What a city! I just got home from a Pacific Northwest vacation and am smitten by the Seattle glassblowers. Dale Chihuly is definitely the regions biggest name, and for good reason. I admired his massive installations and bathing in the refracted colors while strolling the Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the Glass Bridge. As much as I enjoyed his impressive large-scale work, my favorite artist was one working in gorgeous subtlety. While exploring the Volunteer Park Conservatory I saw a flyer for Debra Moore’s Glass Orchidarium show at the Northwest African American Museum. The next day we went and I was absolutely blown away. The lifelike flowers were shown in all stages of bloom and decay, attached to branches, spilling out of vases, hanging in frames, and even clinging to human forms. Throughout the exhibit were lovely poems and observations written by Jourdan Imani Keith as she viewed the pieces. Moore’s exhibition is beyond virtuosic. I could have spent the entire day admiring the detail that went into making each one of these unique orchids. I love flowers, and I mean love in an active way. I think a lot of people enjoy flowers when they’re given them or happen to see them but I intentionally seek them out just to marvel in their variety and beauty. In an interview with the Seattle Times Moore says “A rose is a rose, but an orchid is — I don’t know,” she said, laughing about the bounty of orchid species. “I would never live long enough to make all of them.” I understand her inspiration completely and so loved seeing her execution. In reading about her I learned she attended Pratt and studied at Pilchuck, like many of the region’s best. What stood out is in 2005 she became both the first African American and first woman artist-in-residence at Abate Zanetti in Murano. As a woman of color it’s always wonderful to see the work of artists who share that with me. Being a classically trained clarinetist I was almost always the outlier in the room, and this holds true for the art classes I’ve taken.
In the exhibition catalog Vicki Halper touches on the historic and persistent lack of access to the fine arts for people of color in this country. She writes about Moore’s background shoveling scrap glass in the hotshop to pay for lessons, winning scholarships, and working in retail stores selling the art of other glassblowers. While in Murano in 1993 “Debora was permitted to watch the secretive artisans at work. It was unimaginable to them that a woman, and even stranger, a black woman, could be a glassblower and decipher their techniques.”
Not only has Moore deciphered their techniques but she’s gone on to master the art form in such a remarkable way and is by far one of the most accomplished artists whose work I’ve been fortunate enough to see. “What appears to be the painstaking intricacy of Moore’s work happens at warp speed, before the glass cools. The time is in the contemplation of nature, drawing, choice of colors, and choreography of the blow.”