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Pittsburgh Glass Center Tech Apprenticeship Offers World of Opportunities to Developing Artists

  • Strittmatter piece entitled "On, Going" (detail)

Since its establishment in 2001, the Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) has provided opportunities for curious members of the community and developing artists alike to learn, practice, and create works of art. Since 2016, Peoples has been a proud partner of the Technical Apprenticeship Program at PGC, which helps bring artists to the region to hone their technical skills and build lasting relationships with educators and other designers. One apprentice, Rachael Strittmatter is just beginning her journey at PGC, but is using the experience to expand her already-impressive portfolio.

Strittmatter first became interested in material arts during her time in high school just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“I started with ceramics and continued crafting during my time at Harrisburg Area Community College,” she said. “I knew I was inclined toward an artistic career path, but something just didn’t seem quite right with ceramics.”

It wasn’t until she signed up for a glassblowing class at the college that she knew in which artistic medium she wanted to build a career.

“I realized what had been missing,” she said. “The teamwork, intensity, and sheer magic of the molten material initially drew me in and continues to captivate me today.”

Strittmatter says that making her first piece, a clear glass cup, allowed her to practice a variety of common tools and techniques of the glassblowing process and made her want to explore more things she could do in the medium.

Following her time at HACC, Strittmatter earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2020 before joining PGC’s Tech Apprenticeship Program in January 2021.

“I heard about PGC’s program through word of mouth when I was attending a course at a craft school in North Carolina,” she explained. “A former PGC apprentice was there and explained the significant positive impact the program had on him.”

After more research, Strittmatter felt like it was the right place to continue her training.

“PGC is arguably one of the best public access glass studios in the country. The apprenticeship allows emerging artists the time and space to continue to grow and make their work,” she added. “This can be brutal to do once you’re out of school and the luxuries of time, access, and resources are stripped away. That’s why programs like these are so highly regarded and attractive within the glassblowing community.”

Though she’s only been at PGC for a few months, she’s already learned a variety of skills and made connections.

“The work that we do as apprentices, such as equipment maintenance, is the kind of experience that you really only learn through doing,” she said. “These skills are so highly valuable and marketable to carry on to any glass studio I may work at. One of the most valuable things that I’m currently experiencing is how great PGC has been at creating a glass community through this program. I think it’s safe to say that most of the people who currently work here are former tech apprentices.”

Strittmatter is also excited about the projects she’ll get to participate in with the program over the next year.

“On March 5, we gathered as many PGC gaffers as possible and created a life-size birthday cake for the organization’s 20th anniversary,” she said. “There were so many techniques being used for one object and it was very cool to see because it doesn’t happen all that often. I’m also looking forward to the Hot Wheels program. Gaffers from PGC tour locally in the summer to provide demonstrations for the public and educate them about the glass-working process and PGC in general.”

Outside of PGC, Strittmatter is putting her artistic abilities to use and on display. Her work has been featured in numerous international exhibitions, and she’s had international residences in Japan and the Czech Republic. She’s also had teaching assistant positions at Corning Museum of Glass in New York and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine. This fall, she’ll have her first solo exhibition.

“Last year, my BFA thesis show Latent was canceled due to the pandemic. However, this year, the show will go on from October 8 to November 21 at Glass Axis Studio and Gallery in Columbus, Ohio,” she shared. “Having my own thesis show was more important to me than the graduation ceremony, so I’m excited to finally move forward with it after over a year.”

As for long-term goals, Strittmatter hopes to contribute to the glassblowing industry by building the same passion she has for the craft in others.

“I definitely see some form of teaching as one of my long-term career goals,” she said. “I find the process of educating to be significantly rewarding. Ultimately though, as long as I’m heavily involved with a glass studio and community that values my work, I’ll be happy. Being around others, being able to create my own work, and helping others bring their visions to life are what inspire me to continue doing what I do.”

Stritmatter’s advice to anyone hoping to pursue a career in the arts is simple.

“If anyone is lucky enough to find that something in their life that they are passionate about, follow it,” she said. “Don’t let fear of failure or judgment stop you from pursuing your interests and the things that make you happy. Six years ago I would have never imagined this to be my life, but it’s happened in the best way possible. Glassblowing has taken me all over the world and I’ve met many friends along the way. I’m so grateful to have found my passion.”

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