I first noticed Wally Blodgett in 1968, sharing that same route along the bluffs (Grandview, Beacons, Stone Steps, Swamis) I took, dawn patrol in an older car filled with teenage surfers, always quite a few boards on top.
Wally was like the Dad, the duty driver. But, since most of his passengers were old enough to drive their own cars (as I did), and seemed perfectly unembarrassed by riding with Mr. Blodgett, and since San Dieguito* kids seemed to learn to be cool in grade school, anyone would have to assume Wally Blodgett was cool.
Unlike most of our dads, off working during surfing hours, Wally went out surfing Always one of the older surfers in the water, he rode a belly board. My lasting image is of him prowling the inside lineup at Swamis, waiting for an empty wave. Or maybe he just wanted that on-the-shoulder water angle for watching and cheering on his son, Buzz, and their mutual friends. Extra coolness points.
As I surfed more frequently without my friends, I would have loved to have been included in that crew.
Someone eventually told me, “Wally Blodgett, he throws pots for a living.” “Throws pots?” “Vases and stuff.” “Oh.” “He gets up super early, throws pots or fires them. When he gets enough, he takes them up to L.A., sells all of them, wholesale.” “Cool. You know, I’m an artist, too.” “Uh huh.”
While the members of the Blodgett Crew did the standard teenager thing (enhanced by being surfers, perhaps) of ignoring anyone else they might be competing for a wave with, Wally was always nice to me in the water and the various parking areas. I was riding boards I’d made myself at the time, usually shaping and glassing blanks gathered from stripped-down longer boards.
“It looks like you make these boards with an ax,” he said one morning, after what was, I thought, a great session at Swamis; “but you seem to ride them pretty well.”
Some time in 1969, at Mira Costa Junior College (Oceanside/Carlsbad) for a surf movie, and glad the circuit had a venue closer than Hoover High School in San Diego, I pointed out a yawning Mr. Blodgett and his Crew, coming in together and fashionably late, to my girlfriend, Trish. Wally was giving the crowd a proper and discerning look-over.
“He throws pots for a living.” “Oh, nice.” “Vases, stuff like that.” “I know.”
My art classes at Palomar were afternoon events; three hours every day except Friday. This gave us allegedly-creative types time to work and hang out and pose all artsy-like. And one could wander from one studio to another, checking-out and ruthlessly critiquing what others were doing
As with surfers, artists judge each other harshly. I confess to having felt a little more artist-like than those Hippie/posers. I had, after all won best Sophomore, Junior, and Senior Boy artist at Fallbrook, though they awarded a scholarship (actual money) to my main male competition, Chester Meck.
And I did most of my art homework at Buddy’s Sign Service, where I was a signpainter’s apprentice, with real brushes and bright enamels, and easels capable of handling four foot by eight foot signs at my disposal.
The former home and printing facility for the Oceanside Blade Tribune newspaper was a space quite dingy enough to be much closer to a true artist’s studio than someone’s Mom’s kitchen counter. There was a huge skylight over an equal-sized hole in the concrete floor, the former home of the printing press.
The building, at First and Tremont, was a block from the Oceanside bus station, suitably dangerous; and a block of train tracks from the beach; perfectly city-surf set. I was working, developing my semi-artistic skills one block from the city version of US 101, where the efforts of hawkers of cheap jewelry, electronics, and available women periodically caused the Command people at nearby Camp Pendleton to declare the area off limits to Marines.
Just to further set the scene at Palomar Junior College: “Trout Fishing in America” was a must read. Protest signs and posters were everywhere on the campus. One read, “Remember My Lai” (1968 Vietnam massacre). Another read, “If God didn’t exist it would be necessary for man to invent him” While student-made anti-war banners were hung and removed regularly, those two were in the office windows of obviously-tenured professors.
And, freed from dress codes and more direct parental supervision, kids from my high school I knew as dorky suddenly had long hair and other affectations of perceived coolness, and were suddenly aware of social injustice and corporate corruption.
Great. Still, I was busy, just wanted, somewhat desperately, to learn. In art classes, anyway, trying to slide through the academics. Richard Brautigan, in the book I did eventually read, spoke of all that was going on in those hyper-crazy-aware times, the universe screaming at us all, then wrote, “I just wanted to go fishing.”
I could relate**.
The poster in the Art Department area I remember most (placed on an approved bulletin board) was of a studio converted from a working barn, all wood and rope, sepia-toned, with a naked model casually leaning against a post, not-really-posing, almost blending into the scene. To me, that was art.
But, there in one of the classroom/work areas, was Wally Blodgett, spinning and blowing glass; heat, spin, blow, heat, spin. “Hey, Kid. You go here, too? Check this out!”
Wally was excited, totally immersed in learning the craft, the art. Not unrelated to the potter’s wheel, this spinning of molten glass must have seemed like a natural progression. And both required fire; clay to a finished vase, sand to glass; so balanced, such a naturally perfect symmetry.
No; few things in nature are perfectly symmetrical. But Wally’s work could approach that. So new, so exciting.
Thirty-five years later (and this was a few years ago now) I googled “Wally Blodgett.” What I discovered is that his son, Buzz, has carried on the glass art tradition, and has carried it way beyond those first steps taken at Palomar J.C.
There is an obvious ocean influence on the works Buzz creates. Handed down, passed on; this is the Wally Blodgett legacy. More likely, it’s part of his legacy.
Since there was a site, blogettglass.com, I e-mailed Buzz. He wrote back. He didn’t remember me; listed some names of a few Fallbrook surfers he had known, none of which I recognized. Different crews. That’s all right. I mentioned what his father had said about my handmade boards. “That sounds just like him.”
Well, um, yeah; because it was him.
*San Dieguito includes the beach towns of San Diego’s North County; not Fallbrook
**Allegedly frustrated by the lack of success of later books, Richard Brautigan eventually took his own life, something I note here because I noted his passing at the time. Fashions change. He may have forgotten he is separate from his words.