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Background photo by Tom Lyons

David McDermott & Yukimi Matsumoto

Glass Acts

David: See my fingers? See how they’re bent? That’s from holding a pencil. We used to have a Formica table when I was three years old, and my mom would give me a pencil, and I’d just draw on that Formica table for hours. She wouldn’t even have to come in because I’d be in a trance, just drawing, and she’d wipe it off afterward.

After I graduated from Bourne High School, one of my friends was a night watchman down at a glass factory where Robbie Mason was the gaffer. They were looking for an apprentice, and they knew I could draw.

I saw Robbie make a swan, and it took him, like, 20 seconds. My jaw hit the floor. He gathered liquid out of a puddle inside a furnace, and it came out as a solid, beautiful piece of glass.

David McDermott & Yukimi Matsumoto

Robbie was taught by Jordie, Jordie was taught by Will, Will was taught by—it goes back a thousand years. And at one point, you’re at the top of a pyramid of all of that information. It’s all funneled to you.

My master was straight off the boat from Scotland, and it was an old European apprenticeship. If I was off by a 16th of an inch, he’d smack me. Then I’d have to go into the cutting shop for a month, and I’d ask if I could try it again.

There are 500 moves involved in making something. I can verbally tell you 50 of them, but 450 I can’t even describe.

•••

Yukimi: I’m originally from Osaka. I went to Osaka Designer School, and at the time I wanted to do pottery. But I took a production design course. I thought it sounded similar (laughs). They had a glass class—stained glass, fusing melted glass and other glasses together in a kiln. After summer vacation, a glass studio in Nagano asked the teacher for apprentices to live and work there for a few months. They picked me.

I didn’t really know anything about glassblowing. But just seeing the melted glass flying around and real artists making things, talking about glass during their breaks, I just loved everything about it.

After I graduated from school, I went back to work in Nagano. The more I worked there, the more I learned about so many basic things I didn’t know yet . . . I was assisting at a few other places, then I had the time and money to come to the United States to take a few classes in Corning, New York, at the Corning Museum of Glass. That’s where I met David.

It was 1999. I asked if I could work with him at his place, and in 2002, we built the business. But something happened in between. We got married (laughs).

•••

David: I waited my whole life to meet somebody like Yukimi and our apprentices Bryan and Isabel. We’re probably the only ones in the country that work the way we do. Everyone else works in kind of an Italian method—they make beautiful work, it’s just a different technique. We work hotter, faster, thinner, and lighter. The Scottish method is probably a thousand times harder to learn, but once you’ve got it, it’s probably a thousand times easier to do.

Bryan Randa is from Iowa. He came down to the Cape, ended up doing the touristy things, and went into the Sandwich Glass Museum. His jaw hit the floor seeing glassblowing for the first time. He asked, “Is there any place around here doing this?” and they gave him our name . . . He came and watched all day long. Then he came the next day. Once you get the disease, that’s it.

Yukimi: Isabel Green first came to us when she was 13. We used to offer glass classes through the Sandwich Community School. We didn’t offer it to anyone who was under 18 years old, but her mother insisted . . . Then she came in another time when she was 16. I said if you want to learn more, you can keep coming down. After that, she came every Saturday, every day of summer vacation. It was crazy how quickly she picked things up, things that she shouldn’t have been able to do, but she didn’t even know that she shouldn’t be able to do them.

David: She’d ask me to show her how to make a sea horse or an octopus. I’d show her and she’d bust one out better than me the first time. And I’d say, “You can’t do that.”

•••

David: You’ve got to make something that people like. The gas bill alone is ridiculously expensive. If you can’t pay the gas bill, then you can’t do your art . . .We could live out in Wyoming or someplace and people would never see our work unless it was in a gallery. Here they have the opportunity to actually watch us work because it’s a tourist area, and we enjoy having people come in.

I like Sandwich better than any other town on the Cape. You’re in Boston or Providence in an hour. You’re in the mountains in two hours. You’ve got the best beaches in the world in your backyard. It’s pretty damn good.

Yukimi: When I got married, my parents said, “How could you leave Japan?” Then they finally came to Sandwich. When my mother got out of the car, she started crying. She saw that what I love is here—nature, calmness.

David: We can’t tell you how much we love this. There’s no way to describe it. But it’s our lives, and we know how lucky we are.

About

Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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