Over the years, my time spent with master glassblower and artist Lynn Read has revealed him to me as a truly extraordinary person. His work holds both great beauty and skill, and since first stepping into his Portland-based studio (Vitreluxe,) I was transfixed with the process of making functional glassware. I think he sensed that bewilderment in me, too.
I've benefited from getting to know Lynn through a series of random encounters, and now we find ourselves in a relationship forged upon a mutual love of handicrafts. To be quite honest, he has become a steady conduit of joy and inspiration in my life in many ways. First, through his pieces that I had begun collecting and displaying in my own home, then through the relationship we would build over regular studio visits, shared beers, and even the summer I spent working in his Sellwood showroom. Each time I encountered his work or met with him, I would leave the occasion feeling a renewed sense of optimism for craft and a growing appreciation for color.
Though the line drawn between artist, craftsman, and designer can often be blurred in my roster, when I first launched Storied Objects, I knew Lynn would fill a very special place in my small curation of represented artists. He had started his journey as a painter and found an interest in glass when he was first attending the Maryland Institute College of Art. Since then, he has worked in a large variety of mediums, from textile design, sculpting, to casting and theatre design. Always with a tactile quality that utilizes traditional techniques rich in history, such as 'Murrine' mosaics, core-forming, and pattern-moulding, to name a few.
It's always refreshing to see his modern interpretations of these techniques and his rich application of color; which to me, has no equal. There is no better place to see his diverse range of products than at his studio, where his works are sprawled across every surface, and product sketches embellish the chalk-painted walls. You may even find yourself rummaging through shelves of 'vintage Vitreluxe' if you are able to pull away from petting his opinionated Great Pyrenees, Duchess.
I feel incredibly lucky when invited in to share a drink, catch up, and capture some of the process behind his work. I hope this small interview and peek into Lynn's journey with glass inspires you to reach out to a local craftsman and learn more about their craft.
Hello Lynn! Would you mind telling our readers a bit about how you got started in glass-making?
That is kind of a long story. I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art originally for painting and kind of butted heads with the faculty chair of that department. Eventually, I switched over to the fibers department because the teachers over there seemed more engaging and allowed a lot more exploration of materials, and they weren't arrogant assholes. Part of that journey included taking an installation class with a woman named Jann Rosen-Queralt; she procured a defunct brewery in Baltimore to use as a workspace for students to play in. So when I was there checking out the site, I started thinking about liquid and time, brewing and aging and was inspired by another artist at the time named Rebecca Horn, who was doing a bunch of sculptures with funnels and erosion and sort of time-based sculpture. Concurrently I was doing a lot of other sculptures with acrylic and latex and making objects that were biomorphic and contained in boxes, like a snow globe filled with sand and watercolor. Those pieces were based on tranquility, serenity, and the calmness of not disrupting an environment. It was a series kind of based on my relationship with mom, and how things can be unsettled and unresolved, and how you can be complacent and content, but when you sort of mix it all up and disturb that silence, how a lot of stuff can kind of cloud your feelings. Over time it would settle back down. Somehow that led me down to the career development center at school to help me figure out a way to try to work with glass. Being in a brewery, glass seemed like the most appropriate material. When I got to the career development office, I was hooked up with a guy named Anthony Coradetti in Baltimore, who was looking for an assistant at the time. After meeting Anthony, it kind of just started the whole process of an internship working with glass. Once I discovered that material, I really never stopped and have been doing it every day since. There is something about it that just kind of commands your attention, and there is a clarity and honesty to it that I really find challenging and rewarding. From a craftsman's point of view, it's sort of all about honesty since you really can't hide mistakes or errors in the process from its most pure form. So that's really how it started.
Out of all the mediums you’ve employed (painting, sculpture, woodworking, set design.) What attracted you to glass the most?
For me, it is limitless. I think it's the broadest reaching material; it can be cast, cut, blown, and manufactured into sheets; those sheets can be manipulated with heat to be warped or distorted. It can be additive style sculpture or subtractive style sculpture by cutting it and carving it. It includes optical transmitted light, and that presence of transparency is kind of a key thing about it—and you can play with color, which I love!
What other influences play a role in your designs?
Originally my influences in glassblowing were Sam Stag, Robin Mix, and Ibex Studios. Then it was inclined by sculptors Rebecca Horn, Martin Puryearl, Donald Lipski, and Tony Cragg. As I got deeper, more refined blown work designed by Timo Sarpaneva and Paolo Venini. A few years ago, I visited the Isamu Noguchi Museum in Queens; what a master of implied line and negative space.
There seems to be two lines of glassware that embodies your work, a more standard series and a limited series; what’s the major differences between them?
