The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show has over a dozen different categories of fine craft represented among its 195 exhibitors. This week’s blog features the art of glassblowing, with last year’s prizewinner for Excellence in Glass, Thomas Spake.
Glass as a medium can take on many forms. For glassblower Thomas Spake, it can be a small ornament or a large-scale outdoor sculpture. As a first time artist at last year’s Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, Thomas took home the Cohn Family Trust Prize for Excellence in Glass. We’re thrilled that Thomas will be joining us again in 2019 and we were intrigued to learn more about his work process and the imagination behind it.
Thomas is inspired by the natural world around him and his one-of-a-kind pieces reflect that. His designs are influenced by the work of 19th century impressionist artists Klimt, Monet, and Van Gogh and their mixture of colors and patterns to express the idea of trees, water, and sky. “One thing that makes my work unique is that I’m using different colored glass chips and powders with five to ten colors to create one pattern”, says Spake. “Much like painting multiple layers to create patterns and textures as the impressionists did, I create textures in glass with the colors from underneath coming through and combine them with the colors on top for the finished product. So the technique is utilized not only for the final result, but also for the process of creating, similar to how the impressionists combined colors on and below the surface.”
Thomas’s work can be found in public spaces, corporate complexes, museum shops, private collections, and this November at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. He had a successful show last year, citing the high caliber of both the artists and the audience as contributing factors. “It was a wonderful experience, from the quality of work throughout the show to the knowledgeable patrons that attended. It was a very educated audience about the medium of working with glass in a non-traditional manner.”
Thomas grew up in Georgia, has lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee for the last two decades and has worked at his craft for over 25 years. Going to college on a basketball scholarship took a detour when a work-study program in the art department introduced him to glassblowing. That was it for Thomas who described seeing the whole process as a jaw-dropping moment. He never looked back, receiving a B.A. in art and glass from Centre College and eventually launching his solo career. Thomas is constantly inventing new patterns, techniques and designs and he hopes to scale his work even larger than it already is. He believes in the “10,000 hour rule” coined by journalist and thought leader Malcolm Gladwell. “Expect to put in 10,000 hours before you make any significant progress”, Thomas says. “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing and believe in yourself. Because in reality, the only person you have is yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.”
Stop by Thomas’s booth at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show and see his mesmerizing and colorful work up close and in person. Maybe you’ll take something home with you!