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Local artists hope work at annual Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival will inspire others

Success is often found when talent is backed by passion, and when it comes to the artwork Bruce Pizzichillo and his wife, Dari Gordon, create, passion and talent make their work both exquisite and memorable.

Pizzichillo's nationally known glasswork, from blown glass vases and bowls to mixed-media and glass sculptures, will come to Palo Alto at the annual Clay & Glass Festival at the Palo Alto Art Center on Saturday, July 11, and Sunday, July 12.

The two-day event, hosted by the Association of Clay and Glass Artists, will display the work of more than 140 juried artists, featuring both fine and functional art. Festivalgoers will have the opportunity to meet with artists, browse collections, purchase favorite pieces, attend demonstrations and participate in hands-on activities.

Pizzichillo, who studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts) in Oakland, opened Pizzichillo & Gordon Glass in 1984. The studio, which is equipped with a full glass-blowing facility, cold-working space and gallery showcasing Pizzichillo's glasswork, is the oldest running glass-blowing studio in the city, Pizzichillo said.

The studio has allowed him to work with a challenging yet mysterious and magical artistic medium.

"It's one of the only materials I know that can do what it does and that is go from a liquid state into this clear frozen state," Pizzichillo said. "Then you have this material that you can pull, stretch and blow. I mean it's endless what you can do with it. And there's always room to grow and be better. ... It takes a lifetime to be a master at it, and I love being challenged that way."

His work, which is inspired by music, dance, poetry, life and "everything we encounter around us," has been featured in collections at the SAS Institute World Headquarters, the Museum of American Glass Wheaton Village and the Bellevue Art Museum, just to name a few. But nowadays, Pizzichillo is interested in creating artwork that brings joy and makes the world a better place.

"I just turned 61 and I really want to be happy and enjoy what I make, and hopefully the work carries that joy and happiness through, so when people are living with it it's something that they can feel inspired by," he said.

Pizzichillo is meticulous in his style, putting an extensive amount of energy, effort and care into his work to ensure every piece is unique.

"We put a lot of time into the decoration, the color and the forms. When I'm blowing glass I try to keep forms simple yet modern and let the colors and decorative elements speak for the piece rather than having really fancy forms that interfere with that," he said.

Pizzichillo chooses bold colors and uses innovative designs, patterns and elements, including glass shards, strings and pieces that are applied to the surface.

Blown glass pieces are made from scratch using the highest quality of raw material, Pizzichillo said, onto which layers of vibrant colored glass are applied using different decorative techniques that demand great precision. Pizzichillo's work demonstrates the incalmo technique, an ancient glass-making process of fusing two or more blown glass elements.

Pizzichillo said everything he makes is with "lots of love and passion."

"I like to take my time. I'm kind of old school. That's pretty much the life I've lived: hard work, lots of passion and hopefully a little bit of magic," he said.

This year, Pizzichillo will have two spaces at the art festival, and he will be showing a little bit of everything, including incalmo wall platters, big glass sculptures, garden art, as well as mixed-media and mosaic wall pieces by Gordon.

Redwood Valley-based artist Gail Rushmore Nidros' introduction to the art of ceramics was serendipitous. Nidros was taking a raku pottery class at Mendocino College in 1993 with a friend and was captivated by the process of creating 3-D forms.

"I had never felt attracted to the medium before that," she said.

This discovery opened a whole new world of possibilities for Nidros, whose previous art experience had only been two-dimensional.

Nidros, who received a graphic arts degree from the University of Washington, has worked in a variety of media, including painting and drawing, which gave her a good foundation for her current work in clay sculptures, she said.

"I still consider myself a designer and feel that this often shows in my work," Nidros said.

Clay is intimate and impressionable, which allows artists to create "almost any image from your mind," she said.

"The possibilities are limitless, though they say that there is nothing new. ... I prefer to think that we all put our personal spin or personal story in the art that we create. And that makes it new," she said.

Her artwork starts with a careful thought process, she explained. When creating her tall ethnic clay figures, called "robes," Nidros starts at the top with the head.

"I may have thought that I would make a specific culture, but when the face is done, it can change when I see it finished," she said. "The body is made from a slab of clay rolled and stood up to create the robe. From there it is a lot of detail work to create the designs and embellishments."

After a week of drying time, the sculpture goes through a bisque firing before it is glazed and put into a hot kiln and quickly removed at its maximum temperature and allowed to cool in the open air – a process known as raku.

A robe will take about two weeks to complete, although pieces are finished in various stages of the process, Nidros said.

"It is always interesting to see the results because there is often a little magic in the outcome," she said. "Though you think you have control, each firing has its own unique outcome, which continues to keep it interesting for me."

This will be Nidros' first time at the Clay & Glass Festival, and she is looking forward to showcasing her work as well as talking to the general public and getting feedback.

"It's nice to get out of my quiet studio and into the real world once in a while," she said.

What: Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, July 11, and Sunday, July 12

Where: Palo Alto Art Center, at 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto

Cost: Free


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Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 11, 2015 at 6:06 am

The opening paragraph says June 11 and 12; I suspect it should be July 11 and 12 as the closing paragraph says.

Like this comment
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jul 11, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Yes, it should, Paul. Thank you. The Festival is taking place today and tomorrow.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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