While some competition series can be cutthroat endeavors that encourage players to outwit, outplay and outlast one another, Netflix glass-blowing series “Blown Away” falls more in line with “The Great British Baking Show”: a gentler arts and crafts competition where contestants offer each other verbal support.
For glass artist Nao Yamamoto, who spent the past eight years in Seattle, appearing on the Netflix show also brought her support from strangers on social media.
In the four-episode “Blown Away: Christmas,” the show’s third installment that streams Nov. 19, Yamamoto reveals she received videos from parents that showed their children crying after Yamamoto reached fourth place and was eliminated in season two of “Blown Away.”
“The connection with my fans on Instagram, it’s been a tremendous support,” she says. “And because of the exposure on social media, I am having an easier time selling my work.”
Sort of an all-stars season, “Blown Away: Christmas” brings back five contestants who were runners-up from the first two seasons of “Blown Away.” They use their glass-blowing skills to create holiday-themed glass work.
Born in Japan, Yamamoto earned a BFA from Tama Art University in Tokyo in 2011. Prior to graduating, she came to Seattle to take a summer glass-blowing class taught by Nancy Callan at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood.
When Yamamoto started looking into MFA programs, she learned one of her professors in Tokyo is good friends with Katherine Gray, who teaches at California State University-San Bernardino, which is where Yamamoto would earn her MFA in 2014. Gray is now a judge on “Blown Away.”
“She’s always been a mentor for me so it was very natural” having her as a judge on “Blown Away,” Yamamoto says. “I really enjoyed her giving feedback.”
Yamamoto says Netflix, which rolls out its shows globally, sought Japanese contestants for “Blown Away” who can speak English “well enough to be understood and blow glass.” She says there aren’t many people who check both of those boxes.
After getting her MFA nine years ago, Yamamoto couldn’t find glass-blowing jobs in Southern California so she moved to Seattle, where she worked in production and as an instructor at Seattle Glass Blowing Studio.
Yamamoto, 33, received a hot shop residency at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma in 2018 and was chosen to design the 2017 Seattle Mayor’s Arts Awards.
Yamamoto filmed “Blown Away” season two in Hamilton, Canada, in February 2020, just before COVID-19 hit. Even as she exited season two, producers began talking to her about returning to the show for a Christmas-themed season. But with the pandemic-forced production shutdown, the Christmas season didn’t film until early 2021 just a few days after season two premiered on Netflix.
Regardless of how she fares in “Blown Away: Christmas,” Yamamoto says she won’t return to the franchise again.
Earlier this year, Yamamoto moved back to Southern California after finding a glass-blowing studio in El Segundo.
“I realized how much the glass community has developed and grown since I got my MFA and I really missed the [sunnier] weather so I decided to relocate,” Yamamoto explained.
Following a car accident a few years ago, Yamamoto exited heavy production work because she cannot blow glass full time (“My body hurts so much if I blow glass more than three days”). She now has a second business unrelated to glass, procuring crystals she sends to customers in Japan.
“Glass blowing is still my passion but I need to rest my body and now I don’t have to be working every day for other people,” Yamamoto says.
She’s also now making stained glass mosaics — from both glass she blows and from sourced glass — and blowing glass for commission pieces including a recent, large mobile that now hangs in a Beverly Hills home.
“I like to make something cute and bubbly, something to make people happy instantly,” she says. “I’m attracted to abstract sculpture stuff or wall installations that change the whole energy of the room. I used to make smaller objects, but now that I have this freedom I want to challenge myself with bigger sizes and I’ve been getting commissions that push me out of my comfort zone.”