Alex Vicknair: The Local Legend
Welcome back and thank you for joining me for our second artist feature. Last week we met a local favorite and this week we meet a local legend. For those familiar with the Michigan glass scene you already know that he has most recently been incarnated as 'Whale Boner' and has had a variety of aliases over the years. He is the one and only: Alex Vicknair. He's considered an OG in the local glass scene and he, for the most part, built it from the ground up.
Alex Vicknair grew up as a focused and competitive student of fine arts, especially in high school where he was constantly recognized for his outstanding achievements. After graduating Alex had dreams of continuing his art education and headed to Portland, OR to pursue the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Unfortunately it was not long before Vicknair became an art school drop out, "People want to hear all about the meaning of your art. To me, art is a split second decision. If you create art trying to convey an idea, it kind of defeats the purpose. I just didn't want to lie to people."
Alex has devoted almost 19 years to glass blowing, but he claims that his involvement with glass happened coincidentally. One day, while still living in Portland, Alex was with a friend who made jewelry when someone walked by and stepped on a piece of jewelry and broke it. The culprit left and came back with a pipe as compensation. He was the owner of the head shop where Alex would begin his first apprenticeship a year later.
The course of the rest of his life was partially determined by that opportunity. Vicknair spent a year and a half learning basic techniques and eventually packed his stuff and headed back to the Midwest. As he returned home something dawned on him: the glass blowing scene in Michigan was an untapped vessel of even greater opportunity, and he was in the perfect position to crack it open. For Vicknair it was the road less traveled that he had been searching for, "it was less conventional. I could do my own thing. I could make pipes, pay the bills and do whatever I want."
At the time the glass scene in Michigan was nonexistent. Alex remembers, "there was one store in Lansing that sold pipes." After seeing how competitive the glass scene was on the West coast Alex recognized that his chances for success would be a lot higher if he stayed in Michigan where there was zero competition. Alex began by apprenticing some friends to help out like the now well-known Ben Birney and eventually setting up small shops with Adam G. Their work together led them to their first major glass studio where they worked closely with artists like Pete Weiss, Charlie Sanford and Antony Rigles. This was when Alex and Adam G started instructing Nick Voorhees.
As a true glass scene began to emerge in the early 2000's, Vicknair and his colleagues found new ways to promote growth in the scene and forge even more bonds. One innovative technique they used was organizing large collaborations with multiple artists. "We would invite artists from around the country, hang out, get to know each other, talk techniques." At a time when most artists were secretive or suspicious about sharing ideas and techniques, Vicknair believes that for the time "what we were doing was groundbreaking." Sharing information has always been important to Vicknair, "I love when I teach someone something and they take it further than I did. In one of my favorite rap songs it says, 'Foolish is the student who doesn't surpass the teacher,' and that's how it should be. The end goal is knowledge."
There is nothing more satisfying than being able to provide for yourself and your family by doing something you love to do. Lucky for Alex, the demand for well made functional glass was high then and is even higher now. While he was born with natural artistic ability, Alex has focused mostly on the production and sale of pipes. "Sure, I had grand goals of making sculptures, and I've made three in twenty years. I spend most of my time on pipes."
But as any fan of his would know, Vicknair never disappoints artistically. Always pushing the boundaries creatively, "I pride myself on not having a style. I always try to do something different. I really don't like to do the same thing over and over and over." One thing he is well know for is large, clear glass assembly but lately he has been challenging himself to go smaller and smaller, "because that's what the market wants."
Alex has been gracious enough to donate his time and energy to our cause for the past three years and we are excited to welcome him back at this years main event. Here's what Alex Vicknair has to say about his experience at the Michigan Glass Project: "I'm a workhorse. I come with the goal to raise as much money as possible so I work really hard. I try to organize some of the younger artists. The first year I did some elaborate stuff but it didn't sell great, now I try to keep it within a certain price point for the buyers."
Don't miss out on this rare opportunity to see Alex Vicknair and other artists work up-close-and-personal at the annual 2015 Michigan Glass Project, we hope to see you there!