Art and Design, glassblowing

Thanksgiving Tiding…

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Sun catcher by Ian, a grade school student from our area who blew this piece last weekend.
Sun catcher by Ian, a grade school student from our area who blew this piece last weekend.

THANK YOU!!!!!my followers, fans, friends, enthusiasts, dreamers and makers of glass!  Without your humor, engagement, enthusiasm, dreams and innate creativity, I could not do what has been achieved these last few months.  Without your desire to discover your own creative fire at the studio, I would not have had the support that made everything that came out of this season possible!  It was you who wished to come blow glass in great numbers with one person’s story inspiring still others who kept coming, inquiring, if it wasn’t too late to sneak into the studio to make your very own glass creation.  This, one of the most ancient of arts springs to new life with every eye that be holds it, with every hand that gives it breath and form.  The support your enthusiasm has given has made new wonderful creations possible.  I merely provided you the means, encouragement and what I myself have learned directly from this ancient material that transforms sand into light. Your own inspiration is breathed into my own as what you do brings life to what I CAN do or make possible within the timbers of this house of glass, this studio, this workshop, this haven for inspiration, hard work,discipline,discovery, and awe.  Only because of what is most native within yourselves has any of this happened.

A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher (hers is the red and pink piece directly above this image)
A recent participant in our BYOB event in December making a suncatcher

Yesterday, facing the last work to be done in the studio in who knows how long, I chatted with a friend about glass.  He asked if he could come sometime t blow glass with his wife.  I explained if he did, it would need to be in the next few days because I didn’t know what the weeks to come might bring.  Classes at the university that have been regular as the sunrise went unfolded and a key financial resource was, for the time, lost.  What was I going to do Without this buffer for keeping the studio running  when there were no orders to fill, but glass that still needs to be made for still newer opportunities for support, sales, and continued creative output? This man and his family loved what they did.  It was quite simply unlike anything they had ever experienced.  And here it was, just ten minutes drive from their home In the New River Valley.  Today as I delivered the pieces to him at his work, he excitedly asked me what my plans were for the next month.  He explained that he had been talking to people he met about his glass experience just last night and he had MANY people all wondering what they could do to make their own glass?  This man comes into contact with hundreds of people each and every morning shift as a Barista at one of our local coffee shops.  Chatting idly, he had created a mini flame if interest simply because he had come and had such fun.  It is people like this, just like you, who have held up their creations of glass and smiled while showing your friends what a great time you had…..and THIS has been the thing which does it.  This is the planting of seeds, of spreading the word and watching as the fresh rain of spirit nurtures all of this so naturally.

New pendant designs at the studio this Fall.
New pendant designs at the studio this Fall.

I get to live in a world flush with enthusiasm, passion, wonder, and awe.  THIS is what my clients bring to my studio, to my end of the world.  For this and more, I Am so very thankful.  Now I stand at a place where it feels as though the universe is opening the doors wide, perhaps uncomfortably at first, but it seems to be doing what it always does—asking what great things await ahead of me?  So with this I reflect on what even greater things might await that will continue to press the studio forward into a place of greater sufficiency? I am considering a crowd funding campaign in order to put the studio into the right resource territory it needs in order to run effectively.  While I have had a lot of people take workshops, these are all constrained by what people are able to pay, which is always much less than what can be produced by me as a production glassblower.  Consider that to make your own sun catcher ornament it costs $30.00 a piece.  Each takes half an hour to make with one on one instruction.  Now consider that in that same time I can make those same pieces at a rate of one per seven minutes.  This is the unrealized potential of the studio which is currently limited by not having the right resources to lift it into this next level of operation.  Whether blowing or not, it costs $60.00 a day to keep the glass hot in the furnace, ready to blow.  Turning a 2100 degree furnace off for the night is not an option in the glass world.  So what is needed? I will be describing what has been done this and last year to move Stafford Artglass into this new arena and I will explain what remains, which will form the basis of a possible crowd funding project.  For ten years the studio was self sufficient and I sold work to galleries, through art fairs and craft fairs as well as open studio events.  This activity needs support and prior to a move to a new studio and a subsequent injury, nothing has ever been the same because the level of support necessary was never where it needed to be in order to do it right.

"Journey Beads" designed and created for a client at the studio.
“Journey Beads” designed and created for a client at the studio.

