Today I am taking someone up on helping me write something about my campaign.
Parker Stafford, Owner and founder of Stafford Art Glass in Newport, Virginia, launches his crowdfunding campaign Lighting The Gaia Lamp to bring a new innovation in art glass and lighting to market. Normally Parker is accustomed to funding projects himself, but after a series of changes in his year financially, it has caused him to look differently at how funding is procured to bring new products to market. If the maker of the next new electronic gadget can raise thousands overnight, what keeps a designer studio in the New River Valley from business as usual? It was time to go back to the drawing board and think big so he could take the project large. It was time to leverage the power of the crowd now available to us courtesy of the internet.
The campaign centers on a line of work that was first designed in 2003 and has been in production for close to a decade. The glass, originally called “Rare Earth” is painted with the fire and intense heat of the glass artisan’s language that melts and makes a thousand small elements into one, in the fire of the furnace. This is a fire that is so hot that if you stand in front of it longer than a minute, your clothes will start to smoke before bursting into flame. You think I am joking. You might wonder, then, how it is that a glassblower could ever coax objects of crystalline beauty from such an extreme environment. It is a good question. But to understand this, you have to learn a little more about what Parker is doing here, because this is an even bigger mystery.
It is like a poet who bids the earth speak. It seemed something big enough to suggest Greek legends or myths. The name came as he hooked up the first vase. A light, literally, was lit in his mind.
“Rare Earth” is a complex and stirring design that employs a palette of golds, browns, and reds. The proprietary process that Stafford uses as the blow pipe is slowly but continually turned, results in a level of dimension that takes place within a thickness of glass that is less than 1/32 of an inch! It took him years to gradually grow and develop this design over the years, so what’s hinged into this work is a lot of back story work in the studio. The glass pieces that he makes in this line are much thicker than that, but this is the color layer that makes the clear glass what it is. It is an example of what this glass artisan is able to do to make his glass sing. When I tell him about this he smirks and says, “My favorite book of Native American speeches was entitled “Songs Of The Earth” and made a big mark on me early on in my high school days.”
It is like a poet who bids the earth speak. It seemed something big enough to suggest Greek legends or myths. The name came as he hooked up the first vase. A light, literally, was lit in his mind. Gaia was the goddess, the mother of us all, the earth itself.
So instead of the lighting pieces being called “Rare Earth” he called the Gaia Lamp. No factory on the planet can make these like Stafford does because how he approaches each one. Instead of being punched out of a mold, he explains that they are like children; each born from the same lineage, but each free to be individual enough to be identified. All are family, and none are mere copies of the other. When you do this, you bring a life to an object, Parker explains, and we have this long-lived feeling about objects containing power, whether they be the medicine pouches of the Native American Shaman or Catholics with reliquaries built from gold and precious stones. People explain how they were healed from touching a relic or a medicine bag being shaken in their direction. We just believe, universally, that objects can be endowed with a power beyond their owner.
Parker does not suggest that such magic will happen with his work, no, but a subtler kind of magic is at work. A few days after considering the campaign publicly a friend from California walked into a diner in midtown Manhattan and stood face to face with one of the earliest pieces the artisan had ever made. “She took pictures and posted them on my Facebook page. I took a look and sure enough, I remembered the piece as some of the very first pieces in the line. It felt like an interesting synchronicity to me. It suggested that somewhere in here was something important.” The person who saw them recognized them because she had one of his vases from the same line. She had also lit her piece using a candle, which spoke to the universal need to light these pieces up.
Like the truth, this cannot be held back for long. Even great ideas, long forgotten, tend to be dug back up and celebrated in later generations. This one slice of the Earth’s story is not one that we should allow to drop through the crust and into memory, Parker insists. Rather, it should be like a thought that raises a memory within us. In each of us. It is the knowledge that the earth is precious, foundational, and important to all of us. What if you could make that earth sing? Would that be a song that you would be interested in hearing? What if that song were as true as it could be? Parker explains that in making these pieces he has done this. He has made the earth sing. Each time a piece is made. I can’t even begin to explain how different these pieces are from commercially made objects looking over his shoulder as he goes through his computer to show me the images that he has of this line.
