by Kris Dinnison

The Northwest is a sort of mecca for glass artists of the world, and one of the West Side's finest glassblowers is bringing his work to Spokane this month. Mariusz Rynkiewicz, a native of Poland, is showing his latest work at the Douglas Gallery beginning this weekend.

Recent years have brought glass blowing into a more prominent place in American artistic sensibilities. However, the art form is more commonplace in Rynkiewicz's hometown of Bialystok, Poland.

"I grew up with a glass factory next door to me," explains Rynkiewicz. But even with glassmakers in his neighborhood, it wasn't until Rynkiewicz was a teenager that he began to realize what might be possible in this medium. During a visit to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, he saw the work of ancient Venetian glass artists, and it changed everything.

"I never saw anything complicated before," says Rynkiewicz, who will be at the Douglas Gallery on Friday and Saturday. "So I saw something really amazing that I didn't know humans could do. I was very curious about how this could happen."

Rynkiewicz's curiosity led him back home to those factories in his neighborhood where he started training as a glass blower in 1978. "The first time I tried, I made a bubble," Rynkiewicz laughs. "And everybody said I was talented." With both the talent and the passion, Rynkiewicz began his training, but it wasn't too long before his ideas for the glass outgrew the factories. "I never was an artist in Poland, I was a factory worker," Rynkiewicz explains. "I was looking for more education in glass, more of what I wanted to do... I saw that Poland was not doing what I had seen when I was going to school."

With this realization, Rynkiewicz left Poland in 1987 and started looking for a home as an artist. After a brief stay in Spain, he decided to come to the United States, and made the Pacific Northwest his home. Since coming to Seattle, Rynkiewicz has studied with some of the best glass artists in the world, including Dante Mationi and Lino Tagliapietra, and in 1995 he realized his dream of creating his own studio, Studio Rynkiewicz in Everett.

"When I came here, I was really so lucky," says Rynkiewicz. "I met a lot of great people. There are a whole bunch of skillful people coming here (to the Northwest). It's really easy to find people to work with."

Relationships like those he has found since coming to America are at the center of his work. Rynkiewicz's wife, Dorota, and their children, as well as the friends he has found here, remind him of the ways we are all connected. "As an only child growing up with my mom, family is a big deal to me because I never had it," Rynkiewicz says. "I have a wonderful wife and two great kids, and that is what inspires me. I have a belief that we are all human beings, and we have things that connect us."

Most of Rynkiewicz's art begins

with sketching those familiar

forms. "Form is a form, it begins with a line," explains Rynkiewicz. "I love to sketch. By the sketching, you see what you can do first, then in the medium you can see if it can work." After so many years of artistry, Rynkiewicz has an idea whether the form he sketches will translate to the glass.

"When you work with glass for so long, you kind of know what it's capable of," he says. After the form comes attention to color and light. Rynkiewicz's past work has emphasized bright, rich colors, but as with any artist, things are changing. "I was making a whole bunch of different colors," says Rynkiewicz. "That stage is over for me. It's beautiful, but it doesn't have the reflection. I went to more cold working in my personal work.

"Cold work is faceting and grinding the glass, but not in the engraving way. It's a really contemporary way I carve it," Rynkiewicz explains. "I like to catch the reflection of the light; that really excites me."

With a wonderful family, his own studio and his work shown in dozens of galleries around the world, some artists would be content, but Rynkiewicz is on to the next challenge. The main goal for Rynkiewicz is to keep looking for what's going to inspire him next. "I'm doing what I'm doing today, but I'm always looking at the future and what I can do that's new," he says. With such a proliferation of glass artists out there, he has also challenged himself to create work that will not be confused with that of other artists.

"Many great artists live in the Northwest, and the Midwest and the East, but do I want to do what they do? No. When I start designing, I try to think of how I can make it one-of-a-kind," Rynkiewicz explains. "I use color, application, marbling... I try different forms and discover the way to make them new."

This is what keeps Rynkiewicz going, this challenge to create what hasn't been created before and to have fun doing it. "I used to work faster, faster, faster," he says. "But now I try to play, not to repeat myself."

The Douglas Gallery, 130 N. Wall St.,

hosts a debut reception for Mariusz Rynkiewicz on Friday, Dec. 7, from 5-8 pm, and on Saturday, Dec. 8, from 5-8 pm.

His work will show in the gallery through December. Call: 624-4179.

Northwest Winterfest @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Through Jan. 2, 2022, 5-9 p.m.
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