Top of the Glass

Top of the Glass

By Scott Osborn ’94

Punahou’s Glassblowing Program Flourishes

Set in the Samuel and Mary Castle Art Center, Punahou’s glass shop is a beehive of activity. Academy students work in pairs, performing what seems to be a perfectly choreographed dance among bellowing furnaces, while shaping molten glass into beautiful works of art.

Retired art teacher Hugh Jenkins launched Punahou’s glassblowing program in 1972, establishing an instructional foundation that has flourished over the years. It is believed to be the first glass blowing program in the country to be integrated into a high school curriculum. After retiring in 1998, Jenkins literally passed the torch to one of his former students, Mark Mitsuda ’88, who continues to teach Academy students how to blow and shape glass.

Mitsuda clearly remembers his first experience in glassblowing at Punahou. “I loved the glass shop itself almost the minute I stepped into it – the equipment and tools all had a combination of old world and high tech at the same time,” he said.

Although some things have changed, the facilities look very much like it did in 1972. “If you look carefully, there are still pieces of equipment and tools left over in the shop from when I was a student,” Mitsuda said.

Ever popular, approximately 120 – 150 Academy students a year enroll in two semester glassblowing classes. This foundational instruction has inspired several alumni to pursue the art form professionally. Notable glass artists to come out of the program include JP Canlis ’92, Geoff Lee ’92, Lee Miltier ’86, David Naito ’92, Boyd Sugiki ’87 and Jonathan Yao ’01.

Beyond technical instruction, Mitsuda has made an effort to expose students to professional artists – whether they attended Punahou or not. A visit last fall by acclaimed glass artist William Morris was the perfect example of how powerful this type of experience can be. “It was such an inspiration; it had a profound effect on me,” said David Imig ’19, who participated in a Q&A session with Morris during an advanced glassblowing class. “Seeing someone who’s so much better than I am and being so incredibly humble – it was special to get to watch that.”

A visit with master artist William Morris

Renowned glass artist William Morris spent four days at Punahou last fall, as part of the School’s artist-in-residency program. After an acclaimed 30-year career, Morris retired from glassblowing in 2007, and is still considered one of the great American masters of glass art. Along with participating in Chapels, a public forum and classroom talks, Morris sat down with glassblowing instructor Mark Mitsuda ’88 and Chaplain George Scott. The following is an excerpt from their conversation:

What was your life like growing up and during your high school years?
I was born and raised in Carmel, California, and attended Carmel High. I felt out of place in high school. Fortunately, there was a program in their ceramics department that became a sanctuary. It was separate from the campus. The instructor became a mentor of mine, and the opportunity to work with my hands and create was the thing that stabilized me and gave me a sense of purpose.

What made you decide to visit Punahou?
My wife works in education, and she has so much passion for it. I watch her and the gratification she gets from it and the discussions we have about it. Then I think about my history, how it was for me when I was young, and how certain influences and encounters changed my life for the better. The most important thing is how these kids take care of this world and how they need to deal with that. I’m so inspired by so many young people today who are conscious of this.

What has your time at Punahou been like?
I’m just in awe of the Punahou community. This place is extraordinary. When I see these kids running around in their bare feet, and I hear all the laughter, I see the beautiful architecture, the landscaping, the plants, the gardens and the love for these kids, it’s inspiring.

If I had a message to kids it would be to have faith. It never gets any easier. You just develop more faith that things will work out if you’re just being a good person, following your passion and being disciplined. If you just have faith, you will be surprised. I could never have thought of the life that I have today. I just kept showing up, and I developed more and more faith as I went. So keep showing up, keep doing it and it will work out. It will evolve into something beautiful.

What have you been doing in the past 11 years or so since you retired?
It’s been an interesting journey, because I had to learn how to not be that person – that William Morris, and I didn’t know who else was there. I was very attached to that – the accolades, attention, money. Then you take all that away, and it’s like, well, what’s left? What else do you love? So I had a good period where I felt like the hole in the donut, and I wasn’t quite sure how to be that person, so I transferred a lot of energy and time into continually making things, but not for sale, not for show.

You’re very involved in the Hawaiian community. What has it been like learning about Hawai’i?
The biggest part has been learning about this culture and having a perspective on Hawai‘i when you’ve only seen it from the outside. Then you try to enter a community and realize the way you have been taught to see the world doesn’t apply to this particular culture. Challenging all that has probably been the most gratifying part of being in the Hawaiian culture, and then learning about the ocean, ‘āina and way of relating that mainland people just don’t do.

William Morris’ residency at Punahou was made possible by Chris ’67 and Christine Smith. Their generous support provides enhanced educational opportunities for our students.

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