The Magic Of Tacoma

by Janet Cook

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There was enchantment in the air as paperweight lovers gathered in Tacoma, Washington, for the 2015 Biennial Convention. Even in this often overcast city the clouds seemed to part like magic, giving attendees an abundance of nice weather. One hundred and eighty-two PCA members from 32 different states and 6 foreign countries came for the event that was held April 29-May 2 at the Hotel Murano. Lauded for its museum-like atmosphere, the hotel showcases glass from leading artists around the world. Pieces of note included a luminous cast glass "Pianist's Dress" by Karen Lamonte and a display of Dale Chihuly's "Macchia Series" — a grouping of rose colored iridescent bowls. In addition to the lobby, corridors served as "mini-exhibits": each floor dedicated to a different artist. Truly, the hotel could not have been a more fitting venue for glass lovers!

cast glass dress cast Chilhuly bowls

Many arrived a day early to take the bus tour to Seattle to visit Pike Place Market and the Chihuly Gardens and Glass. At Pike Place Market, the area's most popular tourist attraction, many took special pleasure in viewing the stunning bouquets of flowers, sampling chocolate pasta, and watching the fishmongers entertain customers with their tradition of "throwing the fish." In addition, the Chihuly Gardens and Glass was spectacular with its comprehensive collection highlighting the works of this world-famous Tacoma artist. Indeed, Chihuly's artistic creations of blown glass cast in vibrant hues is a true testament to his statement, "I never met a color I didn't like." The lush botanical setting abloom with rhododendron served as a beautiful backdrop for his striking work.

Mayauel Ward at his booth

Wednesday evening members attended the Artists' Fair, a highly anticipated event in which collectors can visit with the artists and get a first glimpse of their dazzling new work. Additional temptations arose just an hour later when the Dealers' Fair opened. With such a wide array of stunning weights to choose from, no one could possibly have gone home empty-handed! Two, three, four new weights who was counting?

The conference officially began on Thursday morning with a charming welcome from President Phil Edelman. His introductions were followed by several knowledgeable speakers whose presentations covered a wide array of paperweight-related subjects. Highlights on Thursday included "Whitefriars 101," an informative talk by Alan Thornton which recounted 300 years of glassmaking productivity by the British factory. Jan Smith, Executive Director of the Bergstrom-Mahler, enlightened us with "The Italian Influence," detailing the history of early glass inventions, which ultimately culminated in the art of paperweight making.

Parabelle Paperweights

Carl Carter presented an interesting talk about Parabelle Paperweights. No one seemed surprised when he shared with us the origin of the company's name: "Para" meaning to create and "Belle" meaning beauty. In conjunction with the talk, and indeed one of the highlights of the convention was a comprehensive display of Parabelle weights that had been assembled by Carl and fellow Texan, Gary Underwood. Thanks to loans by PCA members the two were able to show a chronology of the company's work beginning in 1983 until 1998, when sadly, the Scruttons quit making paperweights.

The remainder of the day offered collectors the opportunity to listen and learn from talks given by some of our attending artists. First we heard from West Virginia artist Kelsey Murphy. New to many paperweight collectors, Kelsey talked about her experiences in making cameo glass or "Outie Paperweights" as she calls them. Kelsey and partner Robert Bomkamp have been successful in casing and carving up to twelve layers of glass — the first ever to accomplish this!

The Artist Panel with the theme "Paperweight Collaboration" rounded out the day.. Cathy Richardson served as moderator, introducing the subject with an informative PowerPoint which traced the roots of collaborative efforts to the Studio Art Glass movement in the 1960s. Her slides reminded us of the many wondrous collaborations we have witnessed in the field of paperweights: Debbie Tarsitano with Max Erlacher, Jim Kontos with Gordon Smith, and the Banfords with Ed Poore, just to name a few. After Cathy's introduction, four of our young artists talked about their current collaborative efforts.

Chris Sherwin spoke about learning glassmaking as "part of a team" when he apprenticed with both Pearce Glass and Orient & Flume. Today he collaborates with Jim Poore — Chris creating a lovely crimp rose encased in glass that Jim then polishes and facets — a winning collaboration that really shows off the delicate beauty of the flower within. Melissa Ayotte also joins forces with Jim Poore to create her "Basket Series" and "Pod Sculptures." In addition, she and her father have created some impressive pieces. An exquisite 5" magnum containing lampwork fruit by "Team Ayotte" was unveiled at the Artists' Fair to oohs and aahs. Melissa thoughtfully refers to collaborations as "duets" and describes the process as "a journey that takes you places you couldn't otherwise go."