I was telling a friend who owns a business how it took nearly $30,000.00 a year before I made my first dollar of profit in glass.  He turned to me and smiled, saying, he had to generate a million dollars, thereabouts, before he could Buy his first hamburger.  Now that sure put things into perspective!  And yet, the underlying reality is the cost of bringing all of our products to market.  It’s not cheap, and yet, this is the reality of business. What I will be doing is looking at a number of funding options, including local foundation grants for specific aspects of developing the studio operation while also developing a crowd funding strategy.  What you can do,quite easily, is to tell people, just that, to your friends, family, acquaintances, and perhaps even your clients.  In networking, you never know where a resource will emerge.  Like Doug, who unexpectedly spread the word to dozens of people all in one morning, you never know where a spark of interest might reside.  Show them the efforts and work on this blog.  Do you like what you see?  Do you think this type of creativity is worth supporting?  A thousand people giving less than ten dollars is enough to move mountains, and these people all come from spreading the word. So stay tuned, stay in tune and consider the possibilities, because so much has already been achieved and there is a little way yet to go.  And thank you for reading this, for wearing your interest and passion on your sleeve….evidence inspires us all!  It is through these simple acts that great things come into being!  Today, I give Thanksgiving for all that my supporters have mustered and look forward to what tomorrow will bring!

Art and Design, glassblowing

The New Precious

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

Over the last few weeks  I have been busily working developing a new line of work. This work employs a process made popular by Louise Comfort Tiffany in the 1800’s called fuming or irridizing.  This process became a signature of the Tiffany style and has been repeated many times over because of its intense popularity.  I have always said that I would not fume my work, and quite recently I went back on that promise in order to investigate this method to see if I could create new interesting forms that break some new ground.

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

Doing that is not easy to do.  There is a lot that has been done…millions of processes and combinations….Some would say there is nothing new under the sun.  Perhaps it is true….until we actually come up with something new. To that end, I am giving it my all.

Yesterday I went into the studio with the intention of doing what I have always done in glass, which is to bring a

sculptural sense to my work and giving the forms a different kind of quality that sometimes departs from traditional vessel forms.

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

The forms I came up with were an effort to create seashell like forms with the abalone shell being one of the chief forms for inspiration.  I grew up on the beach as a child and can remember many small oblong and rippled shells that had beautiful mother of pearl interiors.  I am in truth recreating that moment of discovery on the beach some 45 years later with this body of work.

Shell Form 5 sized

What I am doing are making relatively small-scale pieces that I can control and work into shell inspired forms.  A lot of this has to do with making the pieces off-center and breaking a lot of the rules that make blowing glass feel comfortable and “right.”  So much of what we learn about glass blowing has to do with keeping a piece centered.  So much of what I am doing now is knowing how to let a piece drift of center in just the right way in order to develop a sense of asymmetry amidst the natural order that is symmetry.  The work is in its infancy and yet I have enough ideas and directions to keep me busy for a lifetime.  Lucky for me, I am impatient and like to try new things and make new work so I guess I am making work for someone else to do in another couple of lifetimes!Shell form 5 -b sized

I hope you enjoy looking at the pieces.  They change so much in light, as some versions of the same piece in this post reveal.

All of this is fun and exciting and there is so much more to do, to make and to explore and discover.  This really is the most interesting part of design work because everything is so new and the possibilities are endless.  The key to creative viability I think is remaining fresh and new.  As old lines of work are being retired in my studio work, new lines, like this one with a decidedly oceanic bent to them emerge.  The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  In the interim it leaves new treasures for us to see and explore….seashells and all manner of flotsam and jetsam to pick through….

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford

If you like this work you can see more of the earliest work that was first done a few weeks ago in the post Breaking New Ground.  You can also see and interact on my facebook business page by typing in staffordartglass.

I hope everyone is having a great summer!

©Parker Stafford
©Parker Stafford
Art and Design

The End Of The Artisan



I am an artisan. It is true. I make things. Objects of lasting beauty. I studied for years to develop my skill and facility for the craft of working in glass. Many burns, many thousands of dollars in color tests and R&D. The term “artisan” has a proud ring and a history behind it. I would be the first to admit that there is a craft to other non-art or design related fields such as cooking, for example. I would not however agree that this makes someone who cooks bread an artisan. Or someone who mixes drinks. The problem is that people have glommed onto the idea that they can somehow elevate themselves by taking on or co-opting the term “artisan” in a bid towards delicious trendiness. It has worked.

