Artist Spotlight: Randy Strong

I want to start by thanking Randy Strong, for his years of service as a valued Glass Alliance Board Member. We appreciate his contributions over the years, as well as his contributions to the community as a whole.

Randy is one of a handful of early pioneering American Glass Artists that define the studio glass movement. His first taste of working with glass came in 1969 at the California College of the Arts, where he began by studying ceramics with renowned ceramicist and mentor Peter Voulkos.

Randy Strong with Dale Chihuly, Ruth Tamura, John Landers, John Landon

He has since gone on to explore what was a largely unknown frontier at the time, the realm of studio art glass. His color-saturated, seemingly gravity-defying, and multi-piece sculptures have been acquired by collectors internationally, and are a part of collections ranging from The Corning Museum in New York to the Louvre in Paris. His newest sculptural work again breaks new ground, and reflects his continued passion for the medium.

I had the opportunity to interview Randy recently, and gain some insight into this new chapter in his life.  When I called him, I knew he had resigned from the GLANC Board, and retired from glass … I was curious to see where his energy would be directed next. Below is a glimpse of my conversation with Randy that captures various periods in his life, and what is coming next!

Demetra: Name 3 words you would use to describe your career.

Randy: *chuckle* Lucky, challenged, and inspired.

Demetra: Inspired … let’s talk about your inspiration, starting with earlier years.

Indian Head, 1979. Cast crystal, black glass, opaque white glass, gold.
Acid etched with concrete base and steel
Purchase award by Canadian government
Donated to the Louvre Museum
32” high x 18” wide x 8” deep

Randy: I am of the age that I grew up with icons like Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger. The underlying story was always about the good guy winning. That greatly influenced me, and I continued to be influenced by the good in my life, nature, and those teachers who taught me in a positive and generous way.
When I was in school, it was difficult for me. I didn’t do well and this made me scared of failure. These bad experiences also made me want to be a positive influence on others.

Demetra: Has that mindset changed at all over time?

Randy: I have really had two different lives. The first life, I was trying to figure things out and didn’t really know who I was and what was right. Then midlife, things really came into focus. I started to figure out who I really was. I don’t call it a midlife crisis but a midlife wonder! I grew up wanting to be like the good guys – showing people the path, being positive, and helping them find their way. The best way to say it is I am in love with the good things – influence is everywhere, good and bad, and I always look for the good in people. I also accept the reality of life, the yin and yang, and how the good and bad can exist together.

Every day is about always looking for influence. I want to express the beauty in life, [and bring that to others]. I allow nature to use me as a translator, to use my fingers and emotions, to express things that build up inside of me. That emotion comes through me, and out into each piece, for people to enjoy and see what I see.

Bluewind 2013
18” high x 30” wide x 14” deep
Private Collection

Demetra: Does spirituality play into your communication with nature and your art?

Randy: I want to express the spiritual reality of our world. We do things that cut us off from being connected to nature, and I want to bring us back; I want my work to bring pleasure to the viewer.

Demetra: In the process of trying to create this communication, what is most challenging for you?

Randy: The biggest challenge is that the answers I seek, are really just good guesses that I create out of trial and error. Life is a challenge, a rollercoaster, and with the ups and downs you have no choice, but to figure it out. Looking at the big picture, this challenge is constant. I have to figure out how to move forward.

Demetra: I am sensing a great deal of change, and even some uncertainty.

Randy: I am trying to change who I am, while understanding and accepting the fear of losing [the person I am leaving behind]. I fear not being relevant. I fear not coming up with anymore good ideas, of not being able to add positively to the lives of others.

Creation, Crystal Glass Edged
circa 1978
15” high x 6” wide x 4” deep
Private Collection

Demetra: Many were surprised to hear the announcement that you retired. Is this true? Were you really able to step away from the glassblowing studio?

Randy:  Well … about a year ago, I started getting real tired, and I wanted to have a game plan for my future. Everything was just too much, and I couldn’t see the good stuff anymore. Once I made that decision to retire, I suddenly felt like I had more control over my life. I had a sense of ease about my future, and could see a light at the end of the tunnel. I participated in the La Quinta Festival, as my last big show. But I also had the best show of my career, and it left me feeling inspired!

Desert Cactus 2012
32” high x 15” wide x 14” deep
Collection, City of La Quinta

I think I was always so freaked out about failing that I was pushing myself too hard, and always doing too much. I couldn’t see the good anymore, or appreciate my art. But with my new sense of inspiration, I realized that I could still make glass, but in a way that is for me.  So I changed my mind, and decided not to retire. I want to focus on making work that makes me feel good. I want to take risks, to challenge myself again! And to do so without the pressure of paying the bills and keeping up the studio. This led to my decision to close my studio, but still continue making glass.

Demetra: It sounds like the best of both worlds!

Randy: Well everything is such a learning process, and I am always searching for the answers. Sometimes you can stumble over a question a thousand times, before you stumble one last time, and finally find the answer.

Ruth Tamura, John Landers, John Landon, Dale Chihuly: Meeting with John Hallburg
to pick the site for Pilchuck
Photo by Randy Strong, Circa 1971

Demetra: It sounds like you have a new-found acceptance, of where you are in your life, and where your future will take you.

Randy: Acceptance is such a powerful word. Trying to accept what is coming down the path, when you can’t always see how it all fits together … but I am one of the luckiest people I know. I have never had a lack of imagination or ideas. The biggest difficulty is trying to figure out which one to take! Now that I have moved on from being a master craftsman, to focusing on art, I have to be very selective. One of my new ideas involves creating work where the buyer can swap out pieces, and actually change the composition of the artwork. It is so exciting – it’s like watching a flower bloom! For the first time I have a door that I can open and walk through and it is very exciting. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I am making the work that I want to make. I am also working on an incredible book on Glass Maker’s people, that has been years in the making. These individuals have been making glass for over 35 years, and this book is to honor their contributions to the glass community.

Demetra: It sounds like there are exciting times ahead for you! It is always difficult to strike a balance, and it is inspiring to see that you are still creating glass, developing new ideas, and always looking for a new area of exploration. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with our membership, and again, thank you for your contributions as a Glass Alliance Board Member. Thank you.

Blue Orchid, 2014
Private Collection, Palm Springs

Red Orchid, 2013
Private Collection
28” high x 15” wide x 13” deep

[Demetra Theofanous]