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His 'funk is contagious.' This L.A. glassblower breaks the rules with his stunning vessels

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His 'funk is contagious.' This L.A. glassblower breaks the rules with his stunning vessels

Seated on a chair, with the hum of twin furnaces and the Impressions playing in the background, glassblower Cedric Mitchell is lost in his craft as he and assistant Sara Roller turn and sculpt molten glass with steel shears.

After a few blasts of a blow torch and several trips back and forth to the furnace, the red-hot glass on the rod turns cobalt blue and forms what will eventually become a 7-inch vase.

Color is the first thing you notice about the artist’s hand-blown glass vessels.

“I love color,” Mitchell says, “which is weird because I wear black every day.”

Mitchell, 37, was an emerging hip-hop artist in Tulsa, Okla., when he first considered glassblowing. It was 2012, and he was recording a song in a Tulsa music studio when he noticed his friend’s impressive glass bong.

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“He told me about a studio in downtown Tulsa where I could take a glass-blowing class as an elective at my community college,” says Mitchell, who was studying business at Tulsa Community College. “I immediately signed up for the class at 1 a.m.”

Colorful glass totems by glass artist Cedric Mitchell in his El Segundo studio.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Inspired by his friend’s bong, Mitchell had his heart set on making glass pipes.

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But when he showed up for the first day of class at the Tulsa Glassblowing School, the instructor calmly explained that it was a nonprofit and that “we would not be making bongs,” Mitchell adds wryly.

Six months later, Mitchell was teaching glassblowing at the studio as an intern in exchange for practice time.

He stuck with it because it was difficult. “Glassblowing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Mitchell says. “It’s the most rewarding and also the most discouraging. Sometimes impostor syndrome sets in, and I wonder, ‘Am I even good at this?’ You must stay within the process instead of thinking of the outcome.”

When asked what inspires him, Mitchell’s list is endless: “I like graffiti, music, three-dimensional art, digital compositions that I see on Pinterest, furniture, Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, James Turrell sculptures. I also like a lot of fashion in bright colors. I used to be fashionable until I started blowing glass, and then I muted my color palette.”

Mitchell grew up in North Tulsa, a predominantly Black neighborhood where more than 35% of the population lives in poverty. When his mother remarried, his family moved to the South Side, where he attended what he describes as “a rich white school.” It was an experience that taught him how to “maneuver in both worlds.”

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“I don’t know how I would have turned out if I had stayed in North Tulsa,” he says quietly. He remembers falling in love with music during his senior year of high school when he first heard Kanye West. “My English teacher told me I would be a great orator because I liked writing poetry and read a lot of Shakespeare,” Mitchell says. “She’s the one who tried to convince me to go to college, but I wanted to learn how to produce music like Kanye. When I learned how hard that would be, I studied business basics in community college.”

While famous glass artists such as Dale Chihuly and Rui Sasaki flocked to art schools like the Rhode Island School of Design, Mitchell’s path was uniquely his own. “I learned by working as an apprentice in the studio,” he says. “I kept showing up until they paid me.”

Mitchell notes that glassblowers are rarely Black. “When I did a Google search for ‘famous Black glass artists,’ I found three,” he says. (Therman Statom, Debora Moore and Ché Rhodes). However, the scarcity of Black artists in his chosen field made him more determined to succeed. He now says his challenge was, ‘How can I stand out?’ “I wanted to break all the design rules similar to Ettore Sottsass,” he added, “and develop my own style.

Two glasses tilting on a ball

Cedric Mitchell’s kinetic glassware swivels on an amber ball.

(Soona Studios)

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So Mitchell set about creating irreverent objects: hand-blown kinetic glassware that swivels on a ball, colorful stacked geometric shapes he calls totems and tall textured bottles with whimsical patterns.

The key, he says, was practice. “Robert Greene’s book ‘Mastery’ really helped me,” Mitchell says. “The main thing for me was improving my skill set through practice. I still embody that today: the perpetual practice of things.”

Mitchell’s bold style — something he calls “modern funk” — is informed by Sottsass’ playful Memphis-Milano Design Group of the 1980s, which blended bold geometric shapes with the primary colors of Pop Art.

By 2015, Mitchell was ready to leave Tulsa and devote himself full-time to his art.

He was still working at the Tulsa studio when he struck up a friendship with Los Angeles glassblower Joe Cariati. “I commented on one of his YouTube videos, and we became friends,” Mitchell says of his mentor. “Joe invited me to L.A. to a demo they were doing. I was sending my resume to studios, and everyone wanted me to do interviews. When I asked Joe what to do, he offered me a job.”

