DANNY SALAZAR: “I Was Nobody’s Student”

TRUE TALES OF THE GOLDEN CHILD AND HOW HE MET TINA TURNER

No. 6 in the LHS Pop Mini-Bio Series 

Okay, how many of you were ready for THAT subtitle?  Press on, gentle reader…

We sat down with Danny Salazar at the recent PCA national convention, this year held in Dearborn, Michigan, and asked him to tell us his life story in the twelve minutes we had between lectures.  When he told us that he is the son of a Comanche-Apache-Italian-Spanish American father and a mother named Minnie who brought him to California from Texas in a shoebox, and that Tina Turner had once kissed him backstage, we realized the interview could take a full 20 minutes.  Nonetheless, we “set to task” (Old French) and began our relentless interrogation…  

Danny was conceived in California but born in 1956 in Del Rio, Texas, where the family had deep roots (“My mother had a thing about it…”). Soon his little stagecoach of the aforementioned shoebox shuffled him right back to actual family home in San Jose, California.  He was the fourth of six children. His father was a successful architect but in 1970, Mom moved part of the family back to Texas for Danny’s freshman year of high school. We asked if this were in response to the parents wanting their son to not be exposed to gangs and drugs, and it turns out the fear was of hippies and drugs!  So Danny completed his first three years of high school in Del Rio.  They needn’t have worried. We asked Danny about whether or not there had been a period of teenage rebellion we could discuss and the worst story he could come up with was almost being arrested once as a teenager for smoking a little joint at a carnival.  And remember this was the 1970s in California!

As it turns out, Danny’s roots really do run deep in Texas, pre-dating the state of Texas, in fact.  He was raised Methodist and his ancestors helped build the first Methodist church in the area in the 19th century.  With a tone of bemusement, the artist also shared that there was a family uncle who had been a Confederate soldier.  

In 1973 Danny returned to California to work with his brother David in a glass studio as a summer job.  That operation was just transitioning from the name Nouveau Glass to the Lundberg Studios.  Word on the street says Larry Selman had a hand in that.  It was he who convinced James and Steve Lundberg, Mark Cantor, and David Salazar to make paperweights.  Prior to that they had been primarily “surface decorators,” and often sold their works at renaissance fairs (or is that renaissance faires?).  

Anyway, in 1974 Danny began as a glass grinder.  We asked what glass the studio used and Danny said that Lundberg Studios has always made its own glass from scratch.  He was good-natured, quiet and conscientious. He laid out colors, set up the pipes, cleaned up the work areas and did whatever else that was asked of him.  By the next year he made pontil man. The studio liked him enough to want him to work full time. Danny stayed in California his senior year, living with his brother and trading sleep for school and work.  The first semester he attended classes from about 8am to noon, and then reported for his shift at Lundberg. The second semester he worked full time days and went to night classes to secure his high school diploma.  

So here’s Danny, a kid coming in raw to a studio full of older and experienced glass artists, some with college educations.  And it’s this kid, who is driven to experiment relentlessly on his own, to where he becomes the one who then elevates the quality of work produced by the studio by introducing the crew (1982-83) to truly expansive three- dimensional work!!  Impressive, and although he learned things from observing Chris Buzzini and the others, Danny modestly but firmly says, “I was nobody’s student!”

Our artist took his inspiration from nature, fused that with his knowledge of art and engineered the blend fueled by an incredible work ethic.  This all led to Daniel Salazar having his work included in the exhibitions and collections of every major museum and institution interested in contemporary glass—as well as in countless private holdings.  This productivity and inventiveness is also where Danny earned his nickname “The Golden Child,” from Jim Lundberg. Maybe that meant gold for the studio – Cha-Ching!