When lit, the song becomes so much more pronounced. All of this got started when a client and friend who had been at the studio wondered what one of his Rare Earth vases would look like lit. Parker knew how they would look like, he had seen it many times before. He had not felt like he could afford the time and money to sink into the project. “It will look great….I knew that…..and putting that vase up to the lights in the gallery put any question to rest.” The client asked him what it would take to light this vase. He explained the process quickly. “Do it” she said.
Last month Parker lit the first of these vases and the result was nothing short of amazing. Then a funding campaign wrapped itself around the effort. Times have been hard for this artisan of the New River Valley. It was just a few years ago that the economy caved in on itself. Resources grew scarce. He was rebuilding his life after a shoulder injury a few years took him out of the glass game for a full year, doctor’s orders. Parker does not paint on canvas. He reminds us that he paints on canvasses of molten lava, a silicate material we call glass. At 2100 degrees farenheit, he artfully casts the colors so that they last for the ages. Everything about doing this is expensive. The rewards, he offers me, also match the cost. Treat glass like how it is treated in factories and it loses its lovely potential, but bring it into the studio and give it clarity and love and humility, and it will show you more than you ever dared possible. It is evident that Parker knows. A selection of his recent works are included at the end of the post so you can begin to get an idea about where his skill and artistry take him.
Standing at 7 inches for the small and 12 inches for the large, respectively, the two sizes of the Gaia Lamp that Parker has been working on, will be made available through his campaign on indiegogo. A link is included at the end of the post so you can check this out.
He has another form, though, something that he currently does not have a sample for that is worth mentioning. Hands waiving in the air, what he describes to me is a round globe instead of a tall statue of a piece. This globe has all the colors of its taller sisters, but swells with a life that showers the room with something that feels like healing light. He calls this one the Gaia Globe Lamp. He does not want to make a copy of a salt lamp which was heavily marketed and even oversold. He wants something that will be….different. The effect that this warm light has on us, he says, is perennial. Listening to him and looking at him sketching the form, I imagine a hypnotic shape that could be hard to pull away from. I ask him when he plans on making this shape. He explains that he has made many of them, but they were never turned into lamps. He will make the first samples as soon as the campaign is funded. In fact, this piece will go with a group to galleries all across the nation. He already has galleries interested in carrying the work before the campaign is even into its first week. It feels comforting to me and I say so.
“That is because this type of light IS healing,” Parker points out, explaining that while he was putting the campaign together he stumbled upon an article about the healing effects of light. It was in a study funded by the Harvard Medical school and it had to do with the effects of blue light on humans.
The Harvard study (Source) looked at the effect that blue light from televisions, computer screens, and L.E.D. lighting had on humans. The study identified that blue light is what keeps humans alert, which is fine when you want to stay awake, but what happens when you provide this same light at a time when the body depends on getting the right signals telling it that it can rest? By staring into computer monitors, Parker explains, we have extended that exposure, and the results are startling in that it upsets our sleep cycles and has effects on our endocrine system, the governing body of glands that are identified as being related to healing and growth. “Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin in the body,” Parker explains, ” and this has two main effects according to this study. It makes it hard for people to sleep well. It messes with our blood sugar levels. People in the study began to show what were described by the doctors as pre-diabetic states. Changing the light intake from blue to reds and golds changed all of that.” This is a cautionary tale partly about how we use our technology but also how we take care of ourselves. If the quality of the light has such an effect on us, then it begs a big question…
Holding his lamp in my hands, I feel its comforting swell in shape, its tapering neck. It is sleek, contemporary, but, as the artisan points out, is based on forms he saw in the earliest vessels ever made out of glass: his shapes are based on ancient middle eastern forms. They seem contemporary because they are so classic in their shape
Sitting back in his chair, he levels his gaze and admits, “I am not here to tell you that my lamp will heal the world. No. But look, warm light will have its effect. It seems coming across this article was a simple case of perfect synchronicity.” Talking about his lamp he explains that our reaction to many subtle phenomenon is rooted in how it impacts us physiologically even if we are not realizing it being the distracted beings that we all seem to have turned into. Parker smiles and explains, “It is a great reason to make your world more beautiful by filling it with what might very well be a therapeutic effect from the light that it produces; a bonus! And you are supporting a small business, the little guys and gals who make cool stuff and dream big. Why wouldn’t you get excited about being a part of a dream like this?”
Our voices get quiet as we sit in his darkened study, the lamp gently illuminating the room. “It’s a different kind of light!” I remark. And it is different. It is like fire.
