Photographs do little justice to Paul Stankard’s creations. The legendary South Jersey artist’s meticulously sculpted small-scale glass botanicals in vibrant colors and myriad species—all enveloped in a clear orb—beg to be seen up close.
“I have invented a new language for glass,” says Stankard, whose 50 years in glass art will be celebrated from April 1 to May 8 at the Gallery of Fine Craft at Wheaton Arts and Culture Center in Millville. “For my whole life I had this need to do something well, and my self esteem, my identity, my whole being is tied up in doing something that is respected and is also personal to me and relevant to who I think I am.”
Stankard is universally regarded as a master of his art. His paperweights and glass spheres have appeared in galleries and museums the world over, including the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. His glass-encapsulated flowers and figures—which can fetch prices from $6,000 to as much as $75,000—grace the homes of notables such as Elton John and Hillary Clinton. He is a fellow at the Corning Museum of Glass, is a founding board member of the Creative Glass Center of America in Millville and serves as an adjunct professor at Salem Community College.
Stankard got his start as an industrial glass worker in 1961, making utilitarian laboratory apparatus. But every night he would come home and sculpt his own creations, trying to capture “a perception of time, and to bring forth the fecund, to express my faith in the power of sex, death and God.”
Fifty years later, his international reputation as a pioneer in glass flameworking (a method that involves dropping and pulling glass melted on a flame of up to 2,200 degrees) is unparalleled.
“His legacy will not only be his elevation of American paperweight-making to a level on par with the great European masters, but he has also brought lampworking to a new generation,” says Andrew Page, editor-in-chief of Glass Quarterly.
Pausing from his work in his secluded studio in Mantua, Gloucester County, Stankard looks back on his career with a mix of pride and melancholy.
“I know this is where I belong,” he says. “And I still have a lot more to give it. That’s what makes it so surreal. I’m still in the game, advancing the tradition, discovering new illusions.”