Earth, Wind and Fire: Q&A with Artist Dante Marioni

The world-renowned Seattle glass artist reflects on success and symmetry.
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FAMILY RESEMBLANCE: In addition to being the son of a famous glass artist, Dante Marioni has two well-known uncles in the arts trade: painter Joseph Marioni and conceptual artist Tom Marioni.

World-renowned glass artist Dante Marioni lives and works in Seattle. The son of American studio glass pioneer Paul Marioni, he first held a blowpipe at age 9. By 15, he was turning sand into glass at the Glass Eye hot shop in Seattle. His elegant vases and amphorae fetch prices well beyond $10,000.

Describe the creative process of blowing glass. Blowing glass is a methodical, expensive, work-a-day process and when I show up in the studio, I know what I’m going to do. The creative part happens beforehand, when I’m sitting around doing nothing but thinking about what I’m going to make. 

Do you have a glassblowing hero? Lino Tagliapietra is the greatest glassblower in the world. He started out as basically a factory worker in a Venetian glass house making contemporary, designed objects, but when he started coming to Pilchuck [Glass School], he began to develop into an extraordinary artist. 

Compare Dante the glassblower at 15 and Dante the glassblower today. I was a zealous 15-year-old kid and I’m now a grizzled, 53-year-old veteran! 

Do you remember the first time you successfully blew glass? See that amber cup on the middle shelf? I made that in 1979 and it looks like everybody else’s first cup. It’s amazing how consistent those first pieces are. 

What is the one skill or quality you must have to blow glass? Your health. I currently have a broken finger from a snowboarding accident. A lot of my hobbies are risky — motorcycles, mountain biking — and occasionally it occurs to me that I’m just a broken collarbone away from bankruptcy. 

Is there a standout characteristic of a piece of Dante Marioni glass? Well, first, it’s super good! (Laughs.) I’d say symmetrical — I like things to be straight and on center and perfect. 

Chefs have lots of knife scars. Do you have lots of molten-glass scars? People ask, “Do you get burned a lot?” And yeah, I do. I get burned on my toaster. I burned my hand bad last year grabbing a hot pan in the kitchen. I cannot remember the last time I got burned in a glassblowing studio. 

How do you feel about failure? There’s one particular pattern that’s an advanced way of glassblowing called reticello, and I probably hit it 60 percent of the time. 

How do you handle the 40 percent? I start over. 

Is glassblowing a “use-it-or-lose-it” skill? Oh, yeah. I take three to four months off every summer and when we come back in October, I’m always sure I’ll pick up where I left off and I never do. It’s all about touch and it takes a while to get your timing down.

How important is Dale Chihuly to the Northwest glass scene? The importance of that guy cannot be overstated. I’ve known Dale since I was a kid and he singlehandedly created the marketplace to make it possible for people like me to make a living. I am eternally grateful to him. 

Why do you think art-world people have been critical of Chihuly glass? Because it’s accessible to people who don’t normally go out and see art — and that pisses off the gatekeepers. 

What is the significance of Pilchuck Glass School? Pilchuck is a global hot spot for studio glass and is the most complete facility in the world. It attracts all the great men and women to instruct and take classes and it’s a pilgrimage that anybody who wants to do this seriously must make. 

Is there any advice you would give to your younger self? I remember my wife wanted to buy Starbucks stock and I said, “Don’t’ be stupid. It’s coffee. It’s not going to go anywhere.” 

What song would you like played at your funeral? “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix. 

Which four guests would make for the perfect dinner party? Eddie Van Halen, [motorcycle racer] Eddie Lawson, Barack Obama, Ken Griffey Jr. 

What has been your scariest creative moment? I put all my resources — one thousand dollars — into my first solo exhibit at Traver Gallery in 1987 and it was terrifying. Luckily, everything sold on opening night and, just like that, I had a career. 

Is there anything you would like to change about your life? Apart from being a baseball player or a motorcycle racer or a professional surfer, no, I wouldn’t change anything. 

Do you have a pet peeve? Distracted drivers. The other day, I was riding my motorcycle on the Aurora Bridge and a car was weaving around and I pulled up alongside and this lady was talking on the phone, so I honked and mouthed, “Pay attention.” She looked at me and gestured with her other hand — which meant she had to steer with her knee —and mouthed, “I’m on the phone!” 

What gives you joy? Friends and being outside. 

Define success. Success is being happy with what you’re doing. I made $10 an hour working at the Glass Eye Studio when I was 21 and I had a smile on my face the entire time. 

For more on the lives of entertainers, artists and entrepreneurs, tune in to Art Zone with Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel (seattlechannel.org/artzone).

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