Wednesday, September 07, 2005
A conversation with ...
Artist Parker Stafford talks about glass-blowing
Christina O'Connor | The Roanoke Times
Glass artist Parker Stafford of Culpeper,
Ah, glass — is there anything it can’t do? If you thought you were alone in not understanding how glass gets made, think again. Floyd native and professional glass blower Parker Stafford is putting up an exhibition of blown glass works in the Squires Perspective Gallery at Virginia Tech, and he takes a moment here to talk about the craft — the mysteries of the art of making glass and of making a living as an artist.
Making glass seems to be all wrapped up in mystery. Can you give me a blow-by-blow of how it’s done? Sorry, no pun intended.
Parker Stafford: In order to make glass from sand, you need to add material to it in order to lower the temperature at which it will melt — conditioners, things that will counteract the effect of iron, … things that will purge the glass of air bubbles. But basically glass is sand, soda and lime … The thing that’s really interesting to me about glass is the fact that it’s been around for so long, and yet the American Studio Glass movement started the year I was born, by this guy Harvey Littleton … Up until that time everything was in factories. That was part of the tradition and everything was very hush-hush. In fact it was a typical factory situation that you would have five people on one piece. It was compartmentalized so no one person knew how to make a piece from beginning to end. And Harvey Littleton wanted to create a situation where glass could be used in a studio situation … Glass has been around for like 4500 years, possibly as long as 5000 years … and it has a long tradition of secrecy because of the technical finesse or expertise that’s required.
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And you have to protect the secret of your personal craft or your style, right?
PS: Right, or else it turns up at Pier One. It happens all the time … If it’s work that’s really unique that no one else is doing, I’m not as apprehensive about sharing how it’s done. I may leave out a little bit, just because the market is global and I keep seeing stuff happening in China that’s a little worrisome. I know people who have had their most popular work show up in department stores in the U.S., because someone went to a wholesale show in Philadelphia, bought samples and took it and had it made.
How is it trying to make a full-time living blowing glass?
PS: It has cycles, and it’s tough. It really is. You hear people talk about the entrepreneurial spirit. I never talk about it, but that’s what it is. It’s a business … It’s a balance, having somebody walk into your booth at your craft fair and say, "Do you have this in pink?" I hate pink. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I’m not a pizza shop.
It’s like in the music business, when you’ve just finished playing some heart-felt original tune and somebody comes up and says, "Can you play any Skynyrd?"
PS: At what point do I feel like I’ve crossed some line where I feel like I’m selling myself out? Inevitably there’s gonna be a time when you feel that way. Here you are with your art or your craft or whatever, and you go out into the world with it, and the marketplace interacts with it and sorta pushes it and nudges it and sees what it can get out of it … My background in art, there was always this fierce notion about purity and truth to yourself and your vision, and you never sell out. But it’s baloney, because a lot of the big names sell out … For me it’s about finding a balance that I can feel comfortable with.
There will be an opening meet-the-artist reception Sunday from 3-5 p.m. in the Squires Perspective Gallery at Virginia Tech.