Lummi artist interprets traditions through glass

Dan Friday blasts a glass basket with more heat. The basket is getting to its final stages and soon the artists will open it up to create the basket shape. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)

Lummi artist Dan Friday honors the Coast Salish tradition of woven cedar baskets through a very different medium. He makes them in glass.

He’s studied the designs at the Burke Museum and he also finds a lot of inspiration from his aunt Fran James’ basket patterns, a Lummi master weaver.

“It’s been really great to go look at some of – and to hold – my great-great grandfather’s personal artifacts,” Friday said.

Friday’s great-great grandfather was Xa-Tel-Ek, also known as Frank Hillaire, who established a traveling dance troupe in the 1930s. Friday’s great-grandfather was the famed totem pole carver Joseph Hillaire whose work was commissioned for the 1962 World’s Fair.

Friday incorporates what he’s learned from the past in his artwork today.

“It helps my identity to who I am, how I feel connected to this place. That’s one of the things I do love about exploring these things in glass – I’m creating future artifacts in a lot of ways.”

Although he comes from a long line of artists, Friday never considered an art career for himself when he was younger. He was trained as an auto mechanic.

But Friday knew he had to pursue art when he saw glassblowing for the first time at the Glass Eye Studio when he was 20.

Young Dan Friday (left) with aunt Pauline Hillaire (second to left), sister Raya Friday (third to left), brother Rueben Friday (right), and cousin Adam Harper (back right). (Photo courtesy of Dan Friday.)

Since then, Friday has learned from glass artists like Dale Chihuly, Paul Marioni, and Preston Singletary and has taught at art schools like Pilchuck Glass School and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.

But, Friday’s career hasn’t been easy. In addition to the hard work and dedication that he’s put into his art, he also has overcome a rough childhood and previous drug abuse.

“I was just sort of a wild kid and I was caught up in drugs and alcohol and petty crime,” he said.

Friday’s father died when he was young and his mother raised him and his siblings in Seattle on her own.

Friday got sober years ago and it changed his art.

“About eight years ago you see a marked difference. It’s like all of sudden I start creating my own work,” Friday said.

Now Friday makes a point of volunteering with struggling youth through Teen Feed, an organization that works with homeless youth in the University District, and by teaching glass through Hilltop Artists.

“[You need] other people to believe in you and help you and that comes from being available to help other people too,” he said.

You can see Friday’s work regularly on display at Stonington Gallery in Pioneer Square district. He will have a solo show at the gallery in September 2018.

One of the first things Dan Friday does when making a basket is to set pieces of glass on a ceramic slab. During the time I observed Friday in the studio, he made three glass baskets in a little over four hours. He said this one will feature a fern pattern. (Photo by Emily Gilbert)
Friday blasts the glass pieces with a torch to fuse them together. Photo by Emily Gilbert.
Friday and his assistants Taylor Ames (left) and James Thrash (right) help Friday create one of his glass baskets. Friday says, “I can’t do this by myself, I need a team of people. We can pick up on a lot of the nonverbal cues about what we’re doing that you can only develop after working together for a fair amount of time.” Both men have worked with Friday for years. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
The torch is back on the glass as Friday blasts the basket to fuse it to itself and create the walls while assistant Ames helps spin the pipe. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
Friday shapes the glass as Ames helps spin the pipe and Thrash looks on. “I found a family in glass,” Friday said, “I think glass people really look out for each other. The teams are interactive and you share people – I work on this team and that team,” he said of the glass community. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
Friday shapes the basket as James helps spin the pipe and Ames blows into the pipe to expand the basket. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
Friday shapes the hot glass with a pad of newspaper while assistant Thrash keeps the pipe spinning. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
After dusting the basket with a powder to achieve more of a woven effect and blowing into the glass to increase its size, Friday blasts the glass with more heat. The basket is getting to its final stages and soon the artists will open it up to create the basket shape. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
Thrash swings the pipe to help shape the basket. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
Thrash adds a thin lip to the basket and Friday checks placement and Ames spins the pipe. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
Friday widens the opening of the basket, as Thrash and Ames assist. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
The basket is finished. Thrash wears protective equipment to catch the basket as Friday releases it from the pipe. (Photo by Emily Gilbert.)
The finished basket featuring the fern pattern. (Photo courtesy of Dan Friday.)

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Frank Hillaire as a Lummi chief, based on an incorrect usage of the term in non-tribal sources. This has been corrected in this version.