NEWPORT, Va. – A childhood memory inspired one man to pursue a passion in the industry of glass blowing and now, he’s giving back to people in the community interested in the art.
He creates all kinds of art glass like decorative items, cups, platters, and more. He even creates items like unique geodes and glass pumpkins.
“Pumpkins are an excuse to do all kinds of things with color,” Stafford said. “From very simple ones that are clear and classy, but then there is iridized pumpkins, metallic, and all kind of things. For years, I knew people did pumpkins this time of year, but I would always decide not to do them. Well, I learned so many people around here love their pumpkins!”
But his art pieces go beyond just creating a glass pumpkin patch.
Stafford teaches community classes when he can, and sometimes that means taking time out of his busy business owner schedule. He opened Stafford Art Glass Studio which he opened in 1997.
“It is funny because people think I don’t want anyone bothering me, but that is not the case at all! I am here! Come on in and you can watch glass blowing,” he said. “It’s so amazing. It is a chemical material and at room temperature, it crystalizes. It works with color and light in a way nothing else does.”
Glass is everything to Stafford.
“It is one of these materials, even after blowing glass for close to 30 years, it is still magic,” he said.
Stafford said the love started when he was a boy.
“I was different in a way that I would say I had a different way of relating to the world,” he said. “My mother would say, ‘Oh, he’s dyslexic.’ When I was two or three, she saw me draw a picture upside down and backward from a magazine. She freaked out. I think that when you are not in the box and think differently, you are not as predisposed to the usual memes and beliefs that are usual, so you have to innovate a little.”
Stafford said when he went on trips to Europe and England with his grandparents, he found the thing he wanted to chase.
“I got to see all these churches with these walls of glass and that was amazing,” Stafford said. “The color and the lighting, and this was hundreds of years ago when they built these things. That was my earliest influence related to glass.”
For a while though, Stafford focused on sculptures instead.
“I wanted to stay with sculpture because glass is a 3D material and is sculptural,” Stafford said. “Learning that was helpful because it is a way, I could run my business and use the technology I was familiar with. With the Pyro technology and 2,000-degree furnace which is the temp you use to melt bronze. It was a very smooth transition for me when I started focusing on glass.”
Stafford’s education and work background are very decorated – he got his M.F.A. in Sculpture and the rest is history.
“A year into my program I discovered SIU-C had glass,” said Stafford. “I took one introductory class but because it was graduate school. The rest of my study consisted of a four-hour blow slot each week and periodic meetings with my professor and students in the glass program. This pushed me to learn on my own, but I did take a class in Florida with an Italian maestro Pino Signoretto who sculpted glass solid. Pino did collaborative work with Dale Chihuly, in Seattle, for example. Pino was an artist in Murano.”
He said he also took a workshop in 1996 at the Corning Museum Studio School to learn about torch-worked glass.
“It’s also referred to as lamp working because early torches were made from oil lamps that had bellows to blow air across the flame to melt rods of glass,” Stafford said. “Adding the winter residency at Penland in early 1997 helped to round out my education, the Penland excursion being more a fact-finding expedition to see if I could produce enough glass in a nine-day period to make supporting a studio and a family possible.”
Stafford was beyond successful in doing that – he’s had his pieces featured at several festivals and shows with galleries, but he said his biggest accomplishment in life was having his two children.
Stafford said he did find himself hitting challenges such as issues with the economy, but he refused to let that stop him from his passion.
“I just paid attention to the glass, watched the glass, and listened to the glass,” he said. “I listen to it even when it is not listening to me, but it tells me things that might be good for me to consider. That may sound funny, but it is true, and I think it is that way with anything.”
Stafford said he hopes to bring a sense of uniqueness to the community in each and every piece of work he creates.
“Human creativity can be seen in every corner of the world,” Stafford said. “I don’t think I am anything special, but I just happen to be very visual about it,” he laughed. “My hope is that people get knocked out by the color and the vibrance of the glass and then take away what little message they can get from my story.”
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