Tony Sorgenfrei. “Azure Edge,” 2020. Sculpted glass, 7 x 24 x 3 1/2 in. (17.8 x 61 x 8.9 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Photograph by Steven Miller

Gather: 27 Years of Hilltop Artists at the Tacoma Art Museum features artwork in a variety of mediums made by alumni of the Hilltop Artists group in Tacoma. Filipino American artist Trenton Quiocho, alumnus of the Hilltop Artists program, curated the exhibit. 

The Hilltop Artists program began in 1994 and provides BIPOC youth in Tacoma the opportunity to work in a hotshop and create blown glass. Their mission statement describes the importance of connecting young adults from diverse backgrounds to create community through art. Quiocho joined the program in junior high school after taking glass blowing as an elective. He was able to be on the production team in the hotshop for five years, until the age of 21.  

“Hilltop Artists creates opportunities,” Quiocho said. “The art and glass community is a white male dominated field. Having access to a hotshop is expensive and not many people can do it; providing that space and access is huge.” 

The Hilltop Artists program was a formative experience for Quiocho and despite the challenges of glass blowing culture, he decided to pursue glass blowing full time and started working at GlassyBaby in Seattle. He applied for and received scholarships to continue his glass blowing education and eventually reached the gaffer position, the lead glass blower. Throughout this time Quiocho also worked for Hilltop Artists, giving back to the program that inspired his love of glass blowing and “creating access for underrepresented people within my community”.  

Quiocho also worked at the Tacoma Glass Museum for the Hot Shop Heroes program that teaches military veterans how to blow glass together. 

“Glass takes a lot of focus and attention and teamwork,” Quiocho said. “It can be therapeutic to focus on the material.” 

In 2018, Quiocho started working at the Chihuly glass studio in Seattle and continued to improve his skills. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he was among the many let go from his job. In the early months of the pandemic, Quiocho reflected on his career as a glass maker and his Filipino heritage. He researched where his family was from in the Philippines and grappled with his own cultural identity as a Filipino American.  

“You belong here but you don’t, but you also don’t belong in the Philippines,” Quiocho said. “I’m trying to use it [glass making] as a way to explore my own cultural identity and heritage…and create new works that are inspired by the Philippines.” 

Gather features two of Quiocho’s glass pieces inspired by his culture that he created last year during his residency at the Tacoma Glass Museum. “Bulul” features a seated human form in a glass bowl. Bulul is a carved wooden figure that the people of northern Luzon, an island in the Philippines, used to guard their rice crop. This traditional Filipino figure created in the highly inaccessible art form of glass is a statement in itself.  

“I laid heavily into some of the Venetian style glass and the way they create patterns using different techniques,” Quiocho said. “I meshed some forms and shapes and figures from my Filipino culture…with some Venetian glass techniques to make reimagined versions.” 

Quiocho’s other piece uses this Venetian glass technique to create fish trap shapes with Venetian patterns on the outside. The simple yet clever title of the piece, “Trapped”, could allude to Quiocho’s own grappling of cultural identity, or even the frozen state of the glass. Once molten and malleable, the glass is now hardened and unable to move without shattering.  

In his many years of experience, Quiocho said that his favorite parts about glass making are how glass can be shaped with many different tools and the unique transparency of the final product. He also enjoys creating glass because of the team effort.  

“It starts off in the furnace in a molten state and you can pretty much create almost anything out of it. It takes all the elements together to change the glass because you can’t touch it, like puppetry,” Quiocho said. “No other medium…acts like glass. There is the transparency aspect and how it works with light. Very unique, and it takes a team to do it.” 

The Gather exhibit is Quiocho’s first time curating for a museum. As a member of the Tacoma artists community and alumnus of the Hilltop Artists program, it was important to Quiocho to make the exhibit accessible to all alumni of the program. He reached out to alumni contacts who still make art and fit every artist who was interested into the 2,000 square foot exhibit, including 21 artists with work in many different mediums.  

The exhibit features striking paintings like Daria Hembree’s “Man Eater” that uses bright yellows, reds, and blues to depict a woman with what appears to be devil horns and a snake-like tongue wrapped around an arm hanging out of her mouth. Other paintings by Candida Delgadido, “Descendencia” and “IZOTE”, reflect on her Salvadoran and Mexican heritage, similar to Quiocho’s fish traps. 

Glass art is also well represented in the exhibit, including an eye-catching “Jenga Skull” created by Evan Schauss with black and white stripes and a red mohawk suspended in the air by a chain. The plethora of items depicted in glass throughout the exhibit is impressive and thought provoking. “Gather” captures impressive artistic talent across several mediums, talent that Quiocho is glad to put in the limelight. 

“I’m from this community and program and there’s so much talent that comes out of the program. Artists don’t always get the recognition that they reserve…due to access,” Quiocho said. “We deserve to be in those spaces like museums and represented in our community. It elevates work when it is in a place like that.” 

Quiocho is grateful for the experience of curating Gather and hopes to curate more shows in the future, along with teaching and traveling internationally.  

Gather: 27 Years of Hilltop Artists is in the Tacoma Art Museum through September 4, 2022.  

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