Jason McDonald discovered glassblowing more than two decades ago at an after school program in his hometown, Tacoma, Wash. He was 14 at the time, and it was nothing like anything he had ever seen before, he said: immediate, dangerous and sobering.
“It was like magic,” he said.
When he was diagnosed with A.D.H.D. at 37, he realized that some things held his attention more than others. And glass artistry was just one of those things that stuck.
The practice of fusing liquid sand into art objects dates back more than 2000 years, and yet there’s little to no record of Black glass blowers. “I can count on my fingers and toes the number of professional Black glass artists that I know, and still have some toes leftover,” Mr. McDonald said.
He said he has felt the isolation of being the only Black artist in a studio. He has been told by a peer that “you don’t belong here,” and tolerated emotionally abusive artists. But Mr. McDonald’s sense of purpose and drive toward his craft, and for his community, remain urgent.
So when Solange Knowles, the singer-songwriter and multidisciplinary artist, asked Mr. McDonald to collaborate on glassware after someone from her team spotted him on TV, he didn’t even have to think about it.
On June 20, Saint Heron, a creative agency and cultural institution founded by Ms. Knowles and named after her 2013 album, released a limited-edition collection of Small Matter Art Objects, designed by Ms. Knowles and produced by Mr. McDonald.
The collection is meant to reveal “the sentience of household objects through the landscape of Black domesticity,” according to a news release about it. The pieces cost $129 to $187 and sold out quickly.
“The Small Matter Glassware Collection both reflects and crystallizes time through material,” Ms. Knowles said in the news release. “It was important for our first Small Matter project to be an object designed with Black thought and created by Black hands. I am forever grateful to Jason McDonald’s artistry.”
The intention behind the first release was simple: to “put well-designed glassware into the hands of people that look like her and I, at a reasonable price point,” Mr. McDonald said.
The collection featured five handblown pieces produced in various quantities; there were 198 pieces in total. Mr. McDonald decided against using a mold for this line, which means that every piece is handmade.
He compared it to baking. If you follow a recipe each time, you’ll get a very similar result, he said.
Glassblowing manipulates liquid sand, using fire to shape the substance into objects. The natural material is apparent in the Saint Heron designs: earth, almost smokelike tones in modern bulbous silhouettes. Some glasses are more midcentury modern — solid, sleek — and glow as they catch the light.
Others are more playful: a short amber glass with raised dots scattered along the goblet, another with a thick cylinder stem with indented lines. It’s the elevated auntie glassware that serves as an art piece, as much as a dining set.
Mr. McDonald said his design sense is inspired by 16th-century Venetian furnace techniques — a marriage of heavily ornamented goblets with intricate stemware. “The collection’s design doesn’t reflect my interest in glass, but the heart behind it is everything I’m about,” he said.
When Mr. McDonald thinks about Black households cherishing the glassware in the hopes of inspiring communal gatherings, as intended by Ms. Knowles, it feels bigger than him.
“I am hoping that folks will kind of get where she’s coming from, in that this is designed by Black folks, and not exclusively for Black folks, but with Black folks in mind,” he said.
As someone who spends most of his time in a smoky studio, Mr. McDonald finds being in the public eye deeply uncomfortable, he said. Yet he competed in Season 2 of “Blown Away” (a glassblowing reality series on Netflix), recognizing that there are few opportunities in the glass world for Black artists.
“I have to be willing to have a public-facing persona,” he said. “You got to grab the opportunity while it’s there because there’s not a lot of it.”
While he doesn’t think the Saint Heron collection will change his life overnight, he said, he hopes that his art will be visible to more people, and that it might even put him on Oprah’s radar.
After graduating this year with a master’s degree in glassblowing from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture in Philadelphia, Mr. McDonald is returning to where it all started, Tacoma, where he plans to try his hand as a self-employed glassmaker. “I’m not working with a Plan B,” he said. “So, this is what’s happening and I’ll succeed or fail, but I think I’ll make it.”