Naples glassblower and teacher Conrad Williams creates custom toasting flutes and wedding favors destined to be cherished long after the “I dos.” Williams, whose work is showcased in local galleries, made his first pair of flutes about 18 years ago for a friend’s wedding. “I didn’t know what to get them, so I made them,” recalls the artist, who transforms 2,500-degree molten globs of silica into elegant objects.
The Naples native earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in glass and sculpture from the California College of the Arts before undertaking internships with Dale Chihuly and Ben Moore in Seattle. The flute bowls typically are clear to reveal the bubbly contents, but the glass itself can incorporate small bubbles too. The stem and foot are designed to match the wedding’s motif or color palette, or the couple’s style.
With a diamond-tipped tool, Williams etches names and dates onto items. For guest gifts, he makes paperweights, loggerhead sea turtles and queen conchs, ornaments, sea biscuits that serve as salt dishes, and oil lamps. “Every time they light it, they can think of the time they went down to Naples for their friend’s wedding,” he says. Williams also gives demonstrations at matrimonial venues and special events, such as bridesmaid gatherings where they create keepsakes together.
NI: What drew you to your craft?
Williams: Watching professional glassblowers work is like watching a ballet dancer. There’s a fluidity and grace, yet it is very technical and can take strength as well. Once you try it, your skills become exponential and you can push goals a little further and continue reaching. Also, it’s a way to be very present. If you space out and start thinking about when your Comcast bill is due, you’re likely to fail. You have no choice but to be there, in the moment, and that’s kind of hard to achieve these days.
Are there any guest gifts you can’t make?
I’m always up for a challenge after 22 years. Even if there’s something that seems insurmountable, we can come up with something that comes close. We sit down and problem-solve and decide how to approach it. We can always create something the couple feels good about.
Where do you sell your fine art objects locally?
Judith Liegeois Designs, St-Tropez Home on Third Street, Peach Tree on Fifth Avenue South, a gallery off Vanderbilt called Vibe, and both Ritz-Carltons. By appointment, people can come to my private studio. Sometimes people take a look, and they may want something a little different, say, in cobalt blue, and we work on how to meet their needs.
Do people have to be artistic to take lessons?
Lessons are basically designed for people who have an interest in glassblowing and may have tried it before or not, but no experience is necessary. They can choose an item from an à la carte [menu] of choices. First, I demonstrate it, and then I walk them through the whole process with no glass. The third time, they’re doing it themselves, and I work with them every step of the way. I used to only give lessons to adults 18 and over, but now [I work with] ages 6 and up. There’s something special about working with a 6-year-old to make an ornament. Their 6-year-old breath is trapped in it; it never goes away. I find that very special. For lessons, they can come to my private studio or do it poolside at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. You don’t have to be a guest at the Ritz to participate. This is my sixth season at the Ritz, and it’s expanded a little every year.
What drives your passion for teaching?
There are two components. One is the excitement of watching someone who’s never done it before working with this magical material. When my student is finished or smiling ear-to-ear, I get as excited as the first time I blew glass. It’s an exchange of energy that doesn’t get old. It’s nourishing as an artist to see it through fresh eyes. The other is that I got a chance to blow at a relatively young age, when I was in high school, and I got to pursue something I love. I love being the role model who is proof that I found something I love and put my heart into it and do it every day. I like being the person who can spread that message to kids.