Walking into Glassworks on its historic property in West Tisbury is magical. The luminescent gallery is filled with the translucent colors of glass objects that affect you on a visceral level. It is a place of wonder and creativity.
Andrew and Susan Shapiro Magdanz built Glassworks in 1992 with a desire to provide a creative space to nurture artists and themselves in glassmaking, while simultaneously educating the community.
The first floor of this building, which Magdanz built with the help of two Island carpenters, is a gallery filled with glassware, and as their website states, it displays multiple color and size variations of our favorite objects. There are vases of all shapes and sizes, glasses, pitchers, and much more. On the ground floor there is also a working studio where you can see the beautiful pieces being formed by expert craftsmen. Upstairs are rotating, curated exhibitions of one-of-a-kind, often sculptural, unique works. (See examples at mvglassworks.com/our-work.)
Manager Wil Sideman says, “Everyone here is very passionate about sharing what we do with the community. That’s one of the largest parts of the business that Andy and Susan felt was important from the beginning, that there was a viewing area built into the shop for that purpose. We have the gallery, but you can come and watch the product being made and communicate with the people making it and learn a little about the process.”
Glassworks has been adapting to the pandemic on an ongoing basis. When they first re-opened in August of 2020, not only did the public have to wear masks, but the staff did as well, which forced them to learn a whole new way of working. “If you think of glassblowing historically,” Magdanz explains, “we would work in very close contact with each other with one person blowing into the pipe while the other person assisting, making something at the other end. So, we had to develop a new way of blowing glass. We settled on using compressed air and using very low pressure like you would generate with your mouth. We had to be able to match that kind of air pressure and be able to control it.”
Magdanz, who has been working in the traditional method for 51 years, says, “Just the concept of changing something was daunting. Blowing glass is very much like being a musician. If you told somebody who was playing the trumpet that they had to get the air to go into the trumpet from a different mouthpiece it would be very difficult to adapt to that.”
Likewise, they have reduced to just two working stations in the shop on the far side away from the public. Last year they worked behind glass barriers and restricted the number of people watching them blowing glass. Magdanz shares, “It’s been disappointing not to be able to interact with the public. It’s important to us to educate them about what glassblowing is about. But the public has been really supportive about wearing masks.”
Sideman adds, “We’re really appreciative of the support from the public because we thought we would do zero sales since nobody would want to come in. And it’s been a decent year. We’ve made a lot of new customers and a lot of old customers are coming in.”
The biggest hit this year turns out to be an elegant vase that won a blue ribbon at the Ag Fair by Joey Huang, who has worked with them for a few seasons. It is white glass with suggestions of blue waves circling around the bottom. Magdanz makes gorgeous small vases you want to put on all your window sills so the sun shines through, illuminating their colors as well as those of his larger ones. Sideman makes historic replicas of deck prisms, which were put in the decks of whaling ships. They are like a skylight, and they concentrate the natural light below deck.
Sideman says, “We’re always developing something new, and work with clients. Something new that we’re also doing is taking on a lot more commissions and higher-end specialty projects with clients or designers.”
This summer, Glassworks added two visiting artists, who came to the shop for a few days and exhibited their work upstairs to bring some fresh ideas and new life into the gallery. Magdanz says, “Four of us here work with glass, but it’s exciting to bring in friends from the larger glass community and share with our local Island community. We’re already talking to other artists for next year.”
Magdanz shares about another new development, “One other thing we’re doing now is that we made a big investment by changing our melting furnace from propane to being an electric furnace so that we were able to lower our carbon footprint by two thirds.” They have also been using green energy and have moved from melting raw glass to basically using a recycled product, which lowers their energy usage as well.
Equally as important is their strong interest in education by working with some of the schools, doing something experiential, or possibly an internship. Sideman explains, “We’ve been here thirty years and had a lot of support from the community and we want to figure out ways to give back. Some of the ways are in partnership with local art groups or working with the high school directly to share what we do here with the local youth.”
Magdanz says, “We love the public not just to come in and buy something, although that keeps us a lively business, but to come in to see something special being made. We are not a trinket company. We are a very serious decorative arts artist community of people with experience and art training, making high-quality glass-made objects.”
Whether you’re looking to buy, watch great objects being made, or just experience a transformative environment, Glassworks is well worth the visit.
To learn more, visit mvglassworks.com.