1st Ron Desmett Award Recipient

Percy Echols II was selected as the first recipient of the Ron Desmett Memorial Award for Imagination with Glass. The award recognizes artists who think outside of the box, practice curiosity, and take risks to create unique, imaginative works in glass or incorporating glass, characteristics that PGC’s late co-founder Ron Desmett valued. Echols receives a $2,500 cash award and time in PGC’s studios to create a new body of work between August 2018 and September 2019. Echols is the only recipient of the award this year. Fifty-one applications were received from around the world.

Percy Echols' Passion is Plasma

Percy Echols is passionate about plasma or plasma neon, a process requiring the technical and artist expressions of glass with the alchemical and scientific application of excited gases and specialized equipment used in neon. With this award, he will continue to build his skill set for plasma neon.

“Something that I feel I really need for my own work is the time to build and develop a foundation for this medium sculpturally. It would be a good time to push the scale of my work and to explore ideas in a realm that has never been seen in Pittsburgh,” he said.

He plans to:

  • Make original work that uses plasma as an artistic medium
  • Dispel the novel associations of plasma globes and neon signs
  • Research and develop a space to explore this new medium

“Plasma brings something unique to glass, and that is to invite touch, something very difficult. By producing light through the use of electrified gases it removes the barrier between the viewer and art with its animated glow, allowing an invitation for play as it responds to the viewer's proximity and touch,” he said.

Echols’ interest in plasma began in 2014 at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, WA. He was introduced to the medium through furnace glassblowing in a class taught by Patrick Collentine. 
He continued working in plasma while pursuing his BFA at Illinois State University while also working with a local neon and sign making shop in Bloomington, IL.

After graduation in 2016, Echols worked at Pittsburgh Glass Center as a studio technician apprentice. During that time he designed and built his first mobile neon lab, a compact and mobile system for vacuuming and filling vessels for plasma or neon tubing. He performed his first public demonstrations, conducted workshops and continued to experiment with the medium. In addition, he has been using the lab to collaborate with artists such as Robert Mickelsen and Chris Ahalt to create new work.

Echols launched a blog and podcast called “Taming Lightning” in May 2017 to connect with a larger plasma and neon community, build a network, conduct research and share ideas among artists and makers that use the medium. 

Most recently, Echols was invited to participate in a neon, plasma, and light exhibition on Murano called “Vetro Illuminato” during the Glass Art Society (GAS) Conference in May in Murano, Italy. This exhibition at Berengo Studio is on view until November 2018.

In August, Echols will be the teaching assistant to Wayne Strattman and Mundy Hepburn as they teach a plasma class this summer at Pittsburgh Glass Center from August 6 – 10.  Then he will begin his residency at PGC.

The Ron Desmett Memorial Award for Imagination with Glass

The Ron Desmett Memorial Award for Imagination with Glass was established in December 2017 to foster the characteristics that late PGC co-founder Ron Desmett valued including:

  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Practicing curiosity
  • Taking risks
  • Creating unique, imaginative works in glass or incorporating glass

PGC will award a minimum of $5,000 annually to an artist or scholar in one of four categories: youth, glass artist, idea furnace and critical writing. All awards will consist of a cash portion in the amount of $2,500 and an experiential portion consisting of classes and studio access valued at $2,500, for a total award value of $5,000. All awardees must come to PGC to participate as part of the award. Awardees must offer one lecture, demonstration or piece of critical writing for PGC as part of their award. The deadline to apply for the 2019 award is May 31, 2019. 

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