Holding his lamp in my hands, I feel its comforting swell in shape, its tapering neck. It is sleek, contemporary, but, as the artisan points out, it is based on forms he saw in the earliest vessels ever made out of glass: his shapes are based on ancient middle eastern forms. They seem contemporary because they are so classic in their shape. It has more weight than other vases, which were more like a leaf. This piece has some heft to it. Parker points out that the base is close an in thick, explaining, “I had to drill through that in order to sneak the light kit into the vase so it did not take up a lot of space.” Sure enough, a single cord comes snaking out of the base where a toggle switch is positioned a few feet away. The cord is nine feet long and all materials are heavy duty for long life. The design is simple, straightforward, and this makes changing the bulb easy. With a flick of the finger, the vase burst to life. Its marvelous. Our voices get quiet as we sit in his darkened study, the lamp gently illuminating the room. “It’s a different kind of light!” I remark. And it is different. It is like fire. You can’t help but continue to gaze into it. It is hypnotic in the same way that a fire keeps your attention and holds it.
Parker smiles as he takes the vase in his hands and holds it in his lap. “I can’t for the life of me figure out why someone wouldn’t want to see something like this come to life.” We turn the light out and the night sky surges in around us. The moon, a sliver, hangs in the sky. The room feels five degrees cooler. It was time to leave the room. He agrees and offers to make a particularly strong cup of coffee, a roast he insists is low on caffeine and is roasted and sold by a local company just down the block from his home.
We talk about the nuts and bolts of this thing as we sip our coffee.
The campaign seeks to raise $5,600 in just five weeks. It is an ambitious effort. “The budget came out to this amount when all of the stamps and shipments were counted. There is no use doing something half-way” Parker explains. “To do this will mean that I was able to shake the trees and wake some people up to this opportunity to become part of something cool. I am learning who will help and who wont. There is no judgement there, its just effort, the same way a river will flow. I am not interested in taking anything personally. But I need the help of the people who will see this and the people who will see this because it has been shared, spread around the planet a little.” We talk about old lessons about getting caught up in the story of others. He points out that our “glitches” as he calls them exist when we put value on what other people do based on what they value. “You have to simply find someone who is like you are. It is like striking a bell and finding that every bell that gets ‘struck’ by this sounds the same. I am looking for that reaction. It is a resonance.”
If you are a reporter, call me. Let’s talk. I have a story waiting for you if you are ready.
“I will mobilize thousands of people all to help with this effort. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to say that you were part of making the Gaia lamp into a national phenomenon?” Parker is looking for people who have this kind of vision. He says he is seeking recruits, believers who will spread the word. He points out that he would rather have a hundred people all sharing his story on facebook and email than a hundred dollars coming from one person. The value of the masses clearly begins to clarify as he shows me the numbers for other campaigns. It is a big numbers game, and those who succeed are those who have been able to leverage the internet in the right way. “One to two percent of all the people who I contact will be interested in actually donating. With numbers like these, I need many people who aren’t even interested in giving, but in helping. It is an entirely different approach to how money is raised. I began by taking a poll to find out who was willing to JUST spread the word.” Parker looks down at his cup and ads, “A lot of those people who were so interested in helping haven’t helped yet, so I am looking for greater spread. This is a busy time of year, so I understand. I am, though, taking all takers. If you like this thing, press the “share” button. Look at it; do you think it’s cool? Share it. Give a dollar, even. If you are a reporter, call me. Let’s talk. I have a story waiting for you if you are ready.”
It all begins with a dream. Endless gadgets that are currently being crowdfunded that are made that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. One design project seeks a fraction of that. Hidden in the fractions, though, lies a great story. It is one that Parker is ready to tell in the language of fire and glass. The pipe turns as the fire rises, as the poet Sandburg suggested in his poem, this man turns sand into light. The hottest den of fire is where these pieces are made. Turning nice and easy and slow, Parker is giving life to something larger than this.
If you want to find out more this is what you need to know
Parker’s indiegogo campaign is HERE
Parker’s Facebook page is HERE
To contact Parker you can do so by calling him on his cell (540) 605-0034
The range of Parker’s work over the last three years
Collaboration With Parker’s Sculpture Students at Radford University for their installation
“The Glass Garden”