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Master Glassblower James McLeod on His Training, His Team, and the Tradition of Glass-Blowing

November 07, 2018

Master Glassblower James McLeod on His Training, His Team, and the Tradition of Glass-Blowing

Master glassblower James McLeod with his Bubble Factory team.

When we first began designing our glass bowls, we knew we wanted to partner with local artists to create them—artists who celebrate the practice, the process, and the tradition of hand-blowing glass.

We found that partner in James McLeod of the Bubble Factory in Essex, MA and he was kind enough to share his story with us.

When did you know you wanted to become an artist? And how did you end up specializing in glassblowing?

I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember, and I started working with glass while I was in college in 1998. I was an illustration major at the California College of Arts and Crafts, and I took an introductory glassblowing class as an elective. I was hooked right away!

I was initially drawn to glassblowing because of the fire, the technical challenges, and the teamwork involved. I remember saying to myself, "This is it! I’ve found what I want to do, and I'm going to put everything I have into learning this trade."

What kind of training was involved in becoming a glassblower?

I worked in multiple glassblowing studios while I was still in college and continued to work in a range of different glass studios and factories until I started my full-time teaching position at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) in 2006.

I worked my way up over the years from a basic studio assistant, cleaning the shop and charging the furnaces at R. Strong Glass in Berkeley, CA; to running my own custom fabrication business through Urban Glass in Brooklyn. Over the years, I also showed pieces as a sculptor and worked as an educator teaching glass-blowing classes.

I have always been inspired by the next interesting project or work of art that has just been started. Exploration and experimentation are the challenges that keep this artform interesting.

Artists James McLeod and Dylan Levash-Rabbe at work creating a Serve Kindness bowl.

How did the Bubble Factory come to be?

I started working with glass in college, and it was always my dream to open a multi-disciplinary art studio. To be honest, the scale and scope of the Bubble Factory happened on accident!

My wife and I moved from Boston to Essex in 2015 when we had our first child. And my wife likes to say "we bought a barn with a house attached to it.” So, we suddenly had a huge, beautiful raw space that was asking to be converted into the studio it is today.

I’ve had many different styles of art studios over the years but nothing near the scale of what we have now. In some ways, everything happened by accident at first, and transformed quickly and organically. The goal was to take all the good aspects of studios that I (and my team) have worked in over the years, and design our studio with those qualities in mind.

Tell us about your partnership with Serve Kindness and the process of creating our bowls.

I was contacted by Serve Kindness in June 2017 to discuss the prospect of creating a production line of glass bowls. I have worked with dozens of clients over the years and what struck me about Jillian and Melissa immediately was that the intentions of their business were in the right place. They are both very fun to work with, humanistic, creative, and socially conscious. And it was clear from the beginning that they extremely business savvy.  

We developed a good working relationship and began prototyping the initial designs for the bowls together. We spent months experimenting with designs until Jillian and Melissa honed in on the ones they liked and made their final design decisions.

My role in the process was to help translate their ideas into glass and to find the most efficient and effective way to execute the design. The color combinations we work with can be very challenging and temperamental at times, and our constant goal is to help maintain a standard of excellence. This work is about form and color and neither of those factors can be compromised.

For Serve Kindness and every client I partner with, every single piece we produce takes the exact same amount of focus. So we are constantly looking at ways to rethink and improve our process.

James McLeod at the Bubble Factory MA with Serve Kindness

Do you work with a team at the Bubble Factory?

I have an absolutely amazing team of glassblowers working at the Bubble Factory, and I am reminded of that every day!

In addition to being talented glassblowers, everyone who works here has participated in each stage of the studio renovation, construction, and equipment fabrication. Part of the deal I make with my team is that everybody has to know how do everything here.  

A business is only as strong as the people that work there. And we have a highly capable, diverse, creative, intelligent crew of artists who enjoy the glass-blowing process. Everyone who currently works for the Bubble Factory was at one point a student of mine at MassArt. They were all students who showed a great deal of promise, went off to pursue their own careers, and are now an integral part of what makes the Bubble Factory the place it is.

Learn more about James and his team at www.bubblefactoryma.com and follow their work on Instagram.

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James McLeod with team and Serve Kindness at the Bubble Factory MA






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