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Mitchell moved to Los Angeles, which he calls a “healthy melting pot of creatives,” with only his bike and two suitcases. Upon arrival, he rode his bike to El Segundo from Culver City to get to work at 7 a.m. as Cariati’s assistant.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is what “lit the fire under me,” he says. Worried that he could not continue working while everyone was staying home amid pandemic-related closures, Mitchell took advantage of a 30-day free trial and created a Shopify account for solo makers to showcase his work.

His efforts were worthwhile. The account caught the eye of longtime California design studio Heath Ceramics. “We were taken by his postmodern-like shapes and juxtaposition of bold colors,” says Heath co-owner Cathy Bailey. After crafting pieces in line with Heath’s seasonal collections for some time, Mitchell created a stand-alone showcase that blended vibrant, geometric pieces and traditional patterns. “Our best partnerships are when we both inspire and push each other in unexpected ways; working with Cedric is one of those,” says Bailey.

A stamp with the letters CMD on it.

Mitchell’s initials, set into a stamp he uses to sign his artwork.

Assistant glassblower Sara Roller looks on as glassblower Cedric Mitchell removes glass from a kiln.

Assistant glassblower Sara Roller looks on as Cedric Mitchell removes molten glass from a furnace in his El Segundo studio.

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Mitchell agrees. “Heath was one of the best things that happened to me,” he says as he stamps the bottom of a vase for Heath’s summer seasonal collection. “They gave me the opportunity to get better.”

Los Angeles lighting designer Brendan Ravenhill, who is working with Mitchell on a new fixture debuting in June, says: “Cedric’s funk is contagious” when it comes to craftsmanship. “We always look for people based in Southern California who are the best at what they do,” Ravenhill adds. Mitchell has the skills to produce and refine the difficult shape, he says.

Like the owners of so many small businesses in Los Angeles, Mitchell admits that 2023 was a tough year.

“It’s hard to do production in L.A. because nothing here is cheap. Natural gas prices and the cost of the studio rental are going up. Last year, I had to fly to Seattle to finish my order for Heath because the natural gas price rose 300%. I couldn’t even afford to blow glass here.”

Still, he acknowledges that many good things happened in a year of firsts: He had his first big residency at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, allowing him to explore his craft without financial constraints. He also got married, welcomed a son and attended his first trade show in New York.

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Glassblower Cedric Mitchell at work in his El Segundo studio.

The Tulsa native says that when he googled “famous Black glassblowers,” he found only three.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Currently, Mitchell spends his days at his glassblowing workshop in El Segundo, creating drinkware, vases, decorative bottles and lighting. In addition to teaching, he has done brand alignment photo shoots with Nike, Fitbit and Elder Statesmen and is working with fellow glassblower and painter Corey Pemberton on Better Together, an event series designed to support Black and brown makers.

“Cedric is one of the most dedicated, hard-working artists I know,” says Pemberton, executive director of Crafting the Future, a nonprofit designed to introduce artists of color to the medium, residencies and entrepreneurship programs. “He fits more into a day than the average person would think possible. He can handle anything you throw at him and will do so with an incredibly calm demeanor.”

Beyond his work prowess, he’s a dedicated friend. “He is the type of friend you could call on for anything, and he’ll pull up, no questions asked,” Pemberton adds.

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As someone who did not grow up exposed to art and glassblowing, Mitchell hopes to inspire a new generation of artists by rejuvenating the visual arts after-school program at the Watts Labor Community Action Community.

“No one is telling kids in underserved communities that they can be creators or makers,” Mitchell says of his proposal, which is pending approval. “We live in an entrepreneurial revolution, and people can be their own bosses and control the narrative of what they want to do. It’s scary, but it can be more risky working for someone. When you have ownership of something, you control the narrative. It’s like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, but it’s yours.”

Glassblower Cedric Mitchell at work in his El Segundo studio.

Cedric Mitchell turns what will eventually be a 7-inch vase in his El Segundo studio.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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How do you build without over polluting? That's the challenge of new Catan board game

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How do you build without over polluting? That's the challenge of new Catan board game

A new version of the popular board game Catan, which hits shelves this summer, introduces energy production and pollution into the gameplay.

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A new version of the popular board game Catan, which hits shelves this summer, introduces energy production and pollution into the gameplay.

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In the original version of the popular board game Settlers of Catan, players start on an undeveloped island and are encouraged to “fulfill your manifest destiny.” To win you have to collect resources and develop, claiming land by building settlements, cities, and roads.

A new version of the board game, Catan: New Energies, introduces a 21st-century twist — pollution. Expand responsibly or lose. In the new version, modern Catan needs energy. To get that energy players have to build power plants, and those plants can run on renewable energy or fossil fuels. Power plants operated on fossil fuels allow you to build faster but also create more pollution. Too much pollution causes catastrophes.

