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Arts and Entertainment

Celebrating the father of the modern glass paperweight in Akron
Paul Stankard applies scientific glassblowing skills honed in industry to create miniature flowers and insects embedded in glass globes and cubes.

Vivian Goodman
First Bouquet, 1978, glass 2 in.x3 in .x3 in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of Annie and Mike Belkin
Courtesy of Paul Stankard
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This week at the Akron Art Museum the world's largest collection of Paul Stankard's glass paperweights was installed in a new permanent display case above the museum's lobby. Clevelander Mike Belkin has donated 64 of the 300 Stankard pieces he purchased over the past three decades.
A master of glass

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The world’s largest public collection of Paul Stankard’s glass sculptures and paperweights is now on permanent display at the Akron Art Museum.

Stankard, the father of the modern glass paperweight, is ruddy-faced, roly-poly, and one of nine children in an Irish-Catholic family.  The queen of England and Elton John collect his work. You’ll also find it at the Louvre and the Smithsonian.

He says, “I think of myself as a studio artist who works in glass.”

An industrial beginning 
At 68, he’s celebrating a half century as a glass master. At 18, Stankard was a poor student who thought he’d be a machinist. But when it came to enrolling at a community college in his native New Jersey, his dad decided he should study scientific glass-blowing instead.

After graduation he worked in industry making test tubes and beakers for   10 years. On the side, he says he made paperweights. He says he learned how from European co-workers at the glass factory.

 “When they finished their shift, generally there’d be some glass left in the tank and they could play with what was left and would make what they had made in Europe. I was told that it was a lost art and the secrets were gone, and so that was kind of challenging.“ 

When he displayed some of his paperweights on the Atlantic City boardwalk a gallery owner took an interest and his career as an artist was launched.

The music mogul and paperweight collector 
Not long after that, a Cleveland music industry mogul discovered his art.   Stankard says his friend Mike Belkin is better known as a concert promoter.

“But Mike was an antique French paperweight collector. And he was at an auction in New York City and one of my early paperweights from the ‘70s was being auctioned off. And he was fascinated by the work and bought it. It’s hard to believe, over 30 years  Mike has collected my work. He and Annie are wonderful patrons of the arts.”

He says the Belkins gift to the Akron Art Museum is “a blessing” and he loves the way his glass art is displayed.

“It’s the newest, most advanced technology with the fiber optics illuminating the designs. It’s beautiful.”   

Stankard studies beauty.   He’s largely self-taught about arts and culture. He says he began delving into the great books, listening to the classics and studying the work of the masters for the sake of his own art.

 “I wanted to do important work. I wanted my work to be special. And the only way that I could make it special was to educate myself about what excellence is.” 

 A key influence is Walt Whitman. Like Stankard, the poet  loved to walk in the woods.

 “And it wasn’t until I started reading Whitman’s celebration of the ordinary as extraordinary that I began to see nature in a mystical way. Whitman expanded my reference to the mysteries of nature.” 

The technique Stankard uses  to interpret nature in glass is called flame-working. He re-melts  commercially available colored glasses and rods in a flame and manipulates the glass with  tweezers. 

He says he’s amused when people wonder whether the tiny figures of insects and flowers encased in his glass globes and cubes, are real.

  “My goal is to give the glass organic credibility. “

Listener Comments:

Good Morning Vivian, I just had the pleasure of re-listening to your interview from two years ago. It's a blessing to have nuanced background information on the Belkin Collection available to the public as a shared experience. With Gratitude, Paul

Posted by: Paul Stankard (Mantua, New Jersey 08051) on October 15, 2013 7:10AM
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