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Glass Blower, Lead Shop Technician
Museum of Glass, Tacoma
Sarah Gilbert is a rock star in the glass blowing world. Five days a week, she and an elite team of artists take center stage at one the world's premier, state-of-the-art hot shops. Music cranked up and heat shields donned, they forge world-class art while entertaining, educating and engaging fans from around the world who perch in stadium-style seats just feet from the blast of 2,000-degree Fahrenheit kilns. The high drama of art is regularly replayed at the Museum of Glass in downtown Tacoma. And Ms. Gilbert concludes each performance with a warm welcome and Q&A for visitors.
Who are your visitors and where do they come from?
In the 6½ years since the Museum of Glass opened, more than a million people from all over the world have visited, which is pretty amazing. A lot more people from outside the state come during the summer months - 40 to 50 percent. People from around the country come in depending on visiting artists or programs. We keep up personal relationships because we know they really appreciate the process of glass art creation.
What makes your hot shop so cool?
It's one of only three studios of its kind in the world. It's very large, has top-of-the-line equipment from all over the U.S., a furnace made in Italy and glass batch from Holland.
And your team of glass artists?
The team that works with incoming artists has been together for six years. That's rare. I think we've become good friends, we get to work in a world-class glass studio, plus we get to interact with people from all over the world.
The Museum of Glass has an open-concept hot shop which really adds to the visitor experience. How does it impact the artistic process?
It takes some artists a little while to get used to being in the public eye, but they do. There's an amazing energy when the seats are full and there's a lot of artists working on the floor. I really like the interaction. A lot of us have an invested interest in educating the public - because even when they grab a glass of water, they'll understand the process needed to make that glass. We really want to share the process, so we get excited when people come in.
Tell us about the Q&A session.
When we work on a piece on the floor and that's our main focus, but once it's done, you get to have interaction with the audience. They ask how [the art piece] was made, why we do it that way. I always want to know why they stopped at the Museum of Glass. You get some interesting responses like, “I've have been to your site and always wanted to visit.” And, I always ask where they're from. It's one of the bonuses of my job - I get to come to work every day and meet these people from around the world and hear their stories. They're coming in as a visitor and I consider the shop my home. If they're coming into my home, I want them to have a good time.
You've only been in Tacoma and Pierce County for two years, but with such a high profile job, do you already feel like a tourism ambassador?
I think Tacoma is a great little city and has a lot to offer. This area is pretty rich in glass blowing culture. Downtown Tacoma is great with the museums, outdoor installations, shopping. And Mt. Rainier is so close. We've got Point Defiance and the zoo. When my family visits [from upstate New York] one of the things I love is that you can be in a downtown museum or just as easily take them hiking.
How have downtown Tacoma businesses fared since the museum opened in 2003?
Between the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Tacoma Art Museum, Washington State History Museum and us, we all work together to get people seeing all of Tacoma. We get a lot of feedback from restaurants and hotels, which definitely benefit from our visiting artists and collectors. Smaller local businesses benefit, too.
Why does tourism matter?
I get to go to work and meet new people and hear stories every day. And that's one of the most important aspects of tourism to me, personally. It's important for the museum to draw revenue. As an artist, the educational aspect is important. And, the Pacific Northwest has such a strong history of glass blowing, I think to connect with people and talk about that history is very important.
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