Wally Blodgett and the Spinning Glass

 

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.”

 

“Um…Thanks.”     

 

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**.  

 

 

ImageThe 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.

Glass Art by Buzz Blodgett

Glass Art by Buzz Blodgett

This will soon be a follow up on a piece on Wally Blodgett, and, in many ways, illustrates the father’s legacy and it’s eventual evolution at the hands of the son.

To see more of his exquisite craftsmanship, always with an eye on the water, check out blodgettglass.com

wally-portrait-from Buzz Blodgett’s-college-photo-class

All right, this shows my lack of computer skills. This is Buzz Blodgett’s photo of his father, Wally.
Buzz is my age, and back when I was cruising the surf spots along the bluffs between Leucadia and Cardiff, Wally was packing his car with boards and kids. The difference between Buzz’s father and mine, and probably yours, is Wally got in the water.
The first irony here is, though I spoke to Wally, I never really spoke to my peers.
I have a story about Wally. This isn’t it.
My story isn’t polished enough. Not yet.
It’s a tale of glass and art and, really, that sort of taking a minute for kindness.
Meanwhile, Buzz sent me this and another great photo. I finally figured out how to get this one from my e-mail to my site. So, here it is.
The second irony is: I was taking a photography class at Palomar Junior College at the same time as Buzz, but, unable to get into the beginners class, I tried to sneak into the advanced group.
Though I was instantly revealed to be a kook in the darkroom, I was allowed to stay. I remember almost wetting myself, refusing and unable to leave as the first images of my first self-developed roll came to life
If you can wait a bit longer, I have to make sure the finished piece is worthy.

John Amsterdam May Still Hate Me (Chapter 5)

-Spring, 1970- Grandview-

With no time to actually surf, I was just checking Grandview out late morning. This was just a little detour between my early (academic-rather than art-related) classes at Palomar Junior College in San Marcos and my job at Buddy’s Sign Service in Oceanside. Seeing Bucky Davis on the beach, I made my way down.

I was, by now, accustomed to surfing without a crew. Phillip Harper and Ray Hicks were going to some JC somewhere farther north. My other friends were also scattered by jobs, or real colleges, or, for some, military service. And I had a busy schedule.

Though I had the reputation, well earned, during high school, that I’d go surfing with anyone willing to drive, or go with me, Ray and Phillip had long been my closest friends and best surfing partners. I wasn’t reaching out to others. No time.

There was work, and school, and church on Saturdays, and a girlfriend. Steady girlfriend. I had become pretty much a regular at the Oceanside’s south jetty, hitting it seven-thirtyish to eight forty-five (give or take, depending on wave quality) most work day mornings. Still, being known, knowing some others in the lineup; these weren’t friends; we didn’t talk.

Still, I was grateful Buddy, Florida Prison-trained sign painter, of Buddy’s Sign Service, didn’t even think about working before nine. If I just couldn’t talk myself into getting out of the water I could make it up by staying later.

If the waves south of Oceanside Pier, the ocean one block and some railroad tracks away, were just too glassy, too irresistible, and there wasn’t a lot for an apprentice sign painter slash shop nub to do;  Buddy could usually be convinced to let me go.

“So, you can come in on Sunday to make up for it. Right?”

Because Buddy tried to maintain a persona that included some amount of ex-con toughness, and, with his real name being Lacy, he had earned it; the answer to making up for time lost to waves and school and church and a girlfriend was always, “Sure.”

Other mornings I’d hit whatever piece of sandbar seemed best in the neighborhood. Sometimes, with some inkling of a larger swell, I’d take off earlier from home, starting as far south as Swamis, racing up 101, hoping to hit a few favorable stoplights once I got to Oceanside.

WHEN THE NOW-LEGENDARY SWELL OF DECEMBER, 1969 smashed against the shores, closing out almost everywhere else, I managed to surf Swamis every day of the five day event by skipping school and not telling/lying-to Buddy.

On the first and biggest day; totally undergunned, offshore winds spraying would-be shoulder-hoppers back, most waves would have someone on them, from sixty yards up the reef, locked-in and wailing. The entire bluff was filled each day with onlookers, a few less as the swell dropped enough for Swamis to offer more manageable peaks and walls later in the week.

I had nobody to share the story with other than my girlfriend, my Trish, Trish Scott. A year behind me, she was still in high school and working Friday nights and Saturdays at the Post Exchange on Camp Pendleton. I still told her how, on the second day of the swell, I got thrashed by a section at the inside peak, figured that was enough, swam in, couldn’t find my board, saw the entire cheering section atop the bluff pointing and yelling “It’s in the rip!” So I jumped back in, swam out, and, by the time I reached the board, I was almost in the lineup. So, I looked for an empty shoulder on an inside wave…

“No, no; I’m listening. Go on.”

Trish was more interested in how I’d sometimes see her old friend from when she lived in Oceanside, Barbie Barron, while surfing at the Oceanside South Jetty. “We were in the Oceanside Girls’ Surfing Club,” Trish would say, always adding that she had started board surfing before I had.

“Yeah, but I surf now.”

I WANTED TO TALK TO BUCKY. I knew his relationship with his Trish, Phillip’s sister had ended; she had moved on. Their romance was one my circle of friends seemed to have discussed enough that we created our own fairytale/groupthink/consensus version of their reality. But, I hadn’t heard any of this from Bucky. Or from his Trish.

Bucky had shown up once when Phillip and Ray and I were surfing Swamis Beachbreak, our Summer/small wave default spot. I was filming my friends with my Super 8 camera, trying to convince them to film me. He dropped his cool a bit, got all competitive, told us the problem with boards was they weren’t yet short enough. We had some fun.

I also knew Bucky’s brother had been killed, murdered in some stupid/tragic event. The sort of whispered and incomplete version I heard included some implication that his brother had stepped into some confrontation in defense of the intended target, Bucky.

It may have also been that I wanted to talk surfing.

My conversation with Bucky, him in trunks, me in my school/work outfit, looking sideways at the waves, was low key; what we were up to, how much life was slowing down our surfing, where we were in the draft, Bucky was, somehow, out. I was, with my birth date having received a ‘36’ in the first lottery, and the war predicted to go on forever, and those whose deferments ran out definitely going to Vietnam, considering dropping my student deferment and taking a chance on the next lottery.

“No, I’m really just a nub. Buddy won’t even let me wash out his sign brushes.”  I was waiting for a moment to tell him how sorry I was that…

John Amsterdam. Without either of us acknowledging the other, the previously unnoticed John came up from behind Bucky, put his arm over his friend’s shoulder, did, finally, acknowledge me with a dirty look. Actually, it was more like the same harshly judgmental expression.

“Hey, Bucky; let’s go on down the beach, get our heads on.”

And they did. I wasn’t invited. I watched them go around the curve of the bluff. Bucky looked back once, gave me a slight nod.  It was all right. I watched the surfers for a few more moments, checked my watch. I had sign boards to paint, and maybe, when it glasses off…