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Building renewable energy-based power plants has benefits in the new game, including minimizing pollution for everyone, but it also makes you grow slower.

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Building renewable energy-based power plants has benefits in the new game, including minimizing pollution for everyone, but it also makes you grow slower.

Catan GmbH

“Generally it’s tough to depict reality in a game. The reality is always so much more complex,” said Benjamin Teuber, managing director of Catan’s production company and co-developer of the new game. Games, he adds, need to be fun.

Catan: New Energies makes players choose between renewable energy or fossil fuel-based power plants. The latter allows you to grow faster but creates more pollution.

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Catan: New Energies makes players choose between renewable energy or fossil fuel-based power plants. The latter allows you to grow faster but creates more pollution.

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The newest iteration of Catan will hit shelves this summer. And it aims to mirror reality in a couple of clear ways: Energy from fossil fuels creates more planet-altering pollution than renewables; too much pollution leads to bad things; those bad things are felt unequally.

“Sometimes flooding hits everybody, just as we see [in the real world],” said Teuber. “It doesn’t matter who created the pollution. It affects everyone.”

Teuber, who co-developed New Energies with his late dad, Klaus Teuber, said the game was an old idea they dusted off during the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s one that’s become increasingly relevant as the real world grapples with the effects of real pollution: a rapidly warming planet that’s worsening wildfires, floods, and heatwaves.

The game’s developers are aware of the relevancy. “It’s a very interesting topic in every culture that we publish in,” Teuber said.

Polls show climate change is viewed as a major concern across many parts of the world. But adapting to the changes and addressing its roots have proven difficult. Teuber said he thinks board games can help move the conversation forward. Board games generally require people to sit around a shared table, to read each other, to negotiate and take risks, “without having a severe and bad consequence,” he said. “Unless divorce is the result.”

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Climate change experienced through board games

Catan: New Energies is not the only new board game centered on climate change. Daybreak, the latest game from the creator of Pandemic, a popular cooperative board game, tasks players with working together to cut carbon emissions and limit global warming.

In a blog post on Daybreak’s website, the game’s co-designer Matteo Menapace wrote that he and co-creator Matt Leacock were inspired to make the game because they were both worried about climate change and weren’t sure what to do about it.

“The problem with the question ‘what can I do about climate change,’ is how it implies climate action is like a single-player game, with you alone fighting against this huge invisible enemy,” Menapace wrote. They believe addressing climate change and its causes will require a collective effort. That’s why Daybreak requires “total cooperation,” Menapace wrote. “It’s a big leap from the current state of climate (in)action, but not an unreasonable one… and we aim for this game to play a role in accelerating this shift.”

Catan Studio, the developer and publisher of Catan games, isn’t as explicit in its intentions with its new game. The phrase “climate change” doesn’t show up in any of the Catan: New Energies’ promotional materials, packaging, or rulebooks. “Pollution” is the catch-all term for the problem.

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Teuber said they talked about adding the term but decided to focus on energy and presenting players with the option of fossil fuels or renewable. “We assume players will draw their own conclusions as they engage with the game,” he said.

The game’s studio does note in its press materials that according to “evidence-based research and expert sources, [the] new game elements will get players thinking and talking about important issues.”

A 2019 review of published research on board games and behavior by a team of Japanese researchers showed that “as a tool, board games can be expected to improve the understanding of knowledge, enhance interpersonal interactions among participants, and increase the motivation of participants.” Though, it noted, the number of published studies on the topic is limited.

Dialogue from gameplay

“What games are really powerful at is starting dialogues,” said Sam Illingworth, an associate professor of science communication at Edinburgh Napier University in the UK.

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In the gaming world, there’s a concept called the Magic Circle — a theory attributed to Johann Huizinga, a Dutch cultural historian, who in the 1930’s posited that play creates a separate world with separate rules.

“It’s the idea that we suspend disbelief on the gaming table,” Illingworth said. “Like in the game Monopoly, it’s perfectly good – strictly advisable – for me to want to bankrupt you, which is behavior that’s morally repugnant away from the gaming table, but it means that those social hierarchies can break down and we can have conversations that we wouldn’t normally be able to have.”

In 2019, Illingworth co-designed a playable expansion to the original Catan that added climate change and sustainability to the gameplay. They called it Catan: Global Warming and posted the rules and instructions on how to adapt a regular Catan game online.

In the add-on, if players add too many greenhouse gasses, the whole island is destroyed and nobody wins. “So that creates a game state where psychologically there’s obvious causality between actions and what happens, right?” Illingworth said. “So rather than just having a conversation about what might happen, you’re actually experiencing it.”

In Catan: New Energies, if pollution reaches too high a level to continue, the win goes to the person who built the most renewable energy power plants.

