Water and Fire, A Love Story
An interview with Paul DeSomma and Marsha Blaker

Marsha Blaker and Paul DeSomma have been married for over twenty years. Both have an impressive reputation in the world of art. Their passion and respect for their profession and for each other was evident when recently I met with them in their Santa Cruz studio. They are quick to give each other credit for the other’s ideas and creations. They have become a team. Marsha’s expertise is conceptualizing how to transform glass into images of sea life and nature. Paul’s expertise is executing those unique ideas directly from the furnace. Out of fire, they create fabulous art that mimic flora, fauna, and creatures from the sea. On a personal note, the “water and fire” moniker goes deeper. I’ll explain later.

Marsha DeSomma earned masters degrees in ceramics and in glass from San Francisco State University. In the 70’s Marsha became the first female glass teaching assistant at SFSU where she worked with Paul Marioni (Dante’s father). In 1977, Blaker attended  the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State as a scholarship student. In 1989, she returned to Pilchuck as a staff member. Also, she taught at Cabrillo Junior College, Santa Cruz, California where she has a devoted following.

Paul received a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management. However, soon after graduation he decided that glass was his passion. Paul worked in a number of studios including New York’s Urban Glass, an experimental glass work shop.  He also blew glass at Ohio University and in Murano, Italy.  By 1989, he was Pilchuck’s Master Craftsman-in-Residence. Pilchuck provided Paul with the opportunity to work with some of the most respected glass artists, such as Flora Mace, Joey Kilpatrick, Dale Chihuly, Lino Tagliapietra, William Morris, and Pino Signoretto. Maestro Pino Signoretto is one of DeSomma’s most influential mentors. Pino guided Paul’s technical approach and influenced his sculptural aesthetic.  Pino taught Paul to “come up with whatever is necessary to get the job done.” Paul used these skills to succeed in establishing their shop in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is where Blaker and DeSomma live and work. In 1989, Paul and Marsha fell in love when she returned to Pilchuck as a staff member. Paul took notice as she stepped out of the van. He remembers “how cute she looked in her hat.” Later that evening, Paul introduced himself; meanwhile, Marsha thought “Blaker-DeSomma sounded like a wonderful name.” They were engaged in 1990 and were married in 1991. In 1996, they both traveled to Venice with Dale Chihuly to work on the well-documented Venice Project which consisted of fourteen massive glass-blown chandeliers hung over the canals of Venice.

Paul and Marsha worked separately until she was involved in a serious car accident in 2002. When Marsha recovered, they decided to merge their skills and techniques. Each brings their own aesthetics to their joint creations. Marsha has always had a bent for detail, texture, twists, and colors. Her inspiration comes from nature. Paul goes for the big form concept. His large forms have subtle detail. What glass is or does optically is Paul’s primary inspiration.

Soon after Marsha’s recovery from the auto accident, the two were invited to be artists in residence at Tacoma. Together they used teamwork and balance to enlarge and to add more detail to their sea creations.

Blaker/DeSomma’s first collaborative art forms were the “Waves.” To give the Waves depth, the couple create many layers of color. The Waves have been popular throughout the U.S., especially in Hawaii. However, this is only one of many Blaker/DeSomma creations. Others water themes include sea urchins and octopi.

Occasionally, DeSomma and Blaker enjoy going back to their individual art techniques. Paul’s spare time involves the creation of very large optical orbs with subtle black or clear designs. The orbs are placed in metal stands. One of Marsha’s signature pieces are blown vases encased in color, then immediately plunged into water to create patterns. 

Blaker/DeSomma sculptures are shown all over the country from Florida to Hawaii. In addition Vietre distributes many of Paul’s figurative works to stores, such as Neiman Marcus. 

Blaker/DeSomma art is tranquil, detailed, and beautifully executed. I think their work is simply beautiful. Elton John must think so as well because he purchased one of their sculptures.

Now for the double meaning of “water and fire” for Paul and Marsha. It turns out that Paul is a Sagittarius (the star sign for fire) while Marsha Blaker is a Cancer (the sign for water).  Since fire and water is so important in their work, how fitting that the couple met under the stars at Pilchuck.

[Shirley Roberts]