Rodman Miller: A glass act

Rodman Miller loves his work. He exudes artistic character, often clad with brightly colored shirts and white, canvas sneakers coated with blotches of spray paint.

This glass blower has been at it for 15 years, and the aesthetics of the Fremont neighborhood have benefited greatly from his passion to create glossy gems with colorfully crafted contours.

Whether it's the neon "Rapunzel" sculpture at the Fremont Bridge or his "glass cookies" decorating the concrete at Ernst Park, Miller's work decorates Fremont like the blood platelets he used to gaze at through a microscope as a micro-anatomy doctoral candidate at the University of California San Diego.

In fact, glass blowing is in his blood: His great-grandfather was the world-renowned glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Organic work

As a young New Yorker, Miller was fond of glass, but he didn't consider it as a career because his first love was science.

In the early '80s his affinity for peering into the electron microscope led him to become an anatomy professor at Calgary University. During his tenure at the Canadian school, Miller took a glass-blowing class at the Alberta College of Art. He became consumed by this medium, but never lost his interest in science. Now, he says, he just prefers making a living as a glass blower.

"I still have a passion for science, but I don't have a passion for academic politics," Miller stated. "As a student and professor I worked a lot on anatomy and the electron microscope, so I think that a lot of my forms are kind of organic in many senses on the small scale." Miller said of his work. "Science has certainly had an affect on the aesthetic of what I like."

He pointed to glass infused with copper pipe surrounding Peet's Coffee and Tea in Fremont.

"Like these here - these are all very organic. I did all that glass," he said, proudly.

Miller is the innovator of this technique that fuses glass with copper pipe. Anna Sher did the metal work for Miller surrounding the building at North 34th Street and Fremont Avenue North.

"He was very open to what I needed to do, and his creativity was very open," Sher stated. "He is very skilled and able to go with the flow."

A tradition that's going away?

Rodman moved to Seattle because of the glass-blowing tradition here.

"There's a lot of glass-blowing in Seattle," Miller said. "It's the capital of glass-blowing in this country - some people would argue, the world."

Miller - a knowledgeable man, yet often laconic - did have a lot to say about the glass-blowing industry.

"Competition in glass-blowing is going to get very rough in a very short time because the Chinese are getting very good, and they will work for less," Miller said of his recent trip to China.

"The shortage is not in the number of glass-blowers but in the market, and [other countries are] going to take over this market in the next 10 years," Miller projected. "For instance, if you go to the Fremont Market now, you can get a piece for $20 that four years ago might have cost you $400. One of the sad things happening in this country is that we're sending all of our skilled jobs to other countries....We're losing all of our skilled jobs, and I'm afraid that will include glass blowing within five to 10 years.

"The reason that I decided to go to China is that the future of glass inside the U.S.A. seems to involve other countries, such as China. The market is moving offshore because glass can be made for cheaper there.

"When you go to Seattle glass or pottery shops, how much is made in the U.S.A.? Nothing. Everything else is being made in other countries. Things might be designed here but are made in countries like China. The same goes for other things from drapes to computer components."

A love of the craft

Whatever the future holds for glass-blowing, one thing for certain is that today Miller does sell his glass vases and kitchenware at local stores and national department chains for displays.

His studio is filled with beautiful vases and finials that decorate such architectural structures as fences.

But he's not concerned about how much money he profits from his profession.

"I don't know where it comes from," Miller said of his income. "I do what I like to do, and I hope that it sells. And if it doesn't sell, I end up keeping it."

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