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Glass from the past

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Stephanie Matthews shakes her head when she thinks of the expensive art institute she attended after high school.

"If I known I would be as happy and sell as much playing with trash right out of high school, think of the money my parents would have saved," said the Dunbar resident.

The "trash" Matthews refers to is the glass bottles she repurposes into glassware.

"It thrills me to take an old ugly bottle and make something that's pretty," she said.

Even more appealing is that the item is usually something functional -- tumblers, candleholders, light fixtures, clocks, napkin ring holders, trays and vases.

"I had about 175 items on my Etsy site at one time. This time last year, four or five packages a day were going out the door," she said.

In August, Matthews, 46, moved from Florida back to West Virginia after nearly 25 years away. She moved in with father, Steve Matthews, and converted a three-bay garage behind his Myers Avenue house into her studio.

At one end of the studio are wire containers stacked floor to ceiling and filled with empty wine, liquor and soft-drink bottles of various colors and shapes. At the other end, are three kilns for heating glass and clay.

She bought two of the kilns at yard sales. "That's what got me into hot glass," she explained.

Previously she worked with stained glass, cutting cold, flat glass into shapes and soldering the pieces into designs.

Stained glass became too expensive to make and to sell, though, with her work sometimes selling for $1,000 to $1,500.

In her new venture, she said, "The average person can afford it and use it -- and it's been recycled."

Take a Grey Goose vodka bottle, for example. She cuts the bottle in two, taking the bottom part (with the painted-on logo) and grinding its top to make a smooth lip of a tumbler, which she sells for $32 for two. The top part of the bottle becomes the upper half of a candleholder.

Or she'll cut bottles vertically and grind the edges to create shallow bowls. The necks of other wine bottles have been manipulated into napkin rings.

She explained why she likes glass: "It's how something so rigid can become so pliable and you can make something with a more organic look than a straight old bottle."

Little goes to waste when she recycles a bottle. Corks may become feet for a tray or the screw-on caps stay on the bottle-now-a-bowl. She reuses copper wiring given to her by a friend to decorate a new piece.

Matthews said most of her bottles come from restaurants and bars that she has contacted and asked them to save the bottles for her.

Even some of her equipment has been recycled. Her father built her lap grinder, which holds magnetic discs for sanding and polishing glass. "I didn't have $1,800 to buy one, but I did have $500 for the motor, and I found a recycled tire."

A graduate of St. Albans High School, Matthews attended Ben Franklin Vocational and Technical School before attending an art school in Columbus, Ohio.

In recent years, she worked in Navarre, Fla., as a graphic designer at a sign shop, which went out of business unable to weather the economy and the 2010 BP oil spill. Out of job, she decided to return where she had friends and family. Her mother, Sue Meadows, lives in Teays Valley.

Matthews said she works four days a week as an EMT for an ambulance service and three days at her glass business, WV Glass.

Last holiday season, Better Homes & Gardens featured her glassware on its online holiday gift guide and her glassware appeared in a book, "Addicted to Glass," by New Art Review.

Purchase Matthews' products at www.Etsy.com/Shop/Wvglass. Contact her at 850-982-2609 or geckoglassinc@yahoo.com.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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