Josh Simpson first experimented with glass when he was a student at Hamilton College in 1970. Some of his one-man shows have taken place at the Lobmeyr Werkstatte, in Vienna, Austria; the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts; and the Galerie d'Amon, Paris.
Simpson's work is in the permanent collections of the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York; the Royal Ontario Museum; and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut. He has taught at the Penland School of the Arts, the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, and Aichi University, in Tokyo, Japan.
Simpson's work is currently on tour, and will be seen in the summer of 1995 at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Massachusetts. After that it travels to Cherry Valley, California; the Mesa Southwest Museum; and the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Macon, Georgia.
Ask the Artist
Where do you get the ideas for your work?
- NASA photos taken of our Earth and the heavens, along with my experience as a kid taking care of a small aquarium full of fish are inspiration for my work in glass today. When I was little I'd spend hours staring into the microcosm of my fish tank marveling at the diversity and complex interactions of the different marine creatures. I was also struck by an offhand comment made by one of the Apollo astronauts. Jim Lovell glanced out his spacecraft window and said "I can cover the Earth with my thumb." Of course with the right distance and perspective one can cover the Earth with a thumb - and so I began to make planets. Some are small enough to hold in your hand, but I fill each one with as much detail and variety as possible.
Do you work alone on your craft, or with others?
- I almost always work with others - depending on the complexity or size there can be anywhere from one to five people helping. My assistants are highly skilled in their own right - it would be impossible for me to make glass without Michael Armstrong, Rick Bardwell, Ed Eymontt, Jay LaRocque, Chad Sarafin, Donna Amstein, Connie Clarke and Diantha Wholey.
Do you ever teach, or take on apprentices?
- I have taught summer sessions at Haystack, Penland, and Horizons Craft Schools. From time to time I take on an apprentice if it will benefit both of us.
What's the most exciting part of creating your works?
- Blowing glass is the most immediate and thrilling thing you can imagine. It requires complete mental and physical concentration just to make simple stuff.
What's the most difficult part of creating your works?
- My own physical limitations working with heavy gathers of 2000 degree molten glass is the most difficult for me. When it's hot the glass just wants to drop off the end of the blowpipe and burn something (or someone). The challenge is to have an idea in your mind and then coax an unwilling and impossibly hot liquid into the perfect shape and design you intend.
What sort of technology do you use in your work? Has the technology of your craft changed dramatically over the past 100 years?
- Except for control systems that allow glass artists to precisely control the temperature of melting furnaces and cooling ovens, the technology of glass has changed little in the last thousand years or so.
Do you have any advice for somebody just starting out?
- Try to keep everything simple. Don't borrow money. Never give away or sell any work that you don't love.
Can you share a "secret of the trade" with us--something nobody else knows or that you found out only after years of experience? Put another way--what do you wish somebody had told you when you were just starting out that might have saved you hours of wasted effort?
- It seems like a trivial thing now, but it took me six years to learn how to make delicate long stemmed wine goblets without using molds of any kind. The most difficult part for me was attaching a steel rod called a "pontil" to the bottom of the stem - then I had to fracture the goblet off the blowpipe so I could finish the bowl. For years I took a wet file, and would "saw" along the top of the bowl until it broke and separated from the blowpipe. This method resulted in my shattering zillions of goblets. Then one day I saw the Italian Master, Lino Tagliapietra take metal tweezers and squeeze the top of a goblet bowl for a moment (where I used to use my wet file) he then tapped the blowpipe and the goblet separated perfectly. My whole life would have been different (or less frustrated) had I known that little trick sooner.
What are we missing by experiencing your work through the Internet and not seeing/hearing/feeling/smelling/touching it in person?
- Looking at a TV monitor you miss the intense heat of the glass and the omnipotent roar of combustion in the burners necessary to heat my furnaces to temperatures approaching 2500 degrees Fahrenheit.