Raya Friday glass flame sculpture

Spotlight on Lummi glass artist Raya Friday

“People of the Fire” by Lummi Nation glass artist Raya Friday glows as if it has a life of its own.

The glass sculpture was recently installed in the lobby of the Lightcatcher building at the Whatcom Museum, and it commands attention as soon as you enter the room. With a series of flames standing between 3 to 6 feet tall, you’re first confronted with its size. Next, you notice the faces.

Raya used sand casting to create each flame, then hand-carved faces into the surface. She says the piece represents the spirituality of the elements. “The thing I really wanted to explore in my own culture was this idea that everything in the natural world has its own energy, its own spirit,” she says.

She decided to explore that idea through the elements, starting with a smaller sculpture called “People of the Water” to see if her idea would work visually and functionally. Once she committed to creating a large-scale work of glass, she went all in.  

“I mustered my courage, took out all the loans that I could and just set out to do this thing,” she recalls. “It felt very much like swimming out into the ocean and seeing how far you could get without knowing if you could get back to shore.”

She credits Italian glass artist Narcissus Quagliata, whom she met at Pilchuck Glass School, with inspiring her to take on her project. His determination to see a multi-year project through prompted her to think of doing something bigger.

SEE ALSO: “People of the Sea and Cedar”

Raya Friday cleaning sculpture
Raya Friday cleans her sculpture after installing it in the Lightcatcher building.
Raya Friday cleaning glass sculpture
Raya Friday puts the finishing touches on her piece "People of the Fire."

The process

It took Raya about eight months to create the 2,700-pound sculpture of glass and bronze set into a pedestal of stone. She completed the piece in 2007. Raya says the piece took a small village to create. “There were a lot of meals for friends, six-packs of beer,” she recalls.

Raya was involved with each element, from mixing the bronze to cutting the stone to pouring the molten glass. “The glass is like cold honey,” she says of how it slowly spreads into the casts. The flames get their color from frit, or concentrated crushed glass. This gives the unpolished sides a slightly rough appearance.

Her biggest challenge, she says, was cold working, or polishing, the surface of the glass. The size of the piece and high cost of equipment meant she couldn’t have it professionally polished until years later.

Now, she tries to tweak the piece a bit each time she installs it. “It’s such a beast, so changes are small,” she says. “I can’t make huge drastic changes.”

Her background

With nearly 25 years of glass experience under her belt, it’s no surprise Raya was interested in art at a young age. But her first love wasn’t glass. It was ceramics. She loved working with glaze — the more the better to achieve that glossy look. Then, at 11, she discovered glass.

“You take glass for granted, you don’t think about it,” she says. “You drink out of it every day and just live with it all the time. Then you actually see people manipulating it. I just had no idea.”

At 17 she started taking weekly classes but soon realized they weren’t enough. Before long she was moving on to production glass work in Seattle. Seven years later, she left for New York to continue her education at Alfred University. It was in New York that “People of the Fire” was born.

Recently, Raya was involved in the Tacoma Museum of Glass exhibition “Translations: An Exploration of Glass by Northwest Native Carvers and Weavers.”

Now, she’s turning her attention to pursuing studies in art conservation for indigenous art. “It’s important that we be stewards of our culture,” she says.

“People of the Fire” by Raya Friday will be on display in the Lightcatcher lobby through early October. The work is the first in our “In the Spirit of the People: Native Contemporary Artists” series.

Raya Friday with her sculpture
The artist stands with her piece "People of the Fire."

Orrery on Display for Moon Landing Anniversary

Orrery

Orrery; Brass, wood, paper; The Trippensee Manufacturing Company, Detroit, Michigan, Patented 1908. Collection of the Whatcom Museum X.2233.1

Written by Rebecca Hutchins, Curator of Collections

An orrery from the Museum’s collection will be on display July 20, 2019 at the “Firsts in Flight: A Hidden History” exhibit at Old City Hall, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

The mechanical model of the solar system shows the relationships between celestial bodies and works by simulating the orbits and speeds of planets, the moon, and the sun.

The history

Humanity’s early fascination with the heavens is well documented and continues to endure. Around 600 B.C., Greek philosophers began to focus on the laws of nature and the universe to explain the world around them. Thales of Miletus (c. 620 – 546 B.C.) is credited by some with predicting the solar eclipse on May 28, 585 B.C. Some consider this prediction to be the beginning of science and the study of astronomy.

Through the years, philosophers, mathematicians and astronomers used drawings and models, sometimes called planetariums or orreries, to help describe and understand planetary movement and relationships. In Greek Society, the earliest such model is attributed to Archimedes (c. 287 – c. 212 B.C.). Later, Campanus of Novara (1220–1296) described a planetary model in his publication Theorica Planetarum and included instructions on how to build one.

Astronomy continued to be a changing science and the historic planetary models reflect the growth of understanding in the field. Most early astronomers such as Plato (428-348 BCE), Aristotle (384–322 BCE) and Ptolemy (90–168 AD), favored the concept of a geocentric solar system. In that system, Earth was the central and unmoving center of all other orbits.

Copernicus (1473-1543) and later Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), developed and published works that described the solar system as heliocentric, or centered around the Sun. Galileo is also credited with creating the first detailed drawings of the Moon and describing its specific orbit around Earth. With the invention of the reflecting telescope by Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and his publication of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687, heliocentrism was no longer up for debate.

The rise of the orrery

The public discourse that followed this publication and its popularity inspired people to learn more about this “new” heliocentric solar system. In 1704, two London clock makers, George Graham and Thomas Tompion, began making affordable solar models. These models had hand cranks and moving orbs representing the Earth, Moon, and Sun. As a result, complex phenomena was turned into mechanical models that became fixtures in households and classrooms.

The orrery gets its name from the fourth Earl of Orrery, Charles Boyle, who commissioned his own model in 1713. These models inspired continued exploration of the solar system and helped predict day and night, seasons, eclipses, and more. The orrery at the Museum is an example of a common model used at home or in the classroom at the turn of the century.

Other programming

In addition to the orrery, the Museum has other special programming planned to celebrate the Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary. Join us for a screening of the new Smithsonian Channel movie The Day We Walked On the Moon. The screening will take place Saturday, July 20 at 1pm in the Rotunda Room of Old City Hall. The screening is included with admission and free to members.

Kids ages 8-14 can take part in a rocket-making workshop at the Lightcatcher building. In addition to making and firing rockets, students will learn how chemical reactions work. The workshop takes place Saturday, July 20, from 10am – noon. Registration is $25 for Museum members and $30 for the general public. Register here by July 17.