But I don’t like it.

What has elevated one group has served to lessen the value of what we as artisans do day in and day out. We make things….yes….but we aren’t making mixed drinks or bread or things like that. We make furniture of exceptional quality. We make wrought iron that hovers at the station of art like a glorious phantom of etheric sublimation. Tumblers that entirely escape being JUST tumblers but canvasses for a world of wonder visually. Tell me you artisans of bread and martinis; are you doing this with your materials?

So I will be the first to say I am a little grumpy about this whole artisan business. I am grumpy because its like how someone dresses up to go to the opera only to be cat-called by a bunch of ruffians on the street. Imagine that. Now you know how I feel. yes, I know maybe it sounds like I am being elitist, but really I am not. It just seems to me that the clothes do not fit the people and seems a little overdone. And silly. It is like Mrs Smith down the street introducing her son who digs ditches as being an excavation engineer. It isn’t that I am trying to put people in their place, it is that the words used just don’t fit and are deceptive.

The term of Artisan is getting used left and right and is now showing up more than the old use which is what I and my contemporaries have been using for years….centuries, really. You can see what I saw when I was doing a search for Artisan Blogs recently. Here is what I saw (many browsers now allow you to click on the image to see it clearer and larger….give it a try so you can see the screen shot from today a little more clearly) :

Artisan Google Search

Yes, so there you have it.  Wine. Bread. Martinis.

See, the thing is, I do believe that we can and should change the language and the associations that we have with words in order to keep things up to date. This is a meaningful pursuit, most certainly. However, what has been done to the artisan in the name of popular cuisine is simply sad for me.  For the amount of work I have put into my discipline.  The blood and sweat and tears.  And before anyone from the cooking shows and cooking blogs raises an eyebrow or clears their throat in objection, I will be more than happy for you to object once you have spent a week in my studio doing what I do.  I have already done what you do; I will be making bread in a few days and I have certainly made my own wine and beer.  I know the care that these things take, but they are not on par with what I do with glass or clay or stone or molten bronze.  Or what others do with stone or wood or silver. Or yarn.  Perhaps what you seek is craft.  But artisan is a bit over the top, don’t you think?

You may now bow and kiss my ring…

Art and Design, glassblowing

Welcome To The Swamp

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When I first began my business I discovered that my production created or required a pace that was unlike anything I had experienced up until that time.  I had come from a graduate program where I blew glass four hours a week.  I was able to stretch that time because I had the last blow slot of the day which went from eight until midnight.  I had access to ovens that were what are called long cycle which did not get used very much.  The scheduling of these ovens always made it possible for me to continue working on until two or three into the morning….which I often did.   Every object I made was special.  Each one marked a transiting from one level of ability to another.  When I began working 10 to twelve hours a day in my own studio, I would blow as many pieces in a couple of days as I would have blown in an entire semester when I was at school.  The arc of development is very rapid in the beginning and often has a tendency to slow as skills are accumulated.  After that, the leaps or strides made are often from moments of pure inspiration.  It sends things in a new direction and the skill set may be enlarged, stretched, grown, even unexpectedly.  Hopefully as an artist, we all get that new growth added to our old growth.

When you make things like I do, I find that the way I look at objects, especially the ones I make, is very different from anything I knew before.  In a week I might have a hundred of one thing move through various stages of grinding packaging, shipping, or blowing or conceiving. It can be very easy for these objects to be just that; objects.  I can’t live in such a place where everything is debased in this way.  For me what I make wont EVER be just another object.  I might as well be selling T-shirts or tires.  To do what I do I realized I had to love what I do, love the designs I make (a good design might mean making that work thousands of times), and love the lifestyle the work affords me.  By that I mean that it gives me flexibility to not have to work a nine to five cubicle job.  In fact, the time people have off from their nine to five is most often when I need to be available.  That is nice because it means that I can be off when others are working which makes going to the store or driving down the highway very easy. It also meant I could attend my children’s performances as children in school, art exhibits, talent shows, and other things with my family that were valuable to me.  In truth, I worked 70 to 90 hour weeks in my work, so the time I had to do these things was very important.

