Paul M. Hollister Collection, The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass
Transcribed by Bard Graduate Center
Title: Paul Hollister Interview with Mark Peiser, May 2, 1979 (Rakow title: Mark Peiser interview [sound recording] / with Paul Hollister, BIB ID: 168400).
Mark Peiser, Interviewee
Paul Hollister, Interviewer
Location: Probably a gallery or studio
Sybil F. Johnson, Transcriber
Mike Satalof and Barb Elam, Editors
Caleb Weintraub-Weissman, Summary
Duration: 14:41
Length: 9 pages

Note: This transcript is based upon an audiotaped recording that has been digitally converted. The recording is part of the Paul M. Hollister Collection at The Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, and was transcribed at Bard Graduate Center, New York, New York, for the digital exhibition and archive Voices in Studio Glass History: Art and Craft, Maker and Place, and the Critical Writings and Photography of Paul Hollister. Usage requests for all or part of this transcript must be obtained from The Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass. 

Paul Hollister often made audio recordings for research purposes in preparation for writing, including interviews with artists and curators, and lectures. The reader should bear in mind that transcriptions of these recordings reflect spoken, rather than written, prose. While every effort was made to be as accurate as possible, the sound quality of the recordings in the Paul Hollister Collection varies greatly. Transcripts have been edited for readability and occasionally condensed. They should serve as a best-effort guide to the original only and not be considered verbatim.

American artist Mark Peiser (1938– ) studied electrical engineering at Purdue University before earning his BS in design from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1961. Following an early career in industrial design, he studied piano and composition at DePaul University, beginning in 1965. In 1967, Peiser started studying glass at the Penland School of Craft. He became the school’s first resident craftsman in glass that same year and then settled at Penland, building his home and personal studio near the school. Peiser is one of the founders of the Glass Art Society and is known for his innovative exploration of the properties of glass, including formulating new base glasses and colors for his various series of works.

Summary: In this interview with Paul Hollister, Mark Peiser discusses his vase-making techniques and the inherent difficulty of creating figural images in glass, and tells a story of working alongside Dale Brownscombe. Peiser also touches upon the material and visual qualities of different formulations of glass, many of which he developed himself.

Mentioned: Dale Brownscombe, engraving, glass, glassblowing, iridescent glass, James McNeill Whistler

[recording begins mid-sentence]

Mark Peiser (MP): —you know, before we actually make the piece—some of them kind of come very simply and you can do right away—

Paul Hollister (PH): Do you draw it out like a band of—

MP: No, the way I draw them is that I start relating the image to an overall form, like I mean that thing—these redwood trees, if you’ve been there—it’s just overwhelming, you know, the vertical space. You know, it’s hanging over your head, seems to be. And so, somehow, this elongated-type form came to mind. And I basically draw it, you know, from within that form. It’s like a frame, which is some sort of a form that keeps working up. And then I’ll draw it from one side and then I try and figure out, I try and conceive of these windows within the thing that lets you in and then—

PH: What do you want to see in there?

MP:  —what do I want to see on the backside of the piece? And then I draw it from the other side, and then I draw it from the side and keep drawing it from different sides and then actually before we really make the piece I draw what amounts to the floor plan—on succeeding gathers, where which tree goes. As we build it there are little clumps of flowers or whatever, so we build back through the walls.

PH: How long does a vase take? On the average—

MP: Well, that thing took 14 hours on the pipe. Some of these—I mean even the [inaudible] again was about six or seven hours—

PH: What do you do with the [inaudible], I mean—?

MP: Well, you just—

PH: —you just have to keep going through it?

MP: —plenty of stories. Well, I don’t know. I forget which piece it was we did, but Dale [Brownscombe] and I, one day last winter we were doing a piece. We didn’t get started until later in the afternoon; a lot of things came up through the day, so around—God, it was around about 11 o’clock at night, we were just famished. We did lunch at noon and we just got tired and we knew that there was like six hours left to go on this piece. So there was a lot of snow, it was very cold, and there was a bunch of snow, and I live up about a mile from the studio up on top of the hill and I said, ‘I quit,’ you know, ‘keep this thing warm. I’m gonna go and raid the icebox and bring back all these groceries and cold cuts and stuff.’ So I took his car and drove up to my place and the damn car died, and I couldn’t get it started again. I had this big box of groceries. It was a beautiful night. It was about 10 degrees out and the moon was out and the air was clear, and I screwed around for about 20 minutes trying to get the car started, and that wouldn’t work, and so I ended up walking down this damn mountain back a mile to the shop with this big cardboard box of groceries, and I was thinking, ‘My God. I’m blowing a piece. This is—this is truly some perversion of the process.’ It just has become a different situation that—you know, basically you just keep going, there’s nothing [inaudible]—

PH: And you just picked it up from that point and—

MP: Yeah, we got back and kept working on it. We kind of worked by layers. Each succeeding layer we put a new gather on. I don’t know what it really amounts to, but it takes about twice as long to decorate the next layer as the one before, cause they have, I don’t know if it’s twice the surface area, but it gets larger, you know?

