Tom McQuaid: Fusion of influences
Anthropology student turned ceramicist turned glass artisan
Tom McQuaid’s fused-glass wall piece “Red Bamboo” features a mountain scene reminiscent of early Japanese sansuiga (landscape painting), complemented by large red leaves of bamboo dramatically backed by black—seemingly superimposed in a rectangular area that takes up just more than half of the piece.
The look of “Red Bamboo"—like many of McQuaid’s stunning glass wall hangings and standing pieces—is decidedly modern, and decidedly Asian. “It’s hard to be a potter and not be influenced by Japanese ceramics,” he explained … and, indeed, he was and is, respectively.
A handsome, healthy-looking 60-year-old, he made a living in ceramics for 15 years in Santa Barbara before embracing the world of fused glass in 1990. Along with his previous art form, he was influenced by the numerous Asian Studies classes he took at UC Santa Barbara in the 1970s.
McQuaid moved to the North State three years ago and works out of a studio at his Paradise home. For the past two years, he has shown his work as part of Chico Art Center’s annual Open Studios Tour in the cozy Second Street display space that has no name (though some have informally dubbed it “The Office"), alongside the artwork of Butte College digital art and design instructor Daniel Donnelly.
His newest work—including “Red Bamboo"—employs a technique whereby the glass surface is sandblasted to change the texture and the piece is re-fired at a low temperature “to give it a nice, satin, matte finish.”
McQuaid’s sophisticated pieces are nothing short of amazing, and become even more so when one learns that McQuaid is largely self-taught as an artist (his bachelor’s degree from UCSB is in anthropology). His formal art education consists of a number of beginning art classes—in ceramics, glass, drawing, painting and photography—through the “reasonably priced” adult-education program at Santa Barbara City College, plus a couple of L.A. workshops with well-known kiln-glass artist Roger V. Thomas, who now lives in Portland, Ore.
“I’ve explored a lot of art,” said McQuaid, “and I try to use that in the [glass] art I’m doing.”
McQuaid credits his SBCC photography teacher with teaching him composition, and praises Thomas for inspiring him to follow his own artistic vision.
“Roger Thomas taught a completely different technique than what I am doing,” McQuaid said, “but what I got from him is inspiration. People often take classes to copy the instructor, but I think it’s better if the student gets inspiration.
“Fused glass has allowed me to expand into the art realm,” he reflected, describing his former work as a ceramicist as “utilitarian.” As for his glass work, “there is nothing functional or utilitarian,” he added with a touch of satisfaction in his voice.