About Robin Mix
Robin Mix was first introduced to glassblowing at the University of Massachusetts in the early ‘70s. The challenges of the medium, the visually engaging, colorful and quick environment around the furnace intrigued him, sparking a 35-year career that took him through the glass factories of Northern Europe to some of America’s finest galleries and exhibitions. Artist and craftsman, Robin conceives his functional works and carries them, by his own hands, to completion.
Many designers will conjure up a design, and then hire others to produce it. Robin is not one of those. Robin designs and produces by, hand, every piece of glass.
The breadth of his passion for glass demands that he makes his own color. Few glass artists go to this extent. Most purchase standard color materials. Instead, Robin utilizes the old glass formulas he has studied for many years and maintains his own color recipes. Therefore, you will find colors in his pieces that are only available his work. He also produces his own murrini and flat cane.
Despite his recognizable work, Robin refuses to take himself too seriously. His self-proclaimed stubbornness reflects in his commitment to the art, but his passion for the medium makes him a willing conversationalist on the subject. This honest dedication results in a style of decorative glass that is not just ornamental; each piece stands out individually in its function and its representation of mastery and genuine innovation.
Robin’s curiosity for this medium took him, at the age of 21, to Sweden’s oldest and largest glass factory, Kosta Glasbruk. There he worked under or was influenced by the renowned designers and masters of that era including Bengt Heintze , Ann Warff (Wolff), Jan Erik Ritzman, Wilke Adolfsson and Sigurd Persson. He was exposed to the Swedish aesthetic: distinctive, architecturally influenced Scandinavian design with roots in Venetian tradition. He continued his studies at glass schools in Sweden, Holland, and Denmark, learning respect and a deeper appreciation of the medium.
Around the time Robin returned to the United States from Europe, the American Studio Glass Movement was already established. Robin found an abandoned farmhouse in Central Vermont and set up a studio.
In 1982, he hired the Dutch glass artist and furnace designer, Durk Valkema, to come to Vermont to build a state of the art glass furnace. This was a pivotal moment in his career. From that point on, he had access to better and more consistent hot glass.
Directly after the new furnace was installed, he reconnected with Darryl Hinz and his partner Anja Kjaer. Darryl and Anja were in the vanguard of the European Studio Glass Movement with a cutting edge glass shop,
Glassverkstedet , in Copenhagen. Their visits to Mix’s studio at that time were crucial to the development of Robin’s skills and artistic point of view.
Next came his study of the Italian glass masters of the 40s and 50s. His exploration was focused on the Venetians, the longest and most continuous bloodline of Italian glass. Robin had always collected glass and glass related books, but now he began to collect the works of the Italian designers such Laura Santilliana, Paolo Venini, Ercole Barovier, Carlo Scarpa, Flavio Polli, Napoleone Martinuzzi. A first trip to Venice in 1975, cemented his attraction and dedication to Italian glass. He has made numerous trips since then.
Robin was first exposed to trade beads (Venetian Trade Beads) in West Africa when his parents lived there. He had a visceral attraction to them and recounts that moment as the first time he admired the carved surface of a piece of glass. Years later, when he realized that it had been an enormous industry based in Venice, the “full circle” element of the experience was recognized.
Robin was one of the first American glassblowers to make and use murrini. Robin’s murrini glass is characterized by bold concentric squares and ribbons of vivid color, fused and drawn into fluid and functional vessels.
Unlike clay or paint, murrini glass is a temperamental medium that forces the artist to work within its inherent boundaries. The glass dictates color pairings, size, and shape. However, if an artist simply lets the glass take over, the work begins to look the same. Murrini’s thousand-year history inspires Robin’s to break this conformity.
Murrini principles are ancient; these mosaic glass techniques were practiced in Pompeii. Visit the Glossary to learn more about murrini. Robin recently extended his innovative vision into pixelato, another mosaic technique, invented by Robin, that effervesces tiny points of color throughout the glass.
