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Jason McDonald: Investigating Identity, Racism and Representation

Talking Out Your Glass podcast

Release Date: 08/26/2021

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Talking Out Your Glass podcast

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In his current work, glassblower Jason McDonald tells important stories about social inequality through his intentionally made, well-crafted objects. His successful interweaving of those two trajectories continues to evolve through life-changing experiences such as his participation on the popular Netflix competition series Blown Away 2 and his recent week-long Murano, Italy, study with Maestro Davide Fuin as the recipient of the Windgate-Lamar Fellowship. 

McDonald states: “My work takes two divergent paths. With one path, I craft objects that examine and critique, through a racial and economic lens, the inequalities that exist between black and white people in the United States. I cast my gaze on the disparities in the US from life expectancy, to the achievement gap, to the too frequent election of racist officials. I seek to spark a dialogue between viewers and their relationship with the ugly reality of a nation built on the backs of my ancestors, my family, and myself, while simultaneously demonizing us. I find personal power by expressing myself this way, as I attempt to understand and explain my lived experience as a person of African descent. By making this work I hope to shed light, for myself and my viewers, on what it means to be a black person in America today and a product of 400 years of racist ideology and policy making.”

He continues: “The other path is one where I explore my curiosity about the material of glass itself. My work often begins as a study of a specific technique, tool, or property of glass. I create iteratively, often focusing on a single idea for weeks at a time. More than technical pursuits alone, I might become fascinated with the optical quality of glass, or the weight of the material, or innovating new methods of making. The limitless nature of glass is fertile ground for exploration.”

An artist, gardener, and outdoor enthusiast living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, McDonald began in glass at age 14 through his participation in the Hilltop Artists program in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington. Though he spent the majority of his glass career dedicated to the development of technical prowess, McDonald grew dissatisfied with being a maker only and finished his undergraduate degree at California College of the Arts in Oakland in 2018. Currently, he is enrolled as a graduate student in pursuit of an MFA degree at Tyler School of Art and Architecture. 

Each year, the Windgate-Lamar Fellowship identifies 10 graduating college seniors with exemplary skill in craft. Awardees receive $15,000 — one of the largest and most prestigious awards offered nationally to art students. A 2021 Windgate fellowship recipient, McDonald will exhibit new work at Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) in Full Spectrum: Visionaries Elevating Art, Craft, and Design on view February 4 – May 23, 2022. In the summer of 2022, he will teach at Penland School of Craft the first two weeks of July, at PGC from July 25 – 29 and at The Corning Museum of Glass the first week of August.

A self-described vessel maker, McDonald uses classic forms to study identity, racism and representation. For one of the challenges on Blown Away 2, he created a container resembling a calabash gourd, a shape he uses as an analog for people of African descent. Other McDonald vessels combine Swedish overlay technique and classic Greek vessel forms, engraved with the artist’s disturbing narrative – black men jailed, black men being shot in the back by police. His series of delicately blown glass goblets, Besieged, tells the story of a lack of representation of people of color in the glass community. “I want it to start a conversation, even if it’s just within themselves. That’s what I hope my art does for audiences.”