Netflix’s Blown Away Star Discusses Grief, Art, and Hot Glass
Minhi England was always that artistic kid. You know the type, the one you’d find knitting a scarf in the third-grade cafeteria at lunch. “That was me,” she laughed, “I was that girl.” So what brought her from knitting scarves and making friendship bracelets to being a finalist on Netflix’s popular glassblowing competition show, Blown Away?
We spoke on a Wednesday night just hours before England was set to fly on a red-eye from Seattle to New York. She was going to an event at Corning Museum of Glass, one of the leading glass museums in the country, where she promoted her work featured in the museum’s gift shop through live demonstrations and a meet-and-greet with the fans of the show.
“Right now things have been just completely crazy, really busy for me since the premiere of Blown Away,” England said, shaking her head in some amount of disbelief. It’s been almost a year since Netflix premiered the show’s third season where England was a featured contestant, making it all the way to second place and finishing behind the season’s winner, John Moran.
England’s unique presence and work on the show captured the attention of audiences across the country. From her expansive collection of bright, chunky eyewear, her kind and positive attitude, to her captivating artwork, it’s easy to see why she was immediately a fan favorite. But her personality and talent aren’t the only things that made her stand out. England’s story of vulnerability, grief, and perseverance resonated with many viewers.
England’s partner and husband, Jesse, passed away almost two years ago from cancer. When he was diagnosed, England became his full-time caregiver and assumed his work responsibilities in addition to her own. For two years, England stopped making art and just focused on taking care of Jesse and maintaining their life together.
When asked about Jesse, England’s eyes lit up. The pair had met in the summer at Pilchuck Glass School where they were both working. They had an instant connection, which grew into a nine-year-long partnership and relationship. “He would say this to me all the time, like you either need to marry up or you need to find a partner,” she smiled, remembering his words. “He saw the potential in not only love, but this ability to foster our artistic talents together. That we could be more than just lovers, that we could be partners, that we could combine our lives and help each other in ways that is deeper than just a romance.”
England credits Jesse with her decision to be on the show. “I actually never envisioned myself doing anything like that, it’s very much out of my character,” she said. But Jesse saw her potential.
“Right after the second season came out, we binge-watched the whole thing, as many of us glassblowers do when it comes out,” she laughs. “He turned to me and said, ‘You know, I think that you are just as good, if not better than a lot of these people that are on this show. And I think you should do it. And it would be really good for you. And I think you would win.’”
Initially, she dismissed the idea, “but shortly after that, maybe a few months, he had passed away. And that conversation really stuck with me.” As she talked, it was clear she was still processing the emotion behind that moment, “I felt very much like it was his last request. It was something he asked me to do. Now, much further down the line, I feel like it was more of a gift to me than it was a request.”
Grief, an ongoing theme in England’s work, is largely what propelled her through the show. “My grief, and my story, and everything I was going through was pushing me to go further,” she said. “When I think about how hard and trying that time of my grief was, I don’t know how I did it. But I did. So I know it was possible.”
When things got tough, she persevered. England admits she had, “this notion of being kind of a symbol for the people [which] was exciting, and it made me feel like I had purpose.”
When asked what it’s like to have suddenly become a public figure in the glass community, known not only for her artistic talent but also for her journey with grief and vulnerability, she smiled. “To be honest, particularly at first, it was really scary. It’s tough to be vulnerable to being scrutinized,” she said, “but what I have found is that as long as I am authentic and true to myself, it’s been okay.” She noted how surprised she was at the positive and welcoming response from viewers inside and beyond the glass community.
Every time her newfound popularity from the show became a topic of discussion between us, England always found a way to bring the conversation back to helping the community, which is very much at the core of her work and her identity as an artist. “The hope, for me, was to utilize this platform to advocate for people who maybe don’t feel like there’s a safe space for them, for their stories, for their grief, for their sorrows or loss, their suffering,” she said. “A lot of people have told me, like, seeing me on this big network, Netflix, be so open about my pain, and my story, and everything that is encompassing within that, was very inspiring.”
Another aspect of England that charmed viewers was her unique and colorful style. Upon bringing up her iconic collection of chunky, colorful glasses, she laughed, “I very much have an obsession with eyewear. I’ve been wearing glasses for most of my life, and I just decided to lean into it.” When it comes to her other accessories, she is also a jewelry maker and all of the large statement pieces she wears on the show are her own creation.
So, what’s on the horizon for a busy bee like England? For the summer at least, she is hoping for some well-deserved quiet. She plans to spend as much time outside as she can, traveling around the woods of Washington in her camper van with her miniature boxer, Miso. “He’s got a wrinkly face with a smash nose. He brings me a lot of joy,” she laughs when talking about him. “I see him play fetch. And I think, I wish I loved anything that much.”
Edited by Natia Kirvalidze