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Heart in Glass

Student artist to craft Class of 2008 gift

By Thomas Weaver Article published April 8, 2008

Glass artist
UVM junior Ethan Bond-Watts has balanced college and pursuit of his passion for glass blowing to make a swift start on his career as an artist. (Photo: Ned Castle)

See more of Bond-Watts' work on the view's Flickr page.

"Time burns up. It goes up the chimney, man," says Ethan Bond-Watts. Time — he's talking about long stretches of it — up to nine hours straight immersed in his art. And the chimney? It's the stack over the furnace where molten glass glows orange as the UVM junior practices his craft in a North Avenue studio co-op.

When Bond-Watts first encountered glass blowing as a 15-year-old Champlain Valley Union High School student, the pull was intense. "Finding glass that was so hot, so dangerous, so immediate — it's the same reason young people are attracted to snowboarding, that instant gratification," he says. "The ability to experiment, to fail, to drop stuff on the floor and go back in and scoop out some more glass immediately and make ten pieces in a day…"

A decade later, he's still hooked. Bond-Watts has meshed a glass blowing apprenticeship with a college education and passionate focus on his work to make a quick start on a career as an artist. Though he has another year remaining at UVM, he'll help members of the Class of 2008 leave their mark on the university. The graduating seniors have commissioned Bond-Watts to create a glass sculpture that will hang in the Davis Center.

In front of the furnace
Back when he was a CVU senior, Bond-Watts recalls, the talk as graduation approached wasn't "What are you doing next year?" but "Where are you going to college?" Bond-Watts wasn't, news that some figured he'd really rather not talk about. Quite the opposite, he had a far clearer sense of his next step than most his age. After working at Church and Maple Glass Studio through high school, he was ready to apprentice with noted glass artist Alan Goldfarb in Burlington.

Bond-Watts calls Goldfarb "my maestro" and credits him with teaching him about "glass, love and life, and the task of the artist" through four years of apprenticeship. He also traveled to study with a number of the world's top glass artists in Venice, Seattle, and Corning, New York. While he built his skills and gained the business sense necessary to an artist's survival, Bond-Watts grew more committed to his path. "It became apparent at some point that I could spend my whole life in front of the furnace," he says, "and I realized that an education was really important to me."

Make no mistake, the artist (whose mother, by the way, is UVM psychology professor Lynne Bond) has every intention to spend his life in front of that furnace, but he looked to college for something more. As he enthuses about how the Environmental Program has deepened his perspective as an individual and an artist, he could be poster boy for the major and for the wisdom of taking some time between high school and college. Bond-Watts praises the broad curriculum of the program, faculty such as "godfather of ecological design" John Todd, and the ecological economics approaches of the Gund Institute. He also mentions the impact of faculty across the wider university; English professor and writer David Huddle, in particular, influenced him through his poetry class and has remained a strong supporter of his art.

In the works for the DC
Bond-Watts' environmental ethic underpins the aesthetic and artistic sensibility that drives his current work. The artist calls classically inspired vessels, blends of function and beauty he learned from Goldfarb, his bread and butter. But, increasingly, his interest has evolved toward large, sculptural pieces of multiple glass works united by thin steel aircraft cable. It's a concept he first explored with a piece titled Kyklon (Greek for cyclone) for Burlington's South End Art Hop and a direction he'll follow for the Class of 2008 Senior Gift, a large sculpture that will hang over the second-floor Chikago Landing in the Davis Center. The hope is to have the piece installed by the end of 2008; Bond-Watts anticipates doing most of the work this summer.

In describing his concept for the Davis Center sculpture, he says that he hopes to evoke the intermeshed swirl of the natural world, enduring connections that exist from the universal level to the cellular. Bond-Watts says the glass in the work will have earth tones, putting to use chemical reactions he's hit on recently that have particularly interesting color. The hanging pieces may bring to mind the sweep of a flock of birds or a school of fish, Bond-Watts says. "I'm going to have several biomes composed of individual parts that will flow together, and they'll flow into each other in the same way that living systems merge," he adds.

During his years at UVM, Bond-Watts has also drawn on the expertise of art faculty to further his growth in the field. He credits Cami Davis, an artist and lecturer in the department, with opening him to the possibilities of environmental art. "Art is not to be kept in this white box of a gallery so that academics and aristocrats can muse," Bond-Watts says. "It is a really functional element of society that helps us work out our ideas, synthesize ideas, and communicate ideas that maybe transcend the limits of language."

For the Senior Class Council-commissioned, nature-inspired piece that Bond-Watts will soon focus his talents upon, it would be hard to think of a better home than the place it will hang. The green Davis Center, bustling with thousands of students daily, is definitely no white box.

Read more on the Class of 2008 gift, and contribute to the effort.


See more of Bond-Watts' work on the view's Flickr page.