Danny, who has spent 34 years at Lundberg Studios, has been interested in the arts his whole life, with painting being his original first love. He seemed destined for a life in art and recalled always liking glass.  He told of being with friends and digging up bits of colored glass along the Santa Fe Pacific Railroad tracks – how he loved those cobalt blues…  From 1982-83, he studied at Cabrillo College taking classes in drawing and painting.  He loves watercolors and happily acknowledges the symbiotic bond his glass art shares with his other artistic passions.

Danny has a particular attraction to Japanese and Chinese art and has collected netsuke, woodblock prints, incense burners, and Peking glass among other artworks, antiques and furniture.  He has kept favorite examples of his own work and has collected other paperweight artists widely. He enjoys nature and is a gardener. When we asked if he were personally as sanguine as the lush, flowing and harmonious little worlds of glass he is famous for creating, he said quietly, “Yeah, pretty much.”  There you go – practically a Buddhist.

In this artistic environment Danny has made a life in Santa Cruz, with Steve Wilson, a retired parole officer and the artist’s partner of 37 years.  They share, along with so much else, a love of Hawaii and the South Sea Islands. Danny fondly remembers a trip in 1980 to Tahiti and New Caledonia. And he admits that his dream is to be able to split his year, wintering in Hawaii and summering in California. HEY! Get in line!

After more than three decades Lundberg Studios is no more. Early on, Danny’s brother David and Chris Buzzini were fired from the team.  Rumor has it that there were some strong egos bumping around in the shop! Both the Lundberg brothers have passed on.  At this point, the only room open is the sales room, where Rebecca Lundberg sells the last finished pieces. However, the Lundberg Studios has now passed into memory.  

Glass artist Chris Johnson leases the former studio space and Danny subleases space from him.  But much of Danny’s creative time these days is limited by his day job blowing scientific glass at Oxford Instruments in nearby Scotts Valley.  These days Danny also must be more careful physically, because the sumptuous weights for which he is known have exacted a toll on our artist. You guessed it – back problems!  The constant strain has made it difficult to now maneuver the heavy glass as he once did. When we asked what his daily career work regimen had been, he said “I liked to start early, about 4 am and work straight through the day, not taking breaks or eating lunch.”  (Wow, he’s lucky he can walk!) Nonetheless Danny’s still in there at bat, and we’re looking forward to masterful paperweights yet to come!

Danny smiles (we think; we were actually on the phone at this juncture) as he describes special highlights of his glass career.  Several involved his passion for music. He loves rhythm and blues, soul, reggae and more. “Because of my glass, I got to meet Tina Turner!  I met Ike Turner after first telling a guard at a concert that  ‘Yes, I know him!’ (BIG FIB!) Ike asked what I wanted and I said I had a gift for Tina, and he said, ‘Okay, follow me…’  I was actually ushered into Tina Turner’s dressing room where I spotted the dozen roses I had sent earlier. I said that I was glad they had arrived and she was totally surprised.  ‘You sent them?  THANK YOU!’ I gave her a paperweight as a gift and Tina Turner kissed me on the cheek!”

Danny also waylaid the singer James Brown with a gifted weight as he was exiting after a concert on his way to his tour bus and our artist received a surprised and gracious response.  You can tell, as Danny reminded us – this was almost 35 years ago; just try that today! Danny adores Billie Holiday and would like to have gifted her one of his gardenias, a flower she sometimes sported in her hair.  Good thing this hopeless romantic didn’t get to meet all his musical icons; he’d have given away the farm!

Other celebrities Danny has met through the miracle matchmaker of glass include Robin Leech who commissioned an aquatic scene from the artist for his mansion in the Caribbean and Andy Griffith who came into the studio and purchased several of Danny’s rose weights.  But Danny just couldn’t seem to get anywhere nearly as excited about them as when Tina planted one on him! And not being musicians, Robin and Andy had to pay for what they took home!

Despite all of these brushes with celebrities, Danny Salazar remains a genuinely modest artist.  When we mentioned recently that we had just spoken with a huge fan of his work, the artist’s reflexive reply was, “Are you sure they didn’t mean my brother?”

No, Danny, they didn’t.  

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