Old World Venetian glassmakers were so good at what they did and so secretive about the way they did it, those who blabbed could be hunted down and killed.
The glassmakers’ delicate goblets graced the tables of kings and queens, their elaborate chandeliers and masterful mirrors gilded the homes of the powerful and the wealthy.
From this long and rich history of glassmaking, artist James Mongrain derives his inspiration and his technique. Mongrain, considered in art glass circles to be one of the best in the region, lives in Everett and owns a studio in a downtown Mukilteo building, formerly a salmon smoke house.
He has worked with Dale Chihuly and other glass masters, traveled the world and created pieces displayed in museums and snapped up by collectors.
He learned his art the hard way: working at hot shops around the country fine-tuning the techniques that made the Italians the best in the world. And he observed the masters, sometimes videotaping them at work so he could try and duplicate their methods. Early in his career he hitchhiked to a demonstration by Italian master Lino Tagliapietra.
“For the first time, I was really watching a master,” Mongrain recalled. “He could do things with the material I had never seen and never thought possible.”
This Old World Venetian aesthetic still captivates the 40-year-old, but his work blends his own contemporary viewpoint. His goblets are all sensuous curves and long slender lines. He often creates glassware in bright, playful colors.
At the moment, Mongrain is experimenting with displays of his goblets combined with religious icons such as statuettes of the Virgin Mary.
“In an unusual way it seems to make sense,” Mongrain said. “It’s just something I find very beautiful and interesting. I’m not necessarily extremely religious myself.”
“Exquisite” is how Susan Marabito describes his work. She is director of Vetri, a Seattle gallery for emerging glass artists. Vetri and its brother gallery for more established artists, William Trevor, have carried Mongrain’s work since 1995.
His goblets can fetch $300 or more a piece; collectors usually wish to buy a pair, she said.
“People see the goblets from the street and walk in and say, ‘Oh my god, is that a James Mongrain?’” she said. “The feet aren’t too big, the colors are perfect, no bubbles, no imperfections.”
Marabito praised Mongrain’s sense of style, his balance and called his technical skills “perfection.” His goblets are formed so beautifully, she admires the negative space as much as the piece. On some of his pieces, he uses an old method that combines glass stamped in a mold with blown glass.
“Not a lot of artists can do that,” she said.
Mongrain continues to evolve and perfect his art. Tagliapietra, the Italian master who awed him nearly 20 years ago, is now a friend and mentor. He sometimes visits and works in the Mukilteo studio.
Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.