May 01, 2019 12:39PM
Corning, and specifically the Corning Museum of Glass, finds itself, unsurprisingly, at the center of the glassmaking and glass blowing universe. Marblemedia, in partnership with Netflix, and in conjunction with Blue Ant Media, launched a new competition reality show—Blown Away—which features ten world-class glass blowers in a bout to see who can sway the judges with their artistry and their unique connection to their craft. Hosted by Nick Uhas and featuring one of the most respected names in glass art, Katherine Gray, Blown Away aired in Canada and will this year be available for streaming in the United States.
Eric Meek, senior manager of hot glass programs at CMoG, was a guest judge and vital point person for the project.
“There’s sort of a spectrum of perceptions of the community,” Eric says. “It’s the talk of the town. Everybody really loves this and loves what we do. Everybody would feel really bad if it was made into a spectacle. Glass is our passion, and that of the community in which we are a leader. For us to be involved, we needed to be sure that the medium and artists working in it would be presented with great respect.
“Let’s face it, these competition shows don’t have the best reputation,” Eric continues. “But the production team helped us feel con dent that what they were creating was essentially a love letter to glass.”
Marblemedia constructed a ten-bench Hot Shop where each of the contestants could have their own working space. It is being billed as North America’s largest Hot Shop, further illustrating Marblemedia’s commitment to showcasing the art form in the best possible way.
Eric says the program will depict the struggle and triumph that goes into the craft. And when the public sees it, they’ll know that Blown Away’s great intent is to showcase a cast of artisans dedicated to glass.
“Rising tides float all boats,” Eric contends. “This is a global platform to expose everyone to this material that we love—from the comfort of their living rooms. All the people are exposed to this amazing thing. I’m convinced it can mean nothing but good things for anyone who’s working in glass, whether they’re making ornaments at a holiday fair or showing fine art to a museum.”
CMoG was approached in the summer of 2018 by the Toronto-based media company, who wanted to showcase a beautiful art form, a historic skilled trade that goes back some 4,000 years. However, as Eric recalls, “they were still very much in the planning phase, but the show had a green light—and it came from a very powerful source: Netflix. It was far too inviting to pass up an opportunity to partner.”
So, Nick Uhas hosts each show with Katherine Gray as the main evaluator. A guest judge accompanies the pair. In the early rounds, a single glass blowing student from Sheridan College joined each contestant. “I know from having done this for twenty-five years, even if you’ve blown glass for four years, you’re still a beginner,” Eric says.
For the finale, CMoG provided its six expert glassmakers—three per contestant—one of which was Helen Tegeler.
Helen first joined CMoG in 2010 and, like just about everyone involved, was wary of a reality show featuring this trade she loves. She wasn’t sure if the show would try to make glassmaking look like an acrimonious, selfish endeavor. With respect to drama, she says, “I hate to see that in the hot shop. There’s joy in glass blowing. Once [Marblemedia] talked about the people involved, and knowing who Nick and Kathy were added a lot of validation. I was impressed that [the show] focused on the art, the people, and the collaboration, putting a positive spin on it.”
Indeed, her favorite aspects of the form are its collaborative nature and the personal discipline, which fed perfectly into her participation in the finale as she got to help fulfill another artist’s vision. “Just our sheer presence and experience, how familiar we are with that nimble nature, gave them the comfort to push their limits.”
Watching the competition unfold, what surprised Eric was how were they going to structure these challenges over ten episodes. For instance, what kind of range is there and how exciting could the show be if it always came down to who could make the perfect wine glass? The competitions became “inwardly focused,” and Eric says, “That made the challenges relatable to a broad audience.” The challenges became more creative and more human, not simply technical.
“I was impressed by what the artists came up with,” he continues. “It’s really hard work. It’s easy to make something proportioned. It’s hard to put a piece of yourself in that, to represent a feeling in your work. The contestants did that week after week. The two finalists, they were in this zone. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”
After the first nine episodes, those remaining two were battle-worn and weary. And wouldn’t you know that Eric would figure into that final episode as the guest judge.
“It’s funny, the producers said all along, ‘Eric, you’re going to be involved in this. We’re here to tell you it’s going to be really hard.’” To this, he thought, how hard can it be? There will be a clear winner, no hairs to split, no nuance to factor.
“It was so hard,” admits Eric. “Either one of them could have won. They’re both doing amazing things. They put their heart into it. It’s so hard to choose one over the other. For me, looking back at the participation, [I wonder] how it must have been for them. You’re judging a person.”
Ultimately, Eric hopes that, after this show, when people think of glass, they will think of Corning. Once it hits Netflix and gets binged alongside other competition shows, then most of the world will know what people in this region have known for decades: that glass and Corning are, in effect, one and the same.