trousers. He talks like us, and without doubt carries a set of our western Canadian values. He and Eva have a little boy going to JK in Vermont. He has his work represented in public collections in:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning
The Museum of American Glass, Millville
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
There are many many private collections as well, one of which is the Rosebank Museum, where I am now ending a talk about the artist.