Tom Stoenner '77 in his glass studio.

He wasn’t looking to be mesmerized. What he wanted was a job.

In 1977, history major Tom Stoenner was about to graduate with zero interest in grad school or teaching as his next move. When he saw a notice on a Kirkland bulletin board about a glassblower in need of an apprentice, he applied.

He’d taken a couple of sculpture courses, and the job had relative appeal. Stoenner didn’t get the position but he came away with the name of another glassblower looking for help, and he took on Stoenner. 

The apprenticeship (unpaid) took him to a budding “crafts village,” a live-work community in the rural Hudson Valley, and Stoenner found himself captivated by the notion of artists creating works by hand that were relevant in the contemporary world. Patching together a number of jobs to support himself, Stoenner settled in to learn about glassblowing. He found glass to be mesmerizing and glassblowing to be hypnotic and exceedingly difficult.


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Each step of the process is the hardest step, and once a glassblower begins a piece, there’s no stopping. The faster you work, Stoenner says, the more seamless the piece will be. “Something can go wrong in the first minute, and you can struggle through the whole piece trying to get it right, to fix it — usually unsuccessfully —  or things can go swimmingly, and right at the last minute, something could go wrong,” he explains.

That was part of the allure. Stoenner built a successful career, now working in his own studio a half hour or so from the former crafts village. (That venture, Stoenner says, was a spectacular failure.) He’s still learning, even as he sells his beautiful, usually functional, pieces in galleries and online. 

“Even 40 years later I’m still working to not perfect, but to get closer to perfection,” he says.

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