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While workshopping the new game with colleagues, Teuber said they would often play too aggressively, aiming to “grow, grow, grow,” they would build out fossil fuel power plants, he said. “We always manage to over pollute.”

Test groups did the same. But after those games, the players would often come back and say, “We had heavy discussions afterwards,” Teuber said. “We all felt kind of bad, we learned and thing or two, and the next game we played differently.”

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Sylvester Stallone Says Torn Pec Injury Forced 'Rocky II' Plot Twist

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Conductor Andrew Davis, who headed orchestras on 3 continents, dies at 80

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Conductor Andrew Davis, who headed orchestras on 3 continents, dies at 80

Conductor Andrew Davis, right, raises his arms as he takes a bow, accompanied by Renee Fleming, and Peter Rose, center, during the final dress rehearsal of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio in the Metropolitan Opera at New York’s Lincoln Center, March 25, 2011.

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Conductor Andrew Davis, right, raises his arms as he takes a bow, accompanied by Renee Fleming, and Peter Rose, center, during the final dress rehearsal of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio in the Metropolitan Opera at New York’s Lincoln Center, March 25, 2011.

Richard Drew/AP

Andrew Davis, an acclaimed British conductor who was music director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and orchestras on three continents, has died. He was 80.

Davis died Saturday at Rusk Institute in Chicago from leukemia, his manager, Jonathan Brill of Opus 3 Artists, said Sunday.

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Davis had been managing the disease for between 1 1/2 and 2 years, but it became acute shortly after his 80th birthday on Feb. 2. He had conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last December in the U.S. premiere of his own orchestration of Handel’s “Messiah.”

“A consummate musician, incredibly versatile and a phenomenal colleague, as well,” soprano Renée Fleming said in an email to The Associated Press. “It takes a special kind of command to be a great conductor, the power to make close to a hundred musicians (each one, at heart, a diva or divo) hang on your tiniest gesture. So it is remarkable that even with that strength, Andrew’s primary quality was his innate happiness. He was gifted with an infectious joy that somehow came through in every bar of music he made.”

As his 80th birthday approached, Davis was invigorated by the challenge of molding an orchestra, especially young players.

“Harnessing all that energy and that enthusiasm and that passion, and galvanizing it into a totally, totally unified conception and not just conception but — what’s the word? — realization,” he said during an interview with the AP last July after rehearsing the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America in workshops and then at New York’s Carnegie Hall. “I berate them more than I would, but I hope always with a twinkle in my eye.”

Davis was music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1975-88 and Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival from 1988-2000; chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1989-2000 and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 2013-19; then music director of the Lyric Opera from 2000-21.

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Davis made his Lyric Opera debut in 1987 and led about 700 performances of 62 operas by 22 composers.

“He was a true artistic partner to me and a shining light for so many of us,” Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud said in a statement. “We will miss his incredible artistry, his extraordinary wisdom, his irrepressible humor, his unfettered zest for life and his devotion to the arts and the humanities.”

Davis conducted a dozen Last Night of the Proms concerts, an annual celebration of Britain at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He twice gave the customary speech in the patter of the Major General’s song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Born in Ashridge, in the Hertfordshire county of England, Andrew Frank Davis played organ for his parish choir and joined the choir at the Watford Grammar School for Boys. He studied piano at London’s Royal Academy of Music in London, became an organ student at King’s College Cambridge, and played piano, harpsichord and organ with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields from 1966-70.

He made his conducting debut with the BBC Symphony in 1970, became an assistant conductor with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra, then in 1971 made his North American debut with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

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“One of the finest conductors of his generation,” Carnegie Hall executive and artistic director Clive Gillinson said. “I worked with him on an ongoing basis at the London Symphony Orchestra, and the players and I were always totally engaged by his superb musicianship.”

Davis made his opera-conducting debut in Strauss’ “Capriccio” at the Glyndebourne in 1973 and the following year met his future wife, soprano Gianna Rolandi, when she sang Zerbinetta in performances of Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” that he led at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. They got married in 1989 and had a son, composer Edward Frazier Davis.

Davis became a Commander of the British Empire in 1992 and a Knight Bachelor in 1999. The family moved to Chicago when he was hired by the Lyric Opera.

During the pandemic, Davis translated Virgil’s “Aeneid” from Latin into English verse.

“I took an entrance exam in classics in New College, Oxford,” he told NPR, “but then a couple of weeks later I took the organ scholarship trials at King’s College, Cambridge, which much to my surprise I won, so that was the end of classics for me.”

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His wife died in 2021. In addition to his son, he is survived by a sister, Jill Atkins, and brothers Martin Davis and Tim Davis. Funeral services will be private.

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