Hot business at blown art studio

A family of glass blowers is inspired to use Cayman’s abundance of flora and exotic marine life to create unique designs.


Oliver works with a glass fish on the bench

Maestro Stephen Victor Zawistowski, trained by Venetian Maestro Franco Toffolo in Blackpool, England has been working with glass for the past 26 years.

Mr. Zawistowski, along with son Oliver, wife Carol and hired-hand Matthew Lee, work in the Glass Blowing Studio on North Church Street.

Mrs. Zawistowski is the owner and manager of the store and runs the retail side. She also assists the team and has a display of her own glass jewellery.

Before coming to Cayman Mr. Zawistowski spent time in Bermuda experimenting with colours of the Caribbean to use in his creations.

At the studio he has adapted his own style with Cayman indigenous species. His work has also been shown in cities around the world, such as New York, Paris, London, Madrid and Bermuda art Galleries.

Oliver, under his tutoring, has had his work displayed at Cayman art festivals.

‘Glass Blowing takes a lot of skill and determination and it is not an easy job,’ said Mr. Zawistowski.

‘Working the hot glass is very physical. You have to get used to the heat from the furnace, which burns at a temperature of over 2,000 degrees with molten glass,’ he said.

‘You have to work the glass real fast while it is still hot because the glass passes from liquid to solid phases in a few seconds,’ added Oliver.

‘It takes many years to master the art and science of glassblowing, I had to practice, practice, practice,’ he said.

All the designs at the studio are completely handmade, which makes the pieces unique.

Using a centuries-old technique of pulling and tweaking the molten glass into shape with scissors, Mr. Zawistowski, along with Oliver and Mr. Lee, are creating these magnificent glass works.

A selection of colourful and unique glass replicas of Cayman stingrays, turtles, iguanas, parrots, flowers, trees, plates and marine life are coming out of the studio.

‘The stingray is our best seller,’ said Mr. Zawistowski. ‘But we had some strange requests such as a crack pipe, which was denied.’

A stingray four inches wide and five inches in length sells for $45. Larger pieces such as a conch shell with pink insides can run up to $395.

Visitors to the studio also get the opportunity to view artists at work.

The first step in creating a piece of art is gathering the glass on a steel rod from the furnace.

The glass can then be shaped, sculpted or blown using wet newspaper, tongs, tweezers and scissors. Glass – crushed into a powder form, which comes from New Zealand – is added for colour.

It is then placed in an oven overnight to complete the job and removed in the morning when it is cooled.

The furnace runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the ceramic crucible inside contains a bath of liquid molten glass at a temperature of 2,050 degrees. The cost of running the furnace is about $1,200 per week. Despite the heat from the furnace the temperature inside the store is 89 degrees at all times.

Glass blowing is usually a process that is used to shape glass. Sand – not the kind from Seven Mile Beach – limestone, potash and soda ash are combined and heated. When it is melted it forms glass.

Local job seekers may not see glass blowing as a lucrative career but those trained in the art see it more as a hobby than a job.

Mr. Zawistowski said they have been approached by a number of locals expressing the desire to learn, but that is as far as it goes.

‘One school leaver came in but left after three days because she could not stand the heat.’

He said even an apprentice programme set up to train locals has had no results. An apprentice usually earns up to $300 per week.

The studio is open Monday through Saturday; from 9am to 5pm. Aspiring glass blowers are urged to go have a look.

Interested person can also check out the website to select one of kind special pieces of art.

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