Percy Echols II Shares International Plasma Neon Experiences
Last October, Percy Echols II, Pittsburgh Glass Center’s resident plasma and neon expert, traveled to Sweden for two weeks to visit The Glass Factory in Boda, and then to Boston to attend the inaugural conference of the Plasma Art Alliance. Both of these experiences allowed him to meet and share knowledge with other plasma artists from across the globe, some of whom Percy was able to meet in person for the first time.
The Glass Factory is located within a region of southern Sweden known as the “Kingdom of Crystal” due to its history as a hotspot for glass production. Much like PGC, the Glass Factory appreciates this historic regional tradition and supports the continued creation of glass art in the present, functioning as both a museum and an active hot shop. Percy was invited there by Ed Kirshner, a legend in the plasma art world who Percy describes as one of his key mentors. At the Glass Factory, Kirshner led a plasma workshop that was co-taught by Percy and Jaime Guerrero, similar to those held at PGC last summer.
Percy described his time teaching and learning with Kirshner as the most valuable part of his trip to Sweden. The workshop further explored the medium and allowed 10 students to learn about plasma and experiment with integrating it into their art. The students came from a variety of backgrounds–many were glass artists, but not all regularly used plasma, while one student was a plasma specialist but not a glass artist. Percy noted that each person had specific techniques or styles they had refined on their own, and seeing them combine their own styles with plasma inspired him both technically and aesthetically. Back in Pittsburgh, he hopes to incorporate the new forms and approaches he saw in Sweden into future works.
Outside of working with Kirshner, Percy also visited other neon and glass artists in their studios. Tommy Gustafsschiöld of Nordiska Neon and Diod, the only neon bender currently active in the country, showed Percy his studio setup in Västerås (near Stockholm, to the north of Boda glasbruk), and then traveled with him down to The Glass Factory. Percy, Jaime Guerrero, and one of the students from the plasma workshop traveled to Kosta, a town close to Boda that also boasts a rich history of glass production and a strong representation of glass art in the present. There they met Bertil Vallien, the master of sandcast glass, in his studio and got a first look at his upcoming production line. The group also stopped in at the Kosta Boda Art Hotel, a unique space filled with custom glass artworks that create the effect of staying in a huge glass installation. Percy will return to Sweden in May 2020 for the Glass Art Society Conference, where he will be showing off the potential of plasma and neon applications in the hot shop.
In Boston, Percy continued to connect with plasma and neon artists like Wayne Strattman, Mundy Hepburn, and Pat Collentine of the Plasma Art Alliance, with other active members such as Harriet Schwarzrock and Aaron Ristau The PAA is a relatively new organization and this was their first “meetup” style conference. There, artists shared ideas and gave updates on their processes. The community atmosphere created at the conference provided Percy with an even greater respect for those involved in plasma art. He is very passionate about engaging with and growing the community and hopes more artists will learn more about plasma and join the PAA.
Back home in Pittsburgh, Percy has a number of projects he is working on, with one of the biggest being his Mobile Plasma Lab. This is a portable station that can bring plasma capabilities into different studios. Percy also hopes to eventually take it into schools as a teaching device that will allow students to realize the wider possibilities of crossovers between art and science. Currently, he is working on making the design of the Mobile Lab less technically intimidating, taking inspiration from setups and designs shared by neon and plasma artist that he follows.
Recently, Percy was also awarded an Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant. The award, a joint program of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments, has allowed him to do much of his recent traveling, and work on the Mobile Plasma Lab. It has also allowed him to spend more time further developing his own artistic work.
If you are interested in plasma and want to get hands-on experience with this unique medium, Percy will be teaching two classes at PGC this summer alongside Ed Kirshner and Pat Collentine. In June 2020, Percy and Ed will run the “Plasma Vessels Using Glass Solder” class, where you can learn how to use a unique soldering technique to repurpose existing glass objects into beautiful plasma artworks. This class is open to all skill levels from beginners to experts. Percy and Pat will also be teaching “It's All About The Light,” a class for beginners, in August.
By Simone Traub, Pittsburgh Glass Center Intern