Archive of previous featured glass artists.
To increase glass art awareness, Memories-In-Glass periodically interviews artists whose glass work and skill stands out. This month, we are featuring the work of internationally acclaimed glass artist and teacher Paul Stankard. The following text was transcribed from a telephone interview that Neal Robinson had with Paul Stankard.
N: How did you get started in glass art?
P: I graduated from Salem Community College in 1963 where I trained in scientific glass blowing. After playing on the creative side while working in industry, I made the commitment to work full time making floral paperweights. Southern New Jersey has a rich glass history, and paperweights are important part of that tradition. I was aware of the Millville Rose paperweight and started experimenting with flowers in paperweights. My success has been in bringing a fresh artistic point of view to the field.
N: Your pieces are quite intricate. How long would you say you spend working on a piece from mental conception to finished product?
P: Well, the least ambitious piece takes about 180 hours.
P: I have assistants working for me, so that’s the total hours during the process, including my assistants’ time. Because the pieces are intricate, my challenge is to have them appear natural and not have people see the amount of labor involved. I want the art work to look organic, and the work is successful when people don’t realize I’ve labored over the glass for hours, even though I have.
N: I see. Speaking of assistants, when working with other artists in the Stankard Studio, do you find yourself learning and playing off one another’s creativity?
P: My assistants work under my leadership and share my vision. Yes, you learn, you constantly learn. Still, I am directing. For years, I benefited from assistants and we now have established Stankard Studio where I’m mentoring my staff. I have my four children and a valued assistant, David Graeber, who are building their future under the Stankard Studio banner. I’m looking forward to the day that Stankard Studios will continue on its own merits; I don’t think I will ever retire, but I’ll have less of a role.
N: Actually, I think you just answered my next question. Could you tell our readers a little more about the Stankard Studio and what goes on there?
P: Sure. I think that it’s very exciting and I take pride in my assistants’ success. Each person designs and develops their own work, which they sign.
N: So Stankard Studio is the umbrella for four creative people , giving each an opportunity to develop their own designs and they come together to make it work?
P: Yes. There are two aspects to their glass. The encapsulating of the colored glass inclusions, and the designing and making of them. The Stankard Studio method allows for individual designs, and they work together to complete the work. When they assist me, I direct all aspect of the work and take artistic authorship.
N: On your website, you say you’re interested in blending mysticism together with magical realism to suggest organic credibility. Could you elaborate on this?
P: Yes. Mysticism, to me, is the spiritual dimension of my artwork. I love the idea of “labor as a prayer,” a Benedictine motto. For me, it’s about making things well and being creative. I often talk about pursuing excellence in my work, it has to do with the teacher in me. For me, it’s about beauty, and excellence is a manifestation of beauty. Magical realism, as a category, is less surreal and more about referencing nature in the ethereal world of imagination. I want the flowers to appear credible, and my challenge is to manipulate the glass in the flame to bring detail and delicacy into the designs. If the viewer believes it’s real, that’s fine. But it’s about the life cycle and mysteries of nature.
N: Can you build on that thought?
P: Sure. Magical realism, to me, is referencing nature with the freedom to imagine, creatively interpret, bring in symbolism. With figures, the forms symbolize the unseen world, adding a layer of myth to the work.
N: I see.
P: I love the idea of bringing in detail, of pursuing delicacy. The more detail I layer onto the design, and the stronger the delicacy, the more credible the work appears. I think people looking at it will think that no one in their right mind would spend time or give that kind of detail to an imaginary flower. It must be real. It’s a kind of trompe-l’oeil.
N: You talk about nature and how the poetry of Walt Whitman influences your work. What are your favorites poems of Whitman’s?
P: I think “Song of Myself” is Whitman’s great masterpiece. I’m touched by “the Ox Tamer.” Another is “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Whitman articulates a depth of feeling in words that border on mysticism. James Joyce is another writer I’m an enthusiastic student of. What these giants of literature accomplish is a depth of feeling in their work, like that I’m trying to bring to glass.
N: Okay, speaking of bringing that depth of feeling to glass, how do you handle creative blocks when they come?
P: That’s a good question. I kind of repeat myself. I’m old enough—63—to go back and reinterpret designs that I developed in the 1970s, and it’s kind of sweet. They come out different. I have a menu that has evolved over 35 years of working in glass, so my creative blocks are less of a problem now then they were 20 years ago. It’s interesting that only the artist knows when he or she is advancing the aesthetic. It’s really a personal journey.
N: Going on with artists advancing their aesthetic, do you have any recommendations for new artists starting out in the glass field?
P: Sure, study what you love. The difference between an amateur and the professional, I think, is that the professional puts the work in art historical context. There are levels and platforms along the way. I think the first platform would be for the beginner to master the craft. Then the next challenge should be to survey contemporary glass internationally and know the field—become familiar with the best and most respected artists who are working in glass—and contribute on a personal level. When you survey art history, search for what interests you. I think, the more you study, the more familiar you become with good art, the more you see and respond and the stronger your artistic point of view becomes. I think it’s important for the readers to survey international glass or American glass. Go to Corning Glass Museum and Wheaton’s American Glass Museum and make a list of work you respect and do a little research. Read American Craft Magazine and Glass Magazine visit the top galleries. Attend the SOFA Fair in Chicago or New York and look and learn. N: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? P: I think that the emerging artists today, in many ways, have it much easier than the pioneers, only because there’s so much information about process. On the other hand, originality is the life’s blood of a career. It’s hard to establish a career; generally, it take ten to fifteen years to develop fresh ideas or a personal vocabulary. The biggest challenge a creative person working in glass faces is to make the work. And as you work, the art evolves. You are inventing your voice, and developing a personal vocabulary. Make it personal regardless of whether it sells or not, and you will grow as an artist.
If you are interested in learning more about Paul Stankard and his work, go to paulstankard.com