When I saw Japanese glassmaker Ishida Tami’s work, I immediately thought of eggshells in a dazzling array of colors laid by exotic birds hidden deep in a forest that had yet to be discovered. Her gorgeous work invites self-reflection and quiet contemplation, like watching the sky gradually change its color in the early morning before sunrise.
“They are glass, but I want them to appear like ceramics, lacquerware, and even pebbles,” Tami explains. “I am very particular about the texture and colors of the surface.” Tami enjoys creating work that fits in the palm of a hand and pays special attention to how the surface feels when they are touched.
Initially, I thought Tami’s work looked like pate de verre, a type of glasswork that is made by filling powdered glass pastes into a mold. But her vessels carry a lightness that is not typical to pate de verre because they are actually blown glass with layer upon layer of powdered glass coatings that are cut and intensely polished on the surface. Her work is a mind-bogglingly time-consuming process, and I was curious to find out why Tami decided to create her work in this elaborate manner.
Tami was born in Okayama prefecture, home to the famous local Bizen pottery that are usually unglazed and fired with wood. She studied ceramics in high school, but the austere Bizen pottery seemed dark to her young eyes, and she became more interested in glazed pottery. Later when she discovered that a new university, the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts, was opening in 1995, she thought glass “seemed even more beautiful than glazed pottery.” So she decided to study glasswork.
But it was only after Tami started researching and creating replicas of ancient glasswork after graduation that she became fascinated by glass. Her graduate thesis was a work based on a historic Persian cut glass vessel in the collection of Okayama Orient Museum. She later enrolled in the Masters of Glass program at the University for the Creative Arts at Farnham in England and proceeded to extensively study Sasanian and Islamic glasswork. In 2013, Tami received the honor of being invited to create a replica of a Sasanian Cut Bowl for the British Museum. In 2015, Tami won first prize in the prestigious Stanislav Libensky Award given out by the Czech Republic that provided her the opportunity to spend three weeks at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state.
“Ancient glassmakers created work through mysterious methods and techniques,” Tami pointed out. “And this is because they were still working their way to discovering more efficient ways to make things, but with limited tools and fuels.” It was the ingenuity of these long-gone glassmakers that Tami felt a deep love and attraction for and has become the driving force of her creations.
After Tami lost her teacher in a tragic accident three years ago, she has not been able to get back into her research of ancient glass and creating cut glass vessels. But through the study of Sasanian glasswork, Tami has accumulated extensive knowledge in cutting and polishing glass (click here to watch a YouTube video of former curator of Corning Museum of Glass, David Whitehouse describe a Sasanian cup with high quality glass cutting). Through experimentation, she discovered that a distinctly beautiful texture and effect of graduating colors can be achieved by coldworking pieces that are blown and coated with powdered glass.
Tami admits that, “it is like taking the very long way home to create glasswork with the presumption that it will be coldworked to finish the form.” But this unusual method is the very reason why her work is so unique.
In a world where efficiency is prized, we sometimes forget that the process still makes the biggest difference to the end result. Tami’s work reminds us that the key for making objects that goes straight to the heart is not just about employing state-of-the-art equipment but is also about taking the time and trouble to convey the fascination for the material.