Paul J. Stankard’s glass creations, at Morris Museum, are full of virtual life



Paul Stankard’s “The Fecundity of Walt Whitman’s Garden.”

You’ve seen a paperweight made of glass. Chances are, you didn’t give it too much thought. Maybe you admired its heft, or its shape, or its translucency. Perhaps you wondered how it was created — how much workmanship its manufacture required. Perhaps you stashed it in a desk drawer, or placed it atop a stack of memos and forgot about it.

Paul J. Stankard once made glass paperweights. In a sense, the Mantua, Gloucester County-based flameworker is still at it. He continues to turn his torch on his favorite material, stretching it, shaping it, cooling it and casting it in molds. But Stankard’s work is unlikely to be found in an office desk set. His pieces are better suited to the vitrines of the Morris Museum, where they catch the light like gemstones, and where they can be appreciated for their silicone-based audacity.

“From Flame to Flower: The Art of Paul J. Stankard,” which will occupy the lower Mansion Galleries at the Morris Township museum until Feb. 4, presents scores of gleaming globes, slabs and glass discs fashioned by the veteran flameworker. Some of these do resemble paperweights. Others look like slabs of ice, or quivering cubes of gelatin, or thick windows, or baubles from a great crystal chandelier, or shiny Magic 8 Balls with unreadable fortunes. And each of these glass fabrications, presented here by Stankard and Morris Museum curator Michelle Graves, contains something organic-looking in its transparent depths: a bouquet of flowers, leaves, insects, spores, little buds. How in the world has Stankard encased flora and fauna in hot glass without incinerating his subjects?


Paul Stankard’s “Common Mullein.”

Closer inspection — and the inspection really does need to be close — reveals that he has done no such thing.

Those plants and invertebrates afloat in these paperweight-shapes are themselves made of glass. Stankard has created them himself, right down to the tiniest cilia, the most delicate curving stamen and the softest petal. His work is flameworking at its most virtuosic, with glass in colors, textures and shapes that mimic the bloom of flowers, the buzz of pollinators, and the spiral and tangle of root systems. With remarkable delicacy and attention to detail, he traps his miniature bugs and berries in the synthetic equivalent of amber. “From Flame to Flower” radiates the diagnostic chill of the science museum: specimens isolated from each other, available for inspection from every angle, held in stasis, frozen in time by the artist and his molten material.

That’s not to say that Stankard is dispassionate. The bulbs and tendrils of his plants entwine and caress each other in a manner that suggests the generative forces of nature. Stankard understands that flowers are sex organs, and he has captured the voyeuristic feel of a walk in the park in May.

But there is no touching Stankard’s plants and creatures. Their provocative contours are even off-limits to their creator. They can’t be smelled — or heard, either. He has sealed them away in glass globes and rectangular prisms and placed them in display cases. Getting at them would be a shattering experience. We can see them in tremendous detail. But they feel seasons removed from the rest of our senses.

In part, that’s a trick of the medium. Glass promises to be see-through, and see-through it is — but it’s never completely transparent. The thicker the glass, the more distortions occur, and Stankard’s glass is often very thick indeed. Subtle undulations in the surface of his encasements tease the eye further, magnifying and obscuring parts of the objects within. These effects are never extreme, but they’re often enough to generate drama.

In Stankard’s “Botanicals,” small glass replicas of orchids and imperial lilies appear to caress the skin of the globes from within. It’s a glass-induced mirage: They’re fully submerged.


Paul Stankard’s “Assemblage.”

Several “Experimental” pieces appear to blink from night blackness to daytime translucency depending on how they’re approached. In his “Pineland Bouquet,” a tribute to Stankard’s home region in the form of an orb, the flowers appear to achieve weightlessness. As illumination penetrates the outer shell and the petals and twigs, the bouquet feels like something held aloft, riding the crest of a wave of light.

“From Flame to Flower” includes a short documentary film on Stankard and his methods. We watch the artist and his assistants wield the blowtorch and pull sticks of glass into shapes with the ease of a confectioner stretching saltwater taffy. It’s impressive to watch, but it doesn’t give much insight into how someone might develop the audacity to create glassworks as intricate as these.

The short film does reinforce Stankard’s love of nature and fascination with glass, and it’s probably those feelings that keeps the flameworker’s pieces fresh. Since developing his style in the 1970s and ’80s, he has been copied by many other glass artists. Many of his imitators are good at what they do. But even when they are, most of them make pieces that simply look like pretty paperweights. It turns out it takes quite a lift — from the blowtorch-wielding hand of a master — to turn a craft into an art.

The Morris Museum in Morris Township will present “From Flame to Flower: The Art of Paul J. Stankard” through Feb. 4. Visit


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