10 Reasons the Refract Festival is a Must-See

From October 17-20, the inaugural Refract: The Seattle Glass Experience will take place in and around Seattle. If you’re curious about what this is, and whether you should plan to attend (the answer is yes!), read on.

First, a little background. The Seattle area has long been known as one of the top centers in the world for glass art. More than 700 glass artists, from emerging artists to master glassmakers, live in Washington and more than 100 glass art studios have made their home in the Seattle region. Refract creates the opportunity for visitors to explore this fascinating medium, meet artists, tour studios, see special demonstrations, mingle at art parties, and more.

Here are 10 reasons why you don’t want to miss this event:

1. Opening night party at Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly Garden and Glass, the exhibition of one of the world’s best known living glass artists, is already one of Seattle’s top visitor attractions. On Thursday night (October 17), you can immerse yourself in the museum’s stunning displays while attending the opening party for Refract, Gather. This event will allow you to meet and mingle with the region’s artists, tour the installations, enjoy great food and drinks, and talk with helpful staff to plan your Refract festival activities. Author’s note: Get your tickets soon; they are going fast!

Photo: Chihuly Garden and Glass

2. Party at Pratt

Pratt Fine Arts Center is a beloved Seattle institution where numerous glass artists got their start. They offer classes for all levels in varied forms of glassmaking and, on Friday night (October 18), you can attend Fused, a one-of-a-kind party. You’ll experience amazing artist demonstrations in a dozen different studios, live music by internationally known Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary’s all indigenous band Khu.éex’, a DJ, food trucks, cash bars, and a live bronze pour! Don’t miss this chance to see renowned Lummi glass artist Dan Friday blowing in the hotshop and Etsuko Ichikawa painting her signature pyrographs with molten glass. It’s the ultimate art party!

Photo: Pratt Fine Arts Center

3. Artist Open Studios

Saturday (October 19) and Sunday (October 20), put on your comfortable walking shoes and hit the neighborhoods because 20 Seattle artists are opening up their studios to welcome you. These are all extraordinary artists – I can’t pick favorites – and this is your chance to meet them in person, see their studios, and learn more about how they create their vision in glass. Find the full Refract Open Studios list here.

In addition to the open studios on Saturday and Sunday, there are special open studios at other times (some by reservation only), including Benjamin & Debora Moore, Pohlman Knowles, Lino Tagliapietra, Preston Singletary, and Dale Chihuly’s Boathouse. Author’s note: The Chihuly Boathouse tours and Preston Singletary’s studio tours are now full.

Photo: Pratt Fine Arts Center

4. Pilchuck Auction

If you’re already a glass aficionado, there’s a good chance you know about Pilchuck. The legendary school in the woods north of Seattle is one of the leading global centers for education in all forms of studio glass: glassblowing, kiln glass, fused glass, flameworking, neon, and more. Their annual gala and auction (October 19) is a hot ticket for supporters of the school and glass art collectors, and this is your chance to attend one of the premiere auction events of the year.

Photo: Pilchuck Glass School

5. Fantastic Museum Exhibitions

We’re fortunate to have major museums with a dedicated focus on glass art, and Refract will offer the chance to see them all. The Museum of Glass will open Transparency, the nation’s first museum exhibition of Studio Glass works produced by artists in the LGBTQ+ community. Nearby at Tacoma Art Museum (TAM), the new Benaroya Wing showcases TAM’s expansive glass collection, one of the top five public collections of studio glass nationwide, which you can view on your own or with one of the guided tours offered by TAM. Emerge/Evolve at Bellevue Arts Museum will showcase international emerging artists whose cutting edge work in kiln-glass offers a different perspective on the medium, and Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) will stage a showing of glass artists from their permanent collection. Author’s note: Find more by selecting the “Exhibitions” category of the Refract Events page.

Photo: Tacoma Art Museum

6. See It Live and Up Close

Watching live glassmaking is mesmerizing, and you’ll have many chances to see the magic in progress at hot shop venues like Seattle Glassblowing Studio, Blowing Sands, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Glasshouse-Studio, Avalon Glass Works, Museum of Glass and more.  Author’s note: Find more by selecting the “Demos, Talks & Lectures” category of the Refract Events page.

Photo: Museum of Glass

7. Gallery Exhibits

Art galleries are staging special exhibitions highlighting some of the region’s most exciting artists. A few on my must-see list include John Kiley and Dante Marioni at Traver Gallery; April Surgent at Traver; Morgan Peterson, Sarah Gilbert, Lydia Boss and Katie Miller at Blowing Sands; Raven Skyriver and Preston Singletary at Stonington, and the Glass Art Society’s Northwest Member Showcase at Gallery Mack. Also not to be missed is artist Paula Stokes’ Memento Mori at Method Gallery, an installation made from 1845 handblown glass potatoes, a memorial dedicated to the Irish Potato Famine. Author’s note: Find more by selecting the “Exhibitions” category of the Refract Events page.

Photo: Traver Gallery

8. Get Hands-On

Are you happiest when learning something yourself? Refract offers something for you too! Check out the classes and workshops to blow your own glass, make mosaics, luminaries, votives, fused glass and more. Author’s note: Find more by selecting the “Hands-On” category of the Refract Events page.

Photo: Seattle Glassblowing Studio

9. Find Unique Affordable Glass Art to Take Home

The options are almost endless, but make special note of the closing night party at Pike Place Market, where you can raise a glass and browse wares from the Market’s artisan makers who specialize in glass.  Seattle Glassblowing Studios will host guest artists in their gallery space too, throughout the festival.

Glass Octopus by Jennifer Caldwell | Photo: Vetri Gallery

10. It’s Seattle!

We couldn’t be prouder that all this activity is taking place in and around Seattle, with regional events stretching from Tacoma to Everett to Bainbridge Island and Issaquah. We love our city and can’t wait to show it off to you. You’ll find hotel packages and travel information on the Refract website, and lots more inspiration at visitseattle.org.

Photo: Sun Chan

Here’s my confession—in order to limit this to 10 reasons, I had to leave out a whole bunch of equally enticing events. So, I encourage you to visit the Refract website, browse all the program offerings and create your own itinerary.

If you need more inspiration, check out the State of Glass series on VISITSEATTLE.tv.

See you at Refract!


*updated 9/26/19*

About the Author

Tracey Wickersham

Tracey Wickersham is the Senior Director of Cultural Tourism at Visit Seattle. A volunteer dj & host of a long running music program on KBCS 91.3 FM, she spent 6 years on the board of 4Culture, supporting arts, heritage, public art and historic preservation in King County. You'll often find her at the Tractor Tavern enjoying great bands, exploring one of the region's beautiful parks with her spunky blue heeler mix, or in one of Seattle's many live theater venues.

More Posts By Tracey Wickersham


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