Colin Richardson speaking about paperweight collaboration

Andrew Najarian gave us a glimpse into the life of a cold worker, humorously referring to his work as a "solo exploration in glass." He learned his cutting skills by working for Waterford Crystal and currently collaborates with Damon MacNaught, creating, among other things, the difficult v-cuts that we see on Damon's baskets. Artist Colin Richardson spoke of his "team efforts" with his mentor and mother, Cathy. Together they have fashioned some exceptional fruit and flower orbs. Colin has also delighted us in his "live" collaborations with Michael Hunter at Wheaton Village last spring as well as here in Tacoma.

Activities on Friday also included some fascinating presentations. John Hawley gave a technically superb and amusing talk about the American scramble — weights that he once had no use for, even describing them in 1997 as "glass trashcans." Today an owner of fifty-four scrambles, John has clearly had a change of heart. Likewise, Art Elder's talk on antique miniature weights was beautifully presented (insert Art Elder picture about here). Though miniatures make up less than 10% of Antique weights, in Art's opinion they are greatly underappreciated, saying "they are a little like Rodney Dangerfield — they just don't get much respect!"

Next, attendees were treated to a talk by the highly acclaimed guest artist Dante Marioni (insert Dante Marioni about here), who shared with us his journey into the field of glass artistry. Later in the day, Marioni and PCA artists demonstrated their skills in the Hot Shop at the Tacoma Museum of Glass. Collaborative teams of Graeber & MacNaught, Hunter & Richardson, and Ward & Marioni awed the crowd with their precise and physically demanding movements, a synchronized harmony of teamwork in motion . (insert Susan & Michael Hunter pic about here). An auction of the collaborative pieces was later held with all proceeds going to support PCA, Inc. Vice President Gordon Park presided over the fundraiser while Andrew Najarian served as a most entertaining and persuasive auctioneer, one who was not above a little good-natured coercion!

(insert pic of hot glass workshop about here)

On Saturday the convention started out with a delightful presentation by Gay LeCleire Taylor. Well versed on crimped roses, Gay gave a detailed history of these exquisite pieces starting with Ralph Barber and the "Millville Rose" in the early 1900s to present day makers. The mandatory Biennial PCA business meeting followed. Then finally, it was time for the ever popular ID Clinic. The panel of "experts" — Jim Lefever, Alan Thornton, and Gary Underwood (insert panel picture about here) — was charged with the task of identifying 24 mystery weights brought by collectors. Unusual finds included a mini heart weight attributed to Debbie Tarsitano, a Millville rose by Charles Pepper, and an Islington seashell picture.

Saturday afternoon wrapped up with "A Paperweight Primer," an informative talk for newcomers by Colin Mahoney. In addition, the Dealers' Fair, already abuzz with last minute shopping by seasoned collectors, was open to the public. Thanks to PR efforts, the PCA Art Expo had been publicized through a local Seattle television station and on Facebook, facilitating some welcome afternoon visitors. New members who joined PCA, Inc. included two of our security guards for the event!

The Convention finale Saturday evening began with a cocktail hour in the hotel Rotunda. Shortly thereafter, guests made their way to tables decorated with brightly colored glass apples and Goldfinches made by Chris Sherwin — delightful gift souvenirs. When it was nearing time to say our farewells, President Phil Edelman took to the podium for closing remarks and hints to the location of the next convention.. He was specific — "It won't be in Alaska or Hawaii," he teased.

All in all, it was a most wonderful PCA Convention in a picturesque setting near mountains and water (at left), which happened to have the best weather, as if by magic, just for us. But we do believe in magic don't we? Otherwise, we would not be attracted to paperweights and the enchantment that lies within!

Hotel Murano   Hotel Murano
Hotel Murano
Hotel Murano Front Desk

"The 2015 PCA Convention Artists Fair" — a story from Emmy award-winning reporter Jim Dever of King5 TV in Seattle about the 2015 PCA Convention Artists Fair. Jim Dever's report includes cameo appearances by paperweight artists Drew Ebelhare and Mayauel Ward, paperweight author Paul Dunlop, and PCA president, Phil Edelman.