Conway artists invite patrons to experience the art of glassblowing
"Don’t touch anything!”
As children, we all remember being admonished by our parents—or sometimes scowling business owners—when we entered a store displaying hand-blown glass. We had to walk carefully and keep our hands to ourselves because the elegant items were fragile, luminescent, beautiful … and most of all, highly breakable. However, when Conway Glass owners Barbara and Ed Streeter are around, those same very enticing pieces are also festive, interactive and fun.
On the first Saturday of each month, September through May, the Streeters open the doors of their gallery to offer free glassblowing demonstrations to spectators and art lovers. Ed spends the entire day in the “hot shop”—the studio in the back of the building—with his hands and face in the fire and a crowd in the room. He’s revealing the intricate process of blending sand, fire and air to make glass, while simultaneously answering questions as Barbara assists with tools and materials. Hundreds of people cycle through the shop on any given Saturday, 35 to 40 at a time, to take in the alluring scene.
In December, the Streeters up their game for the holiday season. On demo day, Barbara and Ed—“the hot shop team”—make a 50-foot glass candy cane that stretches the entire length of the shop, showing visitors how they blow the glass, spin and shape the figure, and add color in the process. “To pull a 50-foot cane in the hot shop is pretty fun,” Ed says. “It shows people the flexibility and how glass is really pliable at 2200 degrees. We do the color application, and then we pull it and twist it. It’s really cool.”
Other Saturdays in the month, when the gallery is filled with hand-blown Christmas trees and snowmen, the shop holds ornament-making workshops, where visitors can make their own custom pieces. They also offer private classes and parties where participants gain firsthand knowledge.
The Streeters have been in the glass business for more than 30 years, but it wasn’t always about art and creativity. Ed began his career in the commercial glass industry, producing and cutting high-rise plate glass and mirrors. Residential work followed, and he gradually began to specialize in drawing and cutting stained glass. As his proficiency developed, word of his work spread, and now his art is on display everywhere, including “a few hundred churches in the Southeast” and hundreds of homes in the Grand Strand area.
With no formal training, Ed’s talent grew from both daily practice and “an irresistible urge to create.” When Ed began his career, he considered himself a glass guy, but his work evolved beyond the realm of trade to become art. “I take a whole lot of pride in knowing I can cut just about anything, any kind of pattern” without the use of a saw, he explains—“and that’s what makes an artist in the stained glass world,” adds Barbara.
The beauty and quality of the Streeters’ art has garnered regional and national attention. In 2010 they were asked to provide an ornament for the Travel & Tourism Christmas tree displayed in the West Wing Lobby of the White House, and the couple was named Grand Strand Artist of the Month in July. Holly Beaumier, Director of the Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau, emphasizes the regional impact of the Streeters’ work. “Conway, and the eastern portion of the state, actually, are fortunate to have the talented Streeters as local glassblowing experts, willing to demonstrate and instruct beginners on the craft of glassblowing,” Beaumier says. “The authenticity and quality of the glass pieces they create is unmatched.”
More important to the Streeters than awards and accolades, however, is the promotion of art, especially as it relates to public accessibility. “I think it’s very important to get the community involved in the arts,” said Barbara. “If they can see it, they enjoy it, so we want to make opportunities available where people have more access.” Barbara and Ed are founding members of Create Conway, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the arts in and around the city. They have been involved in numerous festivals, events and “Dancing with Wool,” the city’s first public art project since the early 1980s. Staged in October 2012, the project involved 20 artists creating 25 lamppost coverings throughout the city using 27,000 yards of yarn.
The Streeters hope to keep doing more of the same to draw people to the area and get them hooked on art. So don’t worry about getting a scowl from the business owners at this hand-blown glass shop. Instead, they’ll ask you to join in the fun.