PH: Yeah.

MP: You expand the surface and the image you put on that has to be larger than the one inside,  , the decorations, the [inaudible]

PH: And how many gathers roughly are you making?

MP: The larger pieces are six, usually six gathers of crystal, maybe one color is in there. Six or seven gathers and we decorate, like three—usually three of them. We can’t—if we put them on—start too soon inside the piece they become too washed out when they expand. The inner layers expand further than the outer ones—

PH: Because they’re expanding more than the outer ones—

MP: Yeah, and—right, and just that—

PH: —and they have further to go—

MP: —they get a little fuzzier and—

PH: But of course, that gives you distance doesn’t it? Smaller—

MP: It helps. Yeah, you can exploit that and—

PH: —use it as a third dimension of distance.

MP: Right. I’m very careful to—well, there’s a lot—

PH: You know what I like very much? I was thinking—looking at that [inaudible] bowl on the right coming in. I was thinking [inaudible] could have the image around the side above the water, up near the top, the way you do with your sky on this one.

MP: Mm-hmm.

PH: And the one with the fence. Just make the pond at the top.

MP: Yeah. I can relate to that one real well. Yeah.

PH: So that you’re dividing up your imagery in an arbitrary, completely abstract way, and yet the imagery itself is sort of convincing and—see what I mean?

MP: I got it, that’s a good idea, we got that one. We’ll do that one.

PH: This is the sun setting, reflection at the bottom of the bowl or something—

MP: Right.

PH: —you have an independent image around the side.

MP: Right.

PH: Then some image up on the top. So that it’s separating the characteristics and using them in a decorative but independent way—

MP: Mm-hmm.

PH: —taking the bark off the tree and putting it down somewhere else—

MP: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

PH: —the floor of leaves and then something, and then space, and then some other image.

MP: Yeah, I’d like to move them—

PH: Cause I felt, frankly, a year or so ago, I didn’t like your things. I looked at them and I thought, ‘God, they look like Tennessee Williams,’ you know—

MP: Yeah.

PH: —some sick woman is in there, smoking pot and wasting away from TV.

MP: Yeah, well—

PH: There was a kind of a cloying thing, but I think you’re getting away from that.

MP: I think that’s a distinct side of my affinities, but I was hoping, we just didn’t have time for the show, but what I’d like to do with these pieces is pursuing the more ambitious decorating thing, more involved in, again, that schedule full of things where the pieces become objects. I mean, a shower stall and a drive-in movie, other things besides these romantic little scenes and it’s—

PH: Well, they’ve got so many driving [inaudible]—

MP: Well, I know. I don’t know if I’m ever gonna get to it, you know. It’s one of those—in certain ways, it seems like we’ve gone past it, but it is exploiting the coming back to the space within the vessel again, and I’ve started looking around at objects where the vessel is really a pun on the space and that kind of sense and what was a wishing well. You know, all kinds of—

PH: Yeah.

MP: —things like that. And what it did was—

PH: Very salable of course.

MP: Oh yeah, I could probably do a number on wishing wells, yeah. But— [laughs]

PH: Christmas catalogue, I can see it.

MP: Yeah, oh God. Goodness. But what it forced us to do, we were gonna do one that was a gazebo. We had it—I mean, it got—

PH: Oh, that’d be terrific.

MP: Oh, I think it would be. I mean absolutely gorgeous—

PH: Oh, wow. Yeah. Yeah.

MP: —you know, latticework and roses and all that stuff. And I think they’d be beautiful but we—I became aware, I was aware that I had to start thinking on how to really make this stuff three sides, you know, and I can draw kind of a wavy tree or something that sort of looks like a straight line, which is the hardest thing I’ve found to do in any of these is to draw a straight line.

PH: Can’t lay a rod on there because when you blow it it curves.

MP: You can’t even get it on straight enough.

PH: Suppose you blew the gazebo in an octagonal mold.

MP: That’s even possible—what seemed like the safe—

PH: Corner supports.

MP: Yeah, oh yeah. Well that’s what it was gonna be, you got it, I mean that’s the piece—

PH: Not at—yeah—[inaudible]

MP: —but what we all did figure that would make sense to try it, that it wouldn’t look cartoony—I mean all the the oval pieces I’ve seen—that I’ve done, or other people have done—they’re glass, you know, it always rounds off—

PH: Yeah.

