Mongrain to show glass-blowing talents in Kent

Jackie Mantey

Self training and some brotherly love.

These two things are what sparked James Mongrain’s interest in glass art.

“My brother was my first glass teacher, and he really got me started on what I would do for the rest of my life,” he said. “I learned a lot from him and from driving across the country and watching other people make glass art.”

Mongrain is the featured artist in this week’s ceramics and glass workshop being sponsored by the Kent State Glass Club. He spoke last night to an audience of 60 in the Art Building about his art and inspirations.

The Seattle resident came to Kent State after a $4,000 allocation from the Undergraduate Student Senate – a gesture that did not go unnoticed by the art department.

“We really appreciate that they are focused on bringing important people that will help you students,” said Henry Halem, fine arts professor. “I really think they deserve a round of applause.”

Mongrain is a professional glass blower who shapes molten glass by blowing air into it through a tube. He showed examples of his work through a power point presentation.

The 36-year-old artist works at the William Traver Gallery near Seattle, and much of his work focuses on goblet making, something he picked up from his brother.

Mongrain “started making these funky, clunky goblets, and I had no idea why he was doing it,” he said. “Then I started to really get into the technical challenge of making something so small out of glass.”

Their shared interest in the art led them both nominations for the Louis Comfort Tiffany award in 1999. Neither won the award, but Mongrain said it helped him step outside his normal idea of goblet design.

He started making the cups out of opaque colors.

“I fell in love with the material. There was more sculpture and line,” he said. “There’s not a lot of room for error with this material, and it refracts the light so it moves the viewers eye around more.”

Mongrain said he grew accustomed to the trial-and-error aspect of the business so much that when “Extreme Home Makeover” called him to make a chandelier for an episode, getting the job done in six days seemed like something to laugh at.

“I had never heard of the show, so I just laughed and hung up,” he said. “I just thought ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!'”

After doing some research on the hit TV show, Mongrain decided it probably was a good idea.

He spent one day designing a chandelier for the family in need and another two days creating it.

“I liked the fact that I could use my art to help people,” he said of the noncommissioned project. “I learned a lot. You don’t have to spend so much doing it.”

Mongrain finished his speech by giving his greatest piece of advice to fellow artists.

“Glass blowing is about having a hot hand, but don’t overcomplicate it. Simple elegance is important,” he said.

Mongrain will be demonstrating his passion from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. today and 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in the Michael Schwartz Glass Studio.

Contact School of Art reporter Jackie Mantey at [email protected].