I have two lines; Vitreluxe is our studio line, and the other is my signature work. The studio line is designed to be repeatable and produced in multiples (items for tabletop, lighting, barware, and gift items,) often made by me or with the assistance of a small team. Some of it is solely made by the team, as it's not really sustainable to produce it all by myself. My signature line is a side business funded by the company, creating more complicated things using traditional methods of 'Murrine' and cane; 'Murrine' is a process of patterned glass tile developed by the Egyptians about 3000 years ago. Using ceramic tools to form glass into a pattern, that pattern is cut up into small mosaics and fused to make sheets, and then those sheets are wrapped around a ceramic form to create a shape or be processed and blown. After the iron age, the Romans repurposed that process using blowpipes instead of the original process of core-forming (shaping the glass around an object.) So that stuff, I just love it. I think it's the coolest thing. Basically making small parts into big parts. To me, it's reminiscent of textiles and brings in that side of my interest in textiles and weaving, playing with line quality and the surface of an object, not just the shape exclusively.
Color is a big part of my work. It is one of the main reasons I started working with glass. In the Aurora Collection, color is about the atmospheric quality of light at dawn, sun rays, sunsets, fog, mist, and what I imagine the Aurora Borealis looks like. But I am a minimalist, so I keep a quietness by using one color per piece. Selecting these colors is about balance. That might mean a well-rounded set of colors per collection for that full-spectrum feel, but is limited to three colors. I often use a neutral gray to help with a middle tone so the spectrum of colors are more focused and homonymous. I love Tertiary colors, and creating a group of more blended colors like violet, amber, and a smokey green topaz works well. They are varied but relate to each of them by being blended, or a hue that is sharing a primary color. The trick is glass color is not available in infinite options; it does not blend like paint. It can be done, but it is technically challenging to do it in a clean aesthetic that I like. So sometimes, my selection is finding the best option from a given pallet, sadly.
I try to sketch everything. I like to draw in groupings. I draw designs as if it's a complete set before I start. I like to think about the form and include the object's silhouette as well as the negative space created between two or three objects. The shape of that negative space is as important to the eye as the positive space. I like to then draw at scale, see what the overall collection looks like, then design for what is missing. Maybe it is the height that needs to change. Perhaps it is the general weight of an object that needs to change. Maybe a curve needs to shift. What is liberating about glassblowing is with a little focused heat, we can make those changes spontaneously until we find the balance. Refinement comes in the process of making to understand how to morph a shape in the making. What's unique about glass blowing is that it starts with a ball of glass, then you make the volume, divide the volume to make sections, and then those sections are refined in stages to realize the final pieces. Each piece starts on one pipe and then gets flipped 180 degrees to finalize the top. It is so weird. Ceramics and glass are kind of kindred spirits in that way.
What type of other passions and interests do you have beyond making glass?
I like to fantasize that I have time for woodworking and maybe making music and cycling, but being self-employed is very time-consuming. I do like to cook. I have renovated four homes and finally got good at it. I got certified for freediving in May.
We live in a society where so much of our identity is surrounded by the things we consume. How do you approach mindful living and sustainability in the context of your work and in your everyday life?
That's a good point. To be honest, I am very frugal; I also value the handmade and enjoy being self-sufficient. I own a few pieces of art; most have a sentimental value and a personal connection that is priceless. I drive used cars or hand-me-downs and do the repairs as needed. I am optimistic an electric truck that is affordable will be on the market soon. I source renewable energy for the studio and try to avoid waste. I volunteer in my community as a board member for the Glass Art Society which is focused on diversity, inclusiveness, and sustainability. My wife and I tend to live in the tiny home lifestyle but by way of living in a tiny bungalow from the twenties or living in a shared housing situation. We live in 1400sf now, and it's great. We try to live yard-to-table… lol. We have a small greenhouse, and my wife keeps chickens, but they get to run on a half-acre yard. We decided not to have kids. One dream is to build a trust and donate any equity to a craft school like Penland School of Crafts as a way to support the community that helped me find my creative path.
Think of an object in your home that has the most significance to you. Could you share with us what it is and the memory behind it?
I love this question. I could talk about a few things. We recently hung a small collection of art from our friends. I love thinking about the days associated with those people, places, and the context. Living in Baltimore, taking the train to New York City, painting with my friends, staying out all summer, swimming, and being carefree. I also have a collection of earth; salt blocks from the dead sea, lava from Mt. Etna, cullet from Murano, and some old mechanical objects from Baltimore. I don’t come from a family with heirlooms or iconic designs; I just have a weird collection of obsolete objects… lol.
What do you want people to take away from your brand? How do you want to be remembered? What is the legacy you imagine for your brand?
I hope people realize small cottage industries are valuable. Just because a brand has a huge marketing budget does not correlate to true value; like the quality of craftsmanship, sustainability or collectability. Get to know the work being made and discover the value of the brand. I try to make interesting work that is not designed for mass production, but rather select designs that require hand finishing, and high quality that can be a collectible of the future.
Lastly, where do you see your work heading in the future? Any exciting projects you are working on right now?
I am currently working with a small group of designers, artists, and engineers that I met at Pilchuck and through a former apprentice. Trying to play in the digital fab realm to make new designs for tabletop and furniture. I have the tabletop done; now, I need to prototype the legs. It will be a small end table with a glass top. I got a scholarship to take a class at Penland working in Metal.