Naples glassblower (and native) Conrad Williams, who interned for glass legend Dale Chihuly and other talents, has been perfecting his crystalline orbs, kaleidoscopic vases and swirling sculptures, for more than two decades. Now he shares his skills via outdoor glassblowing workshops in his tropical backyard, for adults and kiddos as young as 6.
He offers packages for groups, individuals and couples on date nights, but the kid-centric lessons hold a special place for the uncle and father of two. “I love how uninhibited the little ones are,” he says. An elementary student once asked him if her breath would stay inside the orb she was crafting. When Conrad confirmed, she ran to her parents, eager to share: “Now my 7-year-old breath is trapped inside that glass forever.”
Environment and art form the bedrock for his family, which includes his wife, photographer Erin Williams, their sons, 12-year-old Logan and 9-year-old Sawyer Fox, and 12-year-old niece Harper Dougherty. Where some families use construction paper and scissors, the Williams have blow pipes and liquid glass. “It’s their normal,” Conrad says. He fondly recalls a time when young Logan was puzzled to learn his friend’s home didn’t have a glassblowing setup. Erin and Conrad raise their kids to be curious, inquisitive and always creative. “The dance you do as a parent is similar to how you approach art,” Conrad says. “It is all problem-solving. How can I get from here to there? Or how can I help get you to where you want to be?”
Conrad dedicates much of his time to teaching others through his Glassblowing in the Garden lessons. Living up to his motto, “Safety, fun, education,” Conrad took courses at Florida Gulf Coast University to sharpen his teaching skills. “It has helped me get more tricks in my belt for how to express myself and how to get my point across.” He holds by-appointment workshops at his solar-powered, indoor-outdoor home studio near Lowdermilk Park and through his mobile studio.
While the timing and pacing depend on the student, all classes start with an introduction to the equipment and precautions for working with glass. After Conrad uses long, metal rods to gather molten glass from the furnace, children learn to shape the glass and apply hues with colored chips that swirl together when melted, like mixed paint. Using a blowpipe, students learn to stretch the pieces into ornaments, bowls and oil lamps. “I instruct them step-by-step, one-on-one. We are very much believers in glassblowing being about the process,” Conrad says.
Working with a delicate medium parlays into the evolving strategy this Naples glassblower uses with children: “If there is a weakness in one part of the glass, I know I have to adjust how I continue to shape the piece, so it won’t break. It’s the same with kids. In times of peril, you adapt, and steer whatever is remaining back on course.” He feels fortunate to do what he loves for a living. “I want to be a role model and show [kids] that when they discover something they love—with the help of some problem solving—it’s possible to turn their passion into a career,” Conrad says.