In the Studio with Ethan Bond-Watts

Burlington has a rich history of glassblowing and some of the field’s finest practitioners work here. One such glassblower, UVM junior Ethan Bond-Watts, is a mixed-media studio artist who works primarily with glass and steel. The art of studio glass- blowing is a medium few can say they have truly delved into (aside from a possible affinity for a certain device sold at Full Tank). The art itself is rather new, Bond-Watts shared that it gained in popularity in the US beginning in the ’60s. If you haven’t seen his work before this article, you soon will, as he has been commissioned to craft the graduating class of 2008 student gift. His class gift, he said, will mix glass and steel into a large hanging installation. Bond-Watts shared that he began glassblowing at age 15 as an apprentice under master glassblower Alan Goldfarb, an innovator and celebrity in glassblowing circles whose work can be found in the Smithsonian. The precocious youngster quickly made his way up the glassblowing ranks, achieving the status of gaffer, a sort of director of glassblowing, by age 18. This fact, he proudly tells, is a rarity for people of such a young age. On top of his intensive apprenticeship, Bond-Watts said that he has traveled to Seattle, the current epicenter of American glassblowing, and Venice, home to old masters whose techniques have been passed down orally for over 2,000 years, in pursuit of knowledge and esoteric techniques. Bond-Watts described his trip to Venice as a “pilgrimage,” not dissimilar to “a Muslim visiting Mecca.” The Italian master-apprentice system, he said, is dying, as young people are not taking up the art form. He lamented this fact. though his tone quickly became optimistic, as he believes the U.S. may take Italy’s place as the hub of glassblowing. According to Bond-Watts, each trip finds him with notebooks full of techniques and styles. Aside from his art, Bond-Watts is an environmental studies major who has participated in the creation of one of UVM professor John Todd’s “eco-machines” in the very studio of this interview. He speaks enthusiastically about what he sees as a radical shift in thinking about environmental issues. “The sustainability paradigm shift is going to dominate philosophy and notions of progress in this new century,” he said, “and UVM is one of the epicenters shaping the lived environment.”