Boise hang gliding pilot Lisa Tate transcends the stereotype that women don't fly. Not only is she currently the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association's first female president, she is also the only Idahoan to have held the position. At the same time, Tate is a professional glass blowing artisan. Her work combines the craftsmanship of glass blowing with the ancient art of cameo glass engraving. Tate co-owns Soaring Dreams Studio on the Boise Bench and shows her work at Art Source Gallery, R. Grey Gallery and at the Boise Airport's Concourse B. And in Beirut and Dubai.
What came first, art or hang gliding?
That's hard to answer. I guess both. I grew up always being crafty. I liked doing art as a kid, the paste and the crayons. My mom was very artistic. She was a designer. I just liked making stuff with my hands. I was the classic kid that had the dreams of spreading your arms out and flying. I wanted to do that so bad. I wanted to be a pilot. I took model airplanes and turned them into projectiles.
And I loved horses, so I was always riding. There's a hang gliding hill in Missoula, right in town. And that's where I'd see them all the time; they'd land kind of at the base of the hill where we lived. I was riding horses one day ... and I looked up, it was totally silent, this guy was over my head, about 50 feet, on his hang glider and he waved at me. And I thought, that was like the closest thing I could get to flying like a bird. Creativity has to come when you feel good. You know, artists get blocked. There have been times when I couldn't produce any art, but I can always go hang gliding.
Cameo glass art involves creating multi-colored glassware layered with hand-carved designs to reveal subtle layered tones within the glass. Is that an accurate description?
Exactly. Basically, you're taking three major elements--people tend to spend their whole lives mastering one element--and you're trying to combine all three of those as one artist. You need to be a good glass blower, you need to be proficient at the way that you apply the colors to the glass ... and you have to be a good designer ... and a good engraver. I actually started an engraving. And I love the ancient Roman cameo glass. So I thought I'll commission some glass blowers to make me some blanks. I just got too many flaws and imperfections. You'd spend 100 hours engraving a piece only to have a great big flaw in it that it's just unsalable. So I thought, I will just go take a two-week class and learn how to blow glass. That prompted me to continue on with glass blowing. Now I combine all three things.
There aren't many cameo glass blowing artisans in the United States?
There are very few people who do it. It's a pretty intensive medium. The last statistic I saw was an estimated 30 artisans in the world and about a dozen in the U.S. After the glass cools, depending on how much large space I have to cut away, I start with sandblasting, but I have to do all the detailed work with a diamond-tipped engraving tool. Glass blowing itself is an incredibly expensive medium to work with. It's the second most expensive medium. The first is bronze casting.
A lot of the pieces displayed on your Web site use elements of nature. How did that come about?
Someone mentioned that to me earlier this year and for the first time I noticed that. It was never pre-intended. I'm influenced by nature. I like to be outside. I like the world around me. I grew up in the woods. I grew up with animals. I've always had a connection there. It just flows to my work. I see beauty in the world around me.
It might seem that there's a paradox between art and hang gliding.
When I first started blowing glass intensely, I got a very similar feeling to the feeling you have when you fly hang gliders a lot. It's hard to describe. There's kind of a sense that you are doing something that is so unique and different that you're kinda sad for people who can't do it. You feel so lucky to be able to be doing what you are doing. You feel really fortunate. When I am flying hang gliders, I see the world through an entirely different perspective.
When you're blowing glass, you're creating something out of a molten blob of 2,200-degree glass. And you can't set it down. You have to do it now. You have to live in the moment, and it's the same with hang gliding. You have to deal with the conditions that nature is presenting you, with the thermals. If one comes along and you want to stay aloft, you have to take it. It's kind of the same with glass, you have to finish what you start. You have to keep going and it's challenging sometimes when it's not working out. There's a great deal of satisfaction when you're finished. When you land your glider ... you have a great feeling of accomplishment. Same thing when you make a piece of glass, and you look at it the next day.
There seems to be a lack of competitive female hang gliders.
Yeah, I don't know why there are so few women. Apparently a few years back we got stuck with the "extreme sport" label. That may have turned a lot of women away. Our current demographics are that women hang glider pilots make up less than 10 percent of our membership. Probably 5 percent of hang glider pilots are women. Back in the '70s ... hang gliding, statistically, it was not a safe activity. People were using equipment they made at home, they were falling, getting hurt, so we got this reputation that it was a death-defying sport. Of course, that's not the case now. We've come a long way, we have great equipment. [Even now] people just kind of look at you like you're strapped to a kite. They don't think of the fact that we're flying fairly sophisticated aircraft that's been highly engineered. It takes a special kind of person to hang glide. It's a very cerebral sport and not incredibly physically demanding.
I take it you don't consider the sport dangerous or yourself a dare-devil?
No, not at all. Statistically, it's actually a very safe activity. It's safer than rock climbing. It's safer than skiing. It's safer than SCUBA diving. The No. 1 reason people get hurt in hang gliding is doing something stupid, because they got in a hurry, they didn't check their equipment before they took off ... or getting themselves into conditions they had no business being in. The equipment doesn't break, it's very strong, very well engineered.
Lisa Tate's Web site is lisatateglass.com.