Art inspires products at The Glass Mill
July 3, 2007
Standing at a workbench in his basement, surrounded by stained glass artwork, supplies and works-in-progress, Scott Walton effortlessly guides a stream of molten copper across a section soon to become a window in a client’s home.
"I like the organic style of copper foiling," he says, pointing out the intricate differences between copper and lead on the paneling. The care and focus he exerts over his work reveal the craftsman’s passion for creating art, the primary reason Walton gave up work as a forensic specialist three and a half years ago to start a decorative glass business at his Oakley home.
The Glass Mill, which began operating in January, features custom paneling, beveling and glass-infused furniture for homes and offices. Walton and his wife, Emily, who helps with the business’s marketing, also plan to open a gallery once the business is established, adding blown glass and display art to their gamut.
Crafting glass is a natural profession for Walton, who treats each project as a personal work of art and lists letting go of favorite pieces as one of the most difficult aspects of his job. But Walton hasn’t always embraced art as a profession.
He first learned about glass from his father, who operated a glassworks and beveling business when the younger Walton was a child. After a brief stint beveling glass in high school, he decided to choose a different career path.
"The work and grinding of beveling wasn’t exactly fun. I swore I’d never do it," he said. "More than that, though, it was important to me to get an education."
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Walton studied computer science at Brigham Young University before switching his major to zoology. After a few years in forensics, however, the artistic bug he tried to stifle came back to bite him.
"I just felt an overwhelming desire to create," he said.
Walton maintains a loose affiliation with his father, Mark, who now publishes the magazine, "World Art Glass Quarterly" in San Francisco. His business operations run independently, although the elder Walton’s experience gave his son a helpful blueprint to follow.
"It helped to learn the dos and don’ts of the business," he said.
Walton also took the advice of his entrepreneur father-in-law, adopting a conservative approach to operations with a focus on long-term success a pace that allows him to focus on quality over quantity.
"Some people get into trouble expanding too soon with machines and equipment that they can’t afford in the beginning," he said. "We’re doing everything at the minimum. We’re taking all the jobs that come our way without creating any debt."
Walton’s hands-on approach also keeps him connected to the process, satisfying his inner artist. But he does hope to add specialized machinery in the future, eventually becoming the first all-fabricated glass company in Summit County.
"Right now everything comes from Salt Lake, and that drives up the Park City price," he said. He noted that perceptions of Park City as a wealthy town may also be keeping the price high, but he hopes to change that. "Our goal is to bring real prices to the area for good stained glass."
Walton said the biggest obstacle he has faced in custom glass is generating exposure while overcoming a social stigma against stained glass as too institutional for homes.
"Some people still think of stained glass as belonging only in churches," he said. "And since we’re working with private homes, it’s hard to show how it looks to a wide audience." The dynamics of homebuilding haven’t helped, either. As one of the final decisions, adding custom glass often comes at a point when homeowners have run out of money. Contractors may also hesitate to work with a glass artist, thinking it will cause delays.
Walton tries to overcome these barriers by showing homeowners examples of his work and giving them an idea of the range of options. The simple designs and varied styles usually debunk preconceptions people might have.
"People are surprised when they see how it actually looks," he said. "Stained glass is perfect for a home." Public examples of his work, as in the Sticks N Stones furniture store, have helped his exposure as well.
Some popular requests have included vineyard-inspired decals for wine cellars — for which he cuts individual grapes with separate pieces of glass — and contemporary Frank Loyd Wright styles.
"Those can become very detailed, but they are relatively easy to create so they’re not too expensive," he said. Walton has also produced chandeliers, clocks and lamps, which he hopes to do more of as the business advances.
"We’re just getting busier," he said. "The goal is to get to a point where the business will run itself and I can play and create."
In the meantime, Walton hopes his artists’ mentality will appeal to potential customers. "I want people to know that the pieces come from a real artist, not just a sub-contractor or a machine," he said.