Immersive Glassmaking Retreat for High School Artists

Pilchuck Glass School and Hilltop Artists join forces to create an immersive retreat experience for high school artists

Published Tuesday, April 3, 2018 10:00 am

In September 2017, Pilchuck Glass School and Tacoma’s Hilltop Artists successfully launched a collaboration to offer an immersive retreat and professional training in glassmaking to thirty high school students at Pilchuck’s campus.

Alongside sharing a co-founder in Dale Chihuly, both organizations share a commitment to educating new generations of glass artists. Established in 1994 by Chihuly and Kathy Kaperick, Hilltop Artists uses glass to connect young people from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds to better futures.

Through a collaborative process, program leaders from both organizations planned the three-day, two-night retreat experience for Hilltop students and staff. Supported by Pilchuck’s renowned glassmaking facilities and faculty, participants received housing, meals, instruction, and an ample supply of glassmaking materials.

Professional artists Dan Friday, Ethan Stern, and Sophie Spies shared their expertise as instructors throughout the weekend.

"Knowing the value of a truly pivotal experience, I was so moved by the enthusiasm coming out of the students from the Hilltop program during their few days at Pilchuck last fall,” shared Ethan Stern. “The program gave them a platform to be heard, empowered them to be a creative team, and allowed them a chance to be adventurous with glass (a material they love). The work they put in and the work they produced showed growth even after three days at the school."

In this professionally oriented environment, students were able to explore and become fully absorbed in glassmaking.

“It was nice to have more space, and freedom, than we usually have. I was able to come up with some ideas and try things out with friends,” shared Hilltop student, Julian. “I took away a lot from the group just being together the whole time. I gained a lot of trust with people. Having Dan Friday there was really humbling, he opened my eyes to what glassblowing could be in my future and how far I could actually take it.”

Experimenting in glassblowing, coldworking, and flameworking, students had the opportunity to focus on what interested them most throughout the weekend.

“I was able to work with a highly experienced Boro maker, I learned skills I never knew before and got to bring them back to Hilltop. I learned how to do an implosion and I practice those whenever I can,” mentioned Hilltop student, Dashawn. “…and the location was even more inspiring, the natural setting made me feel at home.”

Over the past decade, the two organizations have worked together to provide scholarships for students from Hilltop’s after-school program to attend Pilchuck’s summer courses. Several Hilltop Students have also been accepted in Summer Staff roles at Pilchuck.

From Artistic Director Tina Aufiero, “This Hilltop collaboration was a monumental experience for Pilchuck too. For years we’ve been impressed with the professionalism Hilltop instills in its young artists, and our campus has benefitted by having their alums participate as both students and staff. We were excited to share our campus and facilities to create a unique Pilchuck experience for them and I’m looking forward to continuing pathways for partnership.”

Recognizing complementary strengths in their missions, both organizations look forward to continued partnerships.

“It's rare that young people are given opportunities to be in an environment like Pilchuck,” shared Jessica Hogan, Production and After School Manager with Hilltop Artists. “The Hilltop Artists/ Pilchuck Glass School collaboration was such a wonderful experience for the young people in our program. They continue to practice the skills they learned and look forward to returning later this year.”

“Being exposed to such talented artists was so inspiring for them and we can't wait to develop this program even further to help encourage creativity in the young people we serve.”


Hilltop Artists and Pilchuck Glass School have already committed to two more immersive retreats this year (May and September 2018).

Pilchuck Glass School and Hilltop Artists wish to thank the Washington State Arts Commission, The Robert M. Minkoff Foundation, and The Craft School Experience, for generously underwriting this unique collaboration.