To create, to produce in this way requires a level of love for the job, the life, the work and way of life that it elevates it or vaults it beyond anything that I have experienced before.  Work and worker wind their way into one another.  Everything I make I have to make with love. Glass is funny like that; when I am in the groove, I am also feeling the love.  When I am not, it does not flow and the work most often becomes difficult.  Weird things happen.  I lose pieces.  Taking a break, I can often return to the glass soon to continue working.  This is no ordinary kind of job.  I could not do this work if what I needed or wanted was a nine to five job. I can easily work twelve hours a day seven days a week.  I have worked much more at other times.  The only way I could do that was because I loved what I do.  And this is important.  If you come to the swamp, as I tell my students, you really ought to go  ahead and wrestle  some alligators.  This means to me that if you are going to go to the trouble of doing art -or in my case craft- you might as well do it up.  Make something remarkable.  Cool.  Awesome.  Make it worthwhile.  Don’t just mark time.  You never know when you wont have that time anymore.

Many people look at my way of life with a mixture of envy and admiration.  They see the work all finished and clean in a gallery  environment and can’t help but admire.  The truth is, though, it takes wrestling some gators.  Sure enough.  So in order to do this kind of thing, you really do have to love it otherwise it will grow old fast and wither on the vine. I am lucky since I have managed to keep my interest, a love, all these years and continue developing new work instead of stagnating.  It is easy to burn out, wither, blow away.  I have gone through burn out several times in fifteen years of business.  The last one had me wondering whether I even had love for this anymore. My priorities were askew, I found, that the hardness of art and craft is such that if you do not love it, truly love what you are doing, it can be a hard ride.  Love makes it worthwhile.  Maybe in the corporate world that just sounds like silly fluff, weak pasty talk.  Some of us believe that it matters what you do, what you make, design, create, and even leave behind.  Those who care aren’t the strange ones.  There is a whole lot lost in the world if that isn’t the case.

In a day when industrial giants seek to produce at ever larger scales, it is really nice to see studios producing handmade in the way they are today; high quality and with lots of good design and a whole lotta love.

I esteem objects that are made well.

I love objects that have great design.

I like design that makes using an object more fun. As humans we like to decorate EVERYTHING, so its nice to see well designed chairs and clothes and brushes and rugs and cups and a zillion other things big enough to have something different about them beyond mere utility.  I even don’t mind poor design when I know the artist is trying to make the world a better place.  We all have our own tastes.  When an object is made with love, it emits an energy, a sense of aliveness and presence that you can FEEL.  This turns a simple tumbler into a holy grail experience.  It can. You just might be surprised what a little love can do to your day and the objects that share that day with you.

I came to wrestle alligators.  Its not easy always.  Sometimes you doubt yourself, why you are even here doing this.  No one else is there backing you up; you MAKE all of this happen.  By hook or crook.  But that is just it; it is like giving birth….you have to WANT to make things and to see them from beginning to end.  And get them done.  On time.  I actually like to improve the quality of life by making great objects.  I believe that by imbuing my work with unusual, unique and powerful design concepts that I am actually dispersing mediocrity one object at a time.  i do not pause to think that perhaps we have enough stuff.  It is ALL just stuff.  And since it ALL just stuff and things, we have a duty as artists and artisans, I believe, to make those objects worth the while by being interesting, creative, excellent, usable, amazing, remarkable.  And even if it is just ONE of these things, it passes.  It is good.  It is good because it does not let through the door anything less than something that says clearly that we don’t have to be slaves to the mediocre world of the mass produced and unremarkable cheap object (that likely pollutes a country beyond sustainability just for having the industries that make the things they do that are so cheap—there is always a price even if you are not paying for it at the store).  I don’t think I ever wanted this to be easy.  I wanted it to be satisfying.  And today was satisfying.  Hard work, long day, lots made.  If it were easy maybe everyone would be doing it.  Maybe that leaves me a little more elbow room for wrestling that alligator.

What we make says a lot about us.  As a culture.  As a person.  A business.  As an artisan.  As a world. I esteem this and bring to it quality and uniqueness.  We should all live life like its worth living and that today could be well be the last day we get to spend on the planet. By bringing that level of engagement, we also bring our heart and spirit in a much more tangible way.  Call me old-fashioned, but I actually believe that these things matter.  Welcome to the swamp.