MP: —and you put on [inaudible] and it becomes a cartoon. No matter how elegantly you get it there, it looks like a cartoon. So we have made the piece in theory by an engraving [inaudible] blowing forms, pulling down, engraving lattice work, engraving certain areas, picking it back up, casing it, doing hot work. You know, using just a whole bunch of different techniques, and it occurred to us that ultimately the piece is going to take us half a year to make and prices such as they are, I can’t even afford to keep these things myself anymore, so someday we’ll probably get back to—

PH: Have you seen—I don’t know when wisteria comes out. I don’t know whether it’s June or—?

MP: No—no, later on.

[lots of voices in the background]

PH: But there’s a pergola right over here. You just walk straight through the park from right here.

MP: Uh-huh.

PH: You can’t miss it. You hit it. And it’s just covered with wisteria. It has these knotted old benches—

MP: Yeah.

PH: —the whole thing is from the Victorian period—[inaudible] perfectly wonderful—[inaudible]

MP: Yeah.

[Break in recording. Quality changes]

[lots of voices in the background]

MP: Yeah, but the brush paint is the concept, the work itself. I’ve been very—

PH: [inaudible] over there.

MP: —well, yeah, but I did a few pieces when I was doing the iridescent glass where it just kind of exasperated [inaudible] wrapping things around and pulling and this and that, where I just really—just really [laughs] with a certain amount of abandonment, just throw away something on the piece and then try to make sense out of it, such as it were to tool it. I mean, wrap—

PH: You know, here’s another thought for you while I’m sounding off. There’s a painting by [James McNeill] Whistler called The Falling Rocket, I think it’s called, Fireworks Display. And suppose you went out on kind of a smoky evening—gray, blue, brown color, and then you just took your stuff and used it like confetti.

MP: That’s possible.

PH: With maybe one bright thing as the sky gets darker going, something like that.

MP: That’s—

PH: That would be—

MP: That’s—that would be—what?

PH: [laughing] It must be just wonderful to be able to try out the things that one thinks of.

MP: Well, it—

PH: That little spot there.

MP: It takes—unfortunately, when you’re describing the fireworks, right away, I’m aware—I need a sulphide bubble glass, you know, to get that brilliance—

PH: Yeah.

MP: —which I don’t have right now, so. [laughs]

PH: Well, it’s got a grayish, blackish, smokey—

MP: Well, I mean the contrast would come out, but I find that we lose a great deal of time trying to perfect the material, you know, to become just what we feel is going to be the optimal way to say it.

PH: It’s fascinating. This is so—

MP: I like that one, yeah.

PH: So loose.

MP: It’s a different character altogether and I really do like it. The wash on there, it’s a silver, very thin casing of silver glass.

PH: Mmm.

MP: I hoped it would have been a little bit less opaque than it is, but it turns out that it’s this beautiful pink—

PH: Oh, it works.

MP: —in the transmitted light [inaudible]. And you know,  I was disappointed [laughing] as we were working on the piece, I could see the striking, you know, more and more opaque and when we blew it I kept blowing it further. I wanted to try and thin it out, you see, and that’s why the piece is basically flatter than these. But I kept feeling very discouraged that, God, we just didn’t get it. They took it out of the annealing oven the next day and just held it up and the sunlight came through and I went, ‘Oh, my God, that’s—I’ll take it, I’ll take it.’ You know.

PH: Yeah, you’ll accept it. Wow.

[Break in recording. Quality changes]

MP: There.

PH: There. Yeah.

MP: And it was actually conceived of—it doesn’t really show because, well, it sort of worked. It went around through the seasons on the piece, is overlapping the sky colors and there’s a rainstorm on the back, you know, a little bit contrived, but it was a very fascinating piece to me, and, again, it was the simplification. You know, it’s kind of an expansion, too, of these kinds of [inaudible]—

PH: That’s the kind of thing I mean. This is the shape of a sugar cane—

MP: Uh-huh.

PH: —leaf.

MP: God, those were a bitch to make [laughs]. It took us hours to make one of those—

PH: [laughs]

MP: [laughing] It was ridiculous, it seemed real simple, but then, you know. Yeah.

PH: That’s quite wonderful, too.

MP: My recollection of them was that, you know, they worked much nicer than this actually shows. There’s a very pale phosphate opal blue thing in it, and these are all in several layers, too. It’s like what [inaudible] I was doing only subtler, you know. More subtle.

PH: You just have to get right up there and stare at them like a painting.

MP: Yeah.

PH: Then turn it around, there’s no see-through-a-hole.

[recording ends]