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Sonja Blomdahl: Queen of Symmetry

Talking Out Your Glass podcast

Release Date: 11/19/2021

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Strong. Calm. Serene. So are the vessels of Sonja Blomdahl. In an industrial neighborhood near Seattle’s Lake Union, the artist turned loose her vivid colors into the unsuspecting gray of her spacious cinderblock and cement studio. If a Scandinavian flavor is detected in the hue of her celestial orbs, it is by chance as she credits rainy Seattle as her primary inspiration.

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Strong. Calm. Serene. So are the vessels of Sonja Blomdahl. In an industrial neighborhood near Seattle’s Lake Union, the artist turned loose her vivid colors into the unsuspecting gray of her spacious cinderblock and cement studio. If a Scandinavian flavor is detected in the hue of her celestial orbs, it is by chance as she credits rainy Seattle as her primary inspiration. But Blomdahl is in fact of Swedish descent, leaving some collectors of her work to wonder if the Scandinavian sense of style and design is in her blood. 

After graduating from Massachusetts College of Art with a BFA in ceramics, Blomdahl studied at Orrefors Glass School in Sweden for six months, providing her with a solid background in efficiently handling her material. Upon arrival at the glass factory in 1976, she had $300 in her pocket. When her apprenticeship was over and in need of cash, Blomdahl went to work as a cleaning woman in a Swedish hospital to finance trips to Italy and the British Isles. Back in Massachusetts, she blew glass in a New Hampshire studio for nine months until Dan Dailey, a former teacher at Mass Art, invited her to be his teaching assistant at Pilchuck. 

Three weeks at Pilchuck in the summer of 1978 proved to be a pivotal time in Blomdahl’s career, for it was there that she viewed the Italian master Checco Ongaro demonstrate the double bubble or incalmo technique. She honed this process over the next two years while working at the Glass Eye Studio in Seattle and teaching glassblowing at Pratt Fine Arts Center. After her first exhibition at Traver in 1981, Blomdahl stopped working at the Glass Eye, bought a three-month Euro Rail pass and traveled around Europe. There, she had the opportunity to produce new work in Ann Wolff’s studio in Sweden – a wonderful experience that further entrenched Blomdahl’s desire to establish her own hotshop. She shipped the work made there back to Seattle and had a second sell-out show at Traver, allowing her to build a studio in 1982, where she worked for the next 25 years.

Currently on view in Venice and American Studio Glass, curated by Tina Oldknow and William Warmus, Blomdahl’s work was the focus of solo exhibitions at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery, Alabama; Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks, West Tisbury, Massachusetts; and the William Traver Gallery, Tacoma, Washington. Permanent installations and collections include American Craft Museum, New York, New York; Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas; Museum of Decorative Art, Prague, Czech Republic; Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York; and Kitazawa Contemporary Glass Museum, Kitazawa, Japan, to name a few. She has held teaching positions at Pratt Fine Arts Center, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine, and the Appalachian Center in Smithville, Tennessee. 

Blomdahl’s focus has been the vessel. She states: “In the vessel, I find the form to be of primary importance. It holds the space. In a sense, the vessel is a history of my breath: It contains the volume within. If I have done things correctly, the profile of the piece is a continuous curve; the shape is full, and the opening confident. Color is often the joy in making a piece. I want the colors to glow and react with each other. The clear band between the colors acts as an optic lens; it moves the color around and allows you to see into the piece. The relationship between form, color, proportion, and process intrigued me.”