Color in glass is created by combining chemicals and mineral oxides at very high temperatures. Most glassblowers use commercially produced color, but Robin finds mass-produced color limiting. Though he has no formal engineering or chemical training, he painstakingly custom mixes all of the jewel tones in his work. The result is a brilliant spectrum of hues not commonly found in American glass.
Robin’s work has been featured in the pages of The Boston Globe Magazine, Food & Wine, House Beautiful, Elle Décor, The New York Times and Architectural Digest among others. His vessels have been the focus of numerous exhibitions including the permanent collections of The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Design, The Museum of American Glass, and The Downey Museum of Art.
Born in Minnesota, I spent my childhood there until my parents moved to West Africa in my early teens. They were avid collectors and ultimately dealers in African art. Travel in Saharan and sub Saharan West Africa broadened my aesthetic view beyond the conventions of a suburban Midwest upbringing.
Introduced to glassblowing in college, my interest evolved as a diversion from architecture studies to my singular focus: functional glass vessels. Impatient with the limits of academic access to glass, I left school for the glass factories of Sweden. I was fortunate to find a position on the team of a celebrated master glassblower responsible for developing new bodies of work for the factory's designers. Watching them evolve ideas over weeks or even months profoundly affected my perspective on the creative process.
Immersion in the traditions of Scandinavian glass drew me back to the education: a trade school in a glass factory and art schools in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Studying the history of glassmaking, I became ever more aware of the importance of Venice in the evolution of the medium. Through repeated visits and avid study of Murano traditions with similarly glass-obsessed peers, I came to appreciate the island's output as the peak of the medium's evolution.
For the last 20 years I have devoted myself to mastering the techniques of the Venetian tradition, particularly the disciplines of the murrini technique.
Around the time Robin returned to the United States from Europe, the American Studio Glass Movement was beginning to take form.
In 1976 Robin converted an 18th century farmhouse in rural Vermont and founded Tunbridge Glassworks. Here he applies the disciplined approach learned in Europe to an exploration of glassblowing technique.
Over the years, Robin has trained many assistants. They have worked directly with him in his studio. In addition to pay, they exchanged work for “furnace time” and instruction. Many of them went on to be glass blowers in their own right: Dennis Mullen, Anthony Schaefermeyer, Claire Kelly, Tom Farbanish, Tracy Glover, Marc Barreda.
American Studio Glass Movement
The American Studio glass began in the 60's when major universities began offering glass blowing classes to art students. This was made possible by the development of small furnaces, which made molten glass accessible outside an industrial setting.
After the initial excitement of playing with a new material, studio glassblowers turned to historical glass traditions for inspiration.
From Canna the Italian reference to rods of glass resembling the reeds growing in the lagoons of the region.
Pieces cut from lengths of cane in my case usually square.
A type of Murrini I developed involving fusing multiple canes resulting in highly detailed patterns. The techniques of the Venetian trade bead industry were an inspiration for this styel. At the turn of the century there was large scale manufacturing of these beads, which were shipped throughout the world.
The Scandinavian glass industry afforded fine arts academics the opportunity to learn fundamental hand working skills in the factory setting. In contrast to the Venetian glass industry, Scandinavia was open to outsiders coming in to observe and learn.
As studio artists delved deeper into the traditions and history of glassblowing, however, the preeminence of the Venetian industry came to be appreciated in spite of, or maybe because of its inaccessibility.
With the longest continuous history of glassmaking in the world, the Murano factories are the dominant influence on studio glass artists.
Venetian trade beads
Trade beads (sometimes called slave beads) were otherwise decorative glass beads used between the 16th and 20th century as a currency to exchange for goods, services and slaves (hence the name). The beads traded were not of a set design, but were produced according to demand. Millefiori (thousand flower) beads from Venice, Italy were one of the most commonly traded beads, and are commonly known as "African trade beads." They were produced by creating flowers or stripes from glass canes, that were then cut and molded onto a core of solid color.