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Cruz Bay
Wednesday, May 22, 2024


Urban glass – what's the image? Most likely empty beer bottles and broken bits strewn across the street lying in wait for your tires.
Urban Glass, with a capital G, is all that, but a whole lot more.
It's a windowless studio on the third floor of a building in Brooklyn where artists create works in glass – blowing, turning, shaping, polishing and finishing gleaming one-of-a-kind plates, bowls, goblets, vases, abstract objets d'arte and more. And for the last month it's had a branch operation on St. John.
Christian Thornton, Evan Binkley, Mana Shimomura and Robert Panepinto will end their artists-in-residence stay at Maho Bay Camps on Tuesday, Aug. 15. Until then, the public is welcome to visit their work space any day between 9 a.m. and noon and between 6 and 10 p.m.
As a special incentive, the St. Thomas-St. John Arts Council is hosting its August "Arts After Dark" there on Friday evening.
Visitors are welcome to come by anytime between 6 and 10, have a seat on one of the benches set up just far enough removed from the glowing electric furnace and the glassblowing area to escape most of the heat, and observe the creative process.
The four artists have been working at Maho Bay Camps, an award-winning environmentally oriented tent-cabin "resort," on a multi-faceted mission:
– They are recycling glass waste generated by beer drinkers at the resort and elsewhere on St. John.
– They are providing a spectator activity for guests at Maho Bay and its nearby sister facility, Harmony Studios.
– They are training Jared Hill, the new Maho Bay environmental resources director, in the rudiments of glassblowing so he can keep the recycling project going.
– Most compelling, they are creating a body of work that will be exhibited next month in St. Louis at "Discovery 2000," a conference of national park superintendents from around the country.
It was Maho Bay founder and president Stanley Selingut who came up with the project. While viewing the glass works on display at an art exposition in New York earlier this year, he was struck by the idea of marrying artistry to environmental responsibility, camp general manager Maggie Day said.
Day said the glass work area had been set up earlier in response to the question of "What is the responsible thing to do with the waste stream?" Maho Bay has had a glass crusher for some time and has been using the results as fill at worksites, she said, and recently some of the crushed glass was mixed with concrete to form the base of a fountain.
V.I. National Park acting Supt. Judy Shafer noted that Selingut has had a long working relationship with the National Park Service and serves as an advisor to the Secretary of the Interior on environmentally sustainable design. "A lot of the Park Service sustainability guidelines were developed here in the early '90s," Shafer said of Maho Bay.
The National Park Service brought the Urban Glass artists to St. John. "Discovery 2000" attendees will get to see not only glass works created at Maho Bay this summer but also a video of the artists at work, produced by St. Thomian Eric Pattison. After the conference, 25 of the works are to go on permanent display in Washington, D.C., and, Day said, some of the "most spectacular pieces" will be presented as gifts to President Clinton, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and other government officials.
Binkley said the opportunity to create artwork for the conference "was one of the biggest draws" to St. John for the artists. Another: The ambience is a lot cooler out of doors on St. John in the summer than in an airless third-floor workspace in New York. The down sides are that the furnace at Maho Bay is much smaller than what they are accustomed to working with, there's a shortage of glass, and working with the heated glass out of doors, particularly at night, "the breeze can just crack it."
A big upgrade in the equipment situation occurred two weeks ago, when Maho Bay took delivery of its "glory hole," a circular concrete-brick supplemental furnace. It's "like a torch inside and stays nice and hot," Binkley said, whereas the temperature in the older furnace fluctuates greatly with the door continually being opened and closed.
The colors of the objects the artists create reflect their glass origins. Green is courtesy of Heineken drinkers. Clear glass with a slight blue tinge comes from Carib beer bottles, which are colorless but have a dark blue and yellow enamel "label" that melts down with the glass.
Glassblowing is as exacting an art form as any other. Binkley, who has a bachelor of fine art in glass from The Ohio State University, noted, "You can't just pick it up. Nobody just goes into a studio and makes stuff."
Shimomura, who majored in sculpture at an art school in Tokyo, said she never really enjoyed working with clay, metal, wood and stone. She took up glass art five years ago as a hobby and got into it seriously three years ago. "This is my material," she said. "I love the focus on the shape."
Binkley said the four "all have our own design styles, but we all like to play, and here we can do it."
One challenge for other parks interested in setting up glass projects is getting the necessary equipment and personnel, Shafer said. Another is "disposing of the end product." She explained that the National Park Service itself "doesn't sell things," but works with cooperative associations that do.
For that reason, Day invites local gallery and gift shop owners come by to see what the artists have created, with an eye toward perhaps adding some of the pieces to their inventories. Many of the works are priced $40 to $60.
Friday's "Arts After Dark" is free and open to the public. It does require the investment of travel time and costs for those on St. Thomas – and offers the option of dining at the resort's main pavilion before watching the glass artists at work, or perhaps stopping by for dessert or a drink anytime before the kitchen closes at 7:30 p.m.
Those on St. Thomas should take the 5 p.m. ferry from Red Hook, then board the Maho Bay shuttle in Cruz Bay (it's $4 each way). There's no shuttle meeting the 6 p.m. ferry, but taxi service is available.
Special arrangements are being made to have a shuttle leave Maho Bay to connect with the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Cruz Bay ferries back to Red Hook. Reservations must be made for this service by noon Friday. Call of fax to 776-4812 or e-mail to jetsinger@viaccess.net.

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