Grant money lights the furnace for Conway Glass
Article by Elizabeth Townsend, photos by Charles Slate
Newly awarded grant money is firing up the furnace at Conway Glass this fall.
Ed Streeter, co-owner and visual artist, will use the grant funding to fan the flames of his monthly Saturday glass-blowing demonstrations, which are instructional presentations that show off traditional and experimental techniques in the ancient art of glass blowing to a crowd that grows each year.
This year’s first demonstration will be held on Oct. 3 – the same day as the City of Conway’s Fall Festival and the Live Oak Festival events, which will feature arts and crafts vendors and musical entertainment.
During the demonstrations, Streeter works with 2,150-degree heat as he pulls molten globs of glass from the fire and fashions them into pieces of art before an audience in his studio at the back of Conway Glass, at 209 Laurel St.
“It’s transformative. They start with a blob of molten nothing and in a brief time colors are introduced and then the little blob of glass is turned into a bowl or vessel, and it’s really fun to watch that happen right before you,” Jim Arendt said, who is also an area artist and has attended the demonstrations for the past five years with his wife and three children.
Additionally, Arendt is the director of the Rebecca Randall Bryan Gallery at Coastal Carolina University.
Ed is assisted by his wife Barbara, who is also co-owner and a visual artist at Conway Glass. Barbara usually narrates as Ed creates during the 45-minute presentations for audiences, ranging from 20 to sometimes 60 people an hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month.
“It’s very informative, yet informal. We just have a good time. It’s fun for all ages,” Barbara said of the demonstrations.
The Streeters are also occasionally assisted by friend and fellow glass-blowing artist Wayne Fitzgerald, who visits the studio about once a year from the Philadelphia area.
Together, the Streeters have been putting on the glass-blowing demonstrations for roughly 15 years and have watched the crowds grow steadily each year.
“On a cold fall day, it’s the hottest ticket in town,” Arendt said.
The demonstrations are often themed; during October it’s glass pumpkins, December brings Christmastime decorations. About 500 spectators came to presentations on a January Saturday when old beer bottles were refurbished into drinking glasses.
Flames of the furnace are also sometimes used to make popcorn for audiences and lunches for the Streeters while they’re in between shows.
“I would absolutely love to attend the demos. I plan to go to as many as I possibly can,” said Melaney Mills, who is from Lake City but previously lived in the Myrtle Beach area for years.
She has heard great things about the demonstrations at Conway Glass and is excited to attend future events. Mills said she enjoys the arts and dabbles in them herself.
“I love the vibrant colors in the glass. It’s all so beautiful to me,” she said as she looked around at all the shiny merchandise at Conway Glass.
The storefront of Conway Glass is simple, but within is a wonderland of glass orbs and ornaments, of stained glass mosaics and an array of handcrafted merchandise, big and small.
The Streeters also specialize in other glass needs such as commercial and residential products, including windows, mirrors, shower doors, safety glass and more.
Through a small hallway past the store’s front space and down the rabbit hole, is a large workshop studio where the demonstrations take place. It was revamped last year when Barbara was awarded a $5,000 grant from the S.C. Arts Commission that allowed her to add new video equipment, lighting and other technical improvements, which gave audiences a better view of all the action, Barbara said.
The grant money also helped the couple hold the glassblowing demonstrations from October to May 2014 and propelled Barbara’s experimental glass-blowing theater project, which featured two plays with glass-blowing fused into the plots and a performance by a glass-blowing magician.
After Barbara and 15 actors put in roughly 700 volunteer hours preparing, every one of the 100 tickets available to each blackbox-theater style event at about $18.50 a piece sold out. Barbara said she would love to do the events again, and may apply for more grant money to continue them.
“Conway Glass is a real treasure. A glass-blowing studio is a rare thing in the state to begin with, so to have one in our backyard is really nice,” Arendt said.
This year, Ed was awarded a $1,000 Quarterly Project Support for Artist Grant by the South Carolina Arts Commission for the 2016 fiscal year to help keep the demonstrations going. The Streeters said the funding helps pay for advertising, materials and time as the couple devotes an entire day to giving the public a free view of traditional and experimental glass blowing.
The Quarterly Project Support for Artists is partly funded by the National Endowment of the Arts and the John and Susan Bennett Memorial Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina. Conway Glass is also helping Ed meet his obligation of matching the arts commission grant with local dollars.
“I was just floored when I got the grant. It’s pretty exciting to be recognized by the S.C. Arts Commission,” Ed said.
With this grant the Streeters will put on demonstrations on Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5. The couple will apply for another quarterly grant to hold more presentations the first Saturday of each month from January to May.
The Streeters offer classes from October through May from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays when demonstrations aren’t being held, and hold them on Thursdays as well. Walk-ins are welcome on Thursdays, but the Streeters request calling for an appointment on Saturdays. Prices range from $28 to $325 per class, depending on what people would like to learn.
More than glass
In addition to their glass-blowing studio projects, the Streeters are stay active in the emerging art scene in Conway.
Barbara is executive director of the organization CREATE!, which is a nonprofit 501 C-4 membership organization formed in 2011 and designed by local artists to celebrate and promote the arts in the community.
Grant money was also awarded to the group over the summer, including more than $800 from the S.C. Arts Commission, $2,000 from the Waccamaw Foundation and $2,500 from the City of Conway, the Streeters said.
CREATE! has about 30 members and is growing each year as more artists participate. The organization gained an administrative office space this year in the Conway Innovation Center near the Streeters’ glass studio in downtown Conway, but Barbara said the growing group desperately needs a bigger space.
“I love watching it grow from just a few individuals to a recognized group trying to bring more art to Conway,” Jesse Nevins, membership coordinator and teacher with CREATE!, said in an email.
Nevins has been a member of CREATE! for two years and teaches an after-school program for elementary school-age kids from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays at the Mary Thompson building in Collins Park. She also keeps up with CREATE! members and recruits new ones.
Nevins was has an art degree from Coastal Carolina University and joined CREATE! after finishing college. She said got involved with CREATE! because she wanted to work with an artist group that was “cutting edge” and “community focused.”
“As an artist sometimes you can feel really alone in facing the problems of making. It’s nice to be able to share your frustrations with others who understand and bounce ideas around with others who have a background in art,” Nevins said.
The organization’s website has also been revamped and a cultural events calendar was just added. The cultural calendar highlights creative events happening around Horry County such as art openings, cooking classes, wine tastings, plays and more.
The Streeters also just established the Conway Cultural Development Corporation in April, which is dedicated to stimulating economic growth in the Conway area through the creation of a vibrant art scene.
The Streeters said dollars stay around the Rivertown when cultural events and festivals are held as participants patronize area restaurants and shops, spurring the local economy in the process.
Arendt and Mills both said when they visit Conway Glass they eat at area restaurants, shop at the Conway Farmer’s Market and visit other downtown stores.
The organization envisions working with local municipalities’ planning departments to work with area artists using both public and private dollars to find a cooperative space for artists to create and to establish an art district in the community.
A big project in the works for the CCDC is the creations of the Waccamaw Art & Design Center-MakerSpace — a cooperative gallery and studio in Conway that would allow members to use a shared space with tools and equipment, including a 3D printer, a laser cutter and industrial sewing machines. The nonprofit also hopes to set up a rental studio to recruit and launch design- and art-based companies.
“Just having a group advocate for arts in the community is really important. Numerous studies have shown that art-focused communities have a better economic outlook and happier residents. It’s important to have people that care about the arts creating spaces and events for their neighbors to enjoy,” Nevins said.
Barbara said the organization has looked at several properties but hasn’t found the right one yet. She said the organization wants to find the right space for area artists to call a creative home, and needs to be choosy to find a property that would suit the needs of a variety of different artists.
“The center will really create an energy among the artists as they inspire each other, and if we can create that kind of energy, the sky’s the limit for Conway and Horry County together,” Ed said.
Ed and Barbara Streeter have been married for 29 years and have operated Conway Glass since 1990. The glass gods slowly sifted the sands of time to bring them together as they both moved to South Carolina in 1968 from different parts of the Northeast.
Ed moved to the Myrtle Beach area from Rome, an upstate New York town, after his father was stationed at the Myrtle Beach Air Force base. Barbara, originally from Winslow, N.J., had relocated to Philadelphia with her family before her father got a job transfer to a textile plant in Spartanburg.
Barbara has a genetic love for glass which she got from her great-great-grandfather, who was a master glassblower in Winslow in the 1800s.
When Barbara was a child, she and her grandmother would take walks on the dirt road near their home leading by the an old, closed-down glass company, collecting bits of scrap glass along the way and fostering her hereditary love for glass.
In 1979, Ed got a job out of high school working with glass. Barbara said Ed worked in the Spartanburg area the same time she lived there, but they never ran into each other, despite spending time at some of the same places.
“We must have crossed paths several times over the course of 20 years, but we never actually met,” Barbara said.
It wasn’t until summer 1985 that the couple would meet poolside at the Arcadian Dunes while vacationing in Myrtle Beach. They married a year later and opened their first glass business.
“It was just meant to be,” Barbara said.
The couple still pays nostalgic trips to the Arcadian Dunes from time to time.
The Streeters started Conway Glass Works on Main Street with friend George McCorkle, who was guitarist and founding member of the Spartanburg-based, classic rock legend The Marshall Tucker Band.
Together, the group ran the shop for about three years until the Streeters wanted to grow bigger in the glass business and arts and McCorkle wanted to stay small.
The Streeters then opened Conway Glass in 1990. The couple has been perfecting their glass-blowing skills over the years by studying at various schools, including Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Wheaton Village in Millville, N.J., and the Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York.
Barbara attributes their success personally and professionally to Ed’s steady patience and their ability to work together as a team, each combining their skill sets to fuse something strong.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Barbara said of their nearly three-decade partnership. “It’s a wonderful life. When you wake up happy to go to work together every morning — that’s a good thing.”
For more information about Conway Glass and the glass blowing demonstrations, visit http:// www.conwayglass.com or call 843-248-3558.
Glass-blowing demonstrations will be held the first Saturday of each month starting Oct. 3 to May 7 at Conway Glass at 209 Laurel St. in downtown Conway and are free and open to the public.
Glass-blowing classes are offered at Conway Glass from October through May from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays when demonstrations aren’t being held by appointment and on walk-ins are welcome on Thursdays. Prices range from $28 to $325 per class.
For more about CREATE!, visit http://createconway.wildapricot.org/ or call 843-248-4527.
To see a calendar filled with cultural events, visit http://createconway.org/arts_calendar.