Artist Spotlight: Glass artist Thomas Ossola
Carbondale resident and glass artist Thomas Ossola has followed his passion across the world and back. He was born and raised in Glenwood Springs, but at 19, he moved to Australia to study his craft.
Now, after 10 years in San Francisco and various world travels, Ossola is back in the valley and doing his part to elevate the local glass community with a couple upcoming exhibits in Carbondale.
Ossola sat down with the Post Independent to discuss his love of glass, the inspiration behind his work and the importance of community.
Post Independent: When and why did you start working with glass?
Thomas Ossola: I started in high school with [local glass artist] Annie Brooks, and then I went to Pilchuck Glass School, which is a workshop-based school north of Seattle, and got a job with my teacher, Lee Lyon, who is the founder of Spiro Lyon Glass (17283 Highway 82, Carbondale). I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so I just kind of fell into it. I didn’t have a lot of long-term interests, and this was an opportunity where I really enjoyed the people, I really enjoyed the challenge.
PI: What’s the allure of glass?
TO: It’s a very seductive material; it’s very difficult, very challenging. You have to have a basic understanding of the material itself in order to coax it to where you want it to be. And, it’s fun. I think one of the things is it takes 50 years to master. You can’t just get good at it and be good at it; you have to always keep working hard, and that was a real big thing for me. That’s still, to this day, one of its big allures: What can I do with it? How can I push it?
PI: What’s the inspiration behind your work?
TO: It’s that feeling when you’re content, when the world kind of falls together. And for me, that’s when I’m out in the woods, the wind blows, and I look up at the trees and take a deep breath out, and I say, ‘Wow, I’m really lucky.’ Not necessarily because of the view but because of where I am at that moment. I’m trying to freeze those kinds of moments in time or elements of beauty, which kind of explains why my work’s very soft and not very rigid or angular. Plus, the material lends to that, or at the least the blowing process, which I do mostly. This is my first winter in 18 years, so snow has become a real big theme lately. I’ve come up with a new surface treatment for the vessels, which is very snow- and crystal-like, using household products to make that surface.
PI: You were 19 when you decided to attend the Canberra School of Art in Australia. What made you choose that school?
TO: It was one of the few programs that I found that actually worked for me. Also, just the ability to get away. I grew up in this small valley, and the world’s your oyster, so I took advantage of that.
PI: What was your experience like there?
TO: It was an amazing school. I had an opportunity to learn from some of the best in the world with their visiting artist program. It was modeled after the Bauhaus, so the program was run with very little influence from the deans or the university itself. So it’s really focused on respect for the material, mastering the material and taking it to its highest quality. The entire program was independent study. So I had to write my plan that was assessed at the end of each semester.
PI: After your four years in Australia, where did you go?
TO: I came back here for a few months, but I hadn’t seen the potential of living here, or I was too young to see it at the time. So I moved to San Francisco and lived there for 10 years. I worked with all the glass artists of the Bay Area and learned a lot of important skills, honing the technical skills that I’ve learned and some conceptual skills and how to survive as an artist in the Big Smoke. I was around the Bay Area for quite a while, and then essentially came back here. When I had gotten what I could get from there, I came back.
PI: What have you been doing locally since coming back?
TO: I’ve been working with Spiro Lyon Glass and reconnecting with them because they’re old mentors and close friends. It’s been really wonderful working with them on some of their designs and passing a lot of things that I’ve learned. And now I’m just working on some work for shows coming up the beginning of next year.
PI: Tell me about your upcoming shows.
TO: I have a show at the Launchpad called “Survey of Glass” (opening February 24). It’s a survey of glass artist in the valley, and they called and invited me to be in it. And then I have a show with the Clay Center (opening April 7), working with clay artists as well as glass artists. Bringing the glass community that does exist with the clay community a little bit closer together is the ultimate goal, and bringing a little new flavor to the Clay Center as well. I think it’s really important to show your work where you live, so it’ll be really exciting and fun.