back to news July 20, 2018

Art alum, glassmaker headed to Finland on Fulbright grant

Handmade glass cloud sculptures by Jonathan Capps
Handmade glass cloud sculptures by Jonathan Capps.

Jonathan Capps’ upcoming Fulbright-funded research trip to Finland is a decade in the making.

Capps, who earned his Master of Fine Arts from Ohio State in 2016 and completed a three-year tenure last June as a lecturer in the Department of Art, is headed to to the historic glass-making town of Nuutajärvi, Finland, for a year-long Fulbright experience where he will assist the Nuutajärvi Glass Village Cultural Foundation, explore and study Finnish glass tradition and transition, and make collaborative works of art with Finnish glass artists.

Capps Fulbright proposal, “Articulating Finnish Glass Culture Through the ‘Integrated Cross-Cultural Series,’” has three components: collaborative design; glassmaking and production; and community engagement that explores the cultural effects of Finland’s changing glass landscape. The proposal is rooted in intercultural collaboration and will contribute to the preservation and scholarship of Finnish glassmaking techniques.

“I get to kind of have an extension of grad school, an international extension. It gives me a year to focus on this proposal, my work, this idea and simultaneously have this very incredible experience of cultural exchange with the Finnish glass community. I hope this Fulbright is the beginning of a lifelong conversation with that community,” Capps said.

Capps is a glass artist who has studied and made glass art for nearly 16 years. After switching his initial major to art during his time as an undergraduate at Centre College in Kentucky, Capps dove headfirst into the glassblowing scene and hasn’t looked back. He went from the Pittsburgh Glass Center to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina to the University of Louisville’s glass program, honing his craft, learning from more experienced glass artists, and teaching and lecturing at every opportunity.

Art alumnus Jonathan Capps dove headfirst into the glass blowing scene and hasn’t looked back. #ASCDaily

Capps’ connection with Nuutajärvi started in 2008 during his time as the studio coordinator assistant at the Penland School of Crafts. Sara Hulkkonen, a glass artist and educator who was enrolled in the program, was from Finland and taught at Tavastia Glass School in Nuutajärvi, which had just developed an international artist and residency program. She encouraged Capps to apply to the program, and he was accepted, earning him the distinction of being the program’s first artist in residence.

Capps hit it off with the Nuutajärvi glass community, and the following summer, he was invited back to assist in teaching a class on nontraditional glass sculpting techniques. He continued making connections, which, in 2013, would inform him of the jarring transition the Nuutajärvi glass community was undergoing; his new friends and colleagues were posting on Facebook that the town's glass factory was shutting down. He began wondering about what was happening in the glass village, and the situation opened the door for him to ask questions. 

“The culture of glass is shifting dramatically," he said. "It’s not necessarily all negative, it’s just shifting from industry to fine art, but in that shift you have this traditional way of blowing glass in the industry — this hands-on technique. But you also have this new wave of glass artists and designers — is a crucial piece of glass art history disappearing? My hypothesis is that a certain piece of glass art making is being lost. So, what is being lost and how could we as artists preserve the art and the history of this important Finnish contribution to glass art?”

A glass bowl made by Jonathan Capps

A glass bowl made by Jonathan Capps.

A year after Capps’ learned of Nuutajärvi’s transition, he submitted his first application for the Fulbright award, a grant that encourages cultural relations and increases international understanding between the United States and other countries. His first two Fulbright applications were denied, but his third was accepted last March.

Capps and his family will be in Nuutajärvi for the entire 2018-19 academic year. He hopes his research on the state of the glass-making world in Finland can help bolster their glass community while also gleaning experience that can help the glass artists’ community in the United States. He has also proposed a 24-piece art show of collaborative works with local artists, “The Integrated Cross-Cultural Series,” to show in the Nuutajärvi Glass Museum. He hopes to bring the collection to the glass museum in Helsinki, Finland, and then to the United States before making the collection a permanent collection back in Finland.

“Yes, the factories are shutting down, but the silver lining is what’s this other beautiful glass art evolution that’s happening over there?” Capps said. “I want to be a part of it, and I want to share what’s happening here with the Finnish glass art community to help strengthen them and at the same time bring what’s happening in the Finnish glass community home to strengthen us.”