Trinkets and treasures: The importance of Paly’s seasonal glass sales

(Emily Yao)

Glassblowing isn’t a common high school course, especially in public schools. So how does Palo Alto High School manage to incorporate it? The answer is through sales and workshops. The fiery arts sales and weekend workshops available to the public have generated most of the roughly $50,000 a year needed for the department and made the glassblowing program possible.

“All the proceeds go to the fiery arts sculpture department,” said ceramics and glass sculpture teacher Steve Ferrera. “The glass is super expensive, all the consumables we go through cost a lot. It’s pretty much self-funded so we have to raise a lot of money. We just do that by doing the glass sales.”

Paly added a glassblowing program to its slate of art electives in 1996, offering another way for students to express themselves through visual art. The Fiery Arts Winter Glass Sale this year took place on Dec. 3 and 4, and repeats biannually during December (for the holidays) and September (for Halloween and Thanksgiving). The two sales also offer slight differences in the themes of the glass goods that are made: At the September sale, one might find an abundance of glass pumpkins, whereas the December sale contains a multitude of ornaments, reindeer and candy canes.

“It’s really impressive, it’s just as good as some professional artists,” customer Rol Williams said. “It’s great for gifts, for family.”

Glass flowers and ