Blown Beauty

Don Sylor Tucked away on a quiet piece of farmland in West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks buzzes with activity. Glass artists hone their craft in the hot shop, shaping and coloring the glass to their liking, as customers mill about the gallery, browsing the wares and inquiring about the pieces being made before their eyes. According to gallery co-owner and head glassblower Mark Weiner, this unique customer experience helps set Glassworks apart from other studios.

Providing an exceptional experience for visitors has been high on the priority list for Glassworks since it was founded in 1992. Andrew Magdanz and his wife, Susan Shapiro—both glass artists themselves—had been summering on the Vineyard for years and thought the island would be the perfect location for a studio. When the farmland became available, they jumped on the opportunity and set to work, bringing in Weiner, then a freelance glass artist who had worked with the couple as a co-founder.

The business has only grown since then. According to Kirstin Hoffmann, gallery manager, the studio receives thousands of visitors each year with most coming during the busy July through August months. The studio works with local hotels and real estate agencies to market itself in addition to issuing brochures and press releases all over the island. Hoffmann credits customers for Glassworks’s popularity. “They’re some of the best marketers because they give a gift to somebody and then that person ends up purchasing from us because they loved it so much,” she says.

Hoffmann, now in her third season at the studio, says the shop has many loyal customers on the island, but returning tourists make up a good chunk of the clientele. “We get customers all the time that say they come to the island every year and their vacation isn’t complete unless they come to Glassworks. It’s really become a tradition for a lot of people,” she says.

Hoffmann says many customers cite the fact that they can watch the artists in action as a reason for their return visits. Being able to watch the process and ask questions of both Hoffmann and the artists themselves helps develop a sense of appreciation for the glass creations. “By teaching people how it’s made, and about the history of glass, it gives them an extra dimension for that appreciation,” says Weiner, a glass artist for over 30 years. He also believes that observing the artists at work can help teach customers the value of handmade items in a culture that often places priority on mass production. This educational aspect of the shop is even more important to the staff because of the particular medium they work in. “Education is really important for glass specifically because it’s not a medium that people are that educated about or that familiar with,” says Hoffmann.

And a better-informed customer is better able to appreciate the quality that Glassworks’ is known for. “We have very high standards of what is acceptable and what is excellent,” says Weiner. “And a lot of times excellence is more important than acceptable.” Pieces are thoroughly examined before being placed on the selling floor and imperfections are not tolerated. “We don’t let anything slide,” says Hoffmann. Solid principles of design are also important aspects of the finished pieces. “There’s a very strong design aesthetic here,” says Hoffmann. “It’s very clean lines, simple shapes, and forms.”

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Emma Haak, a former editorial intern at Cape Cod Life Publications, is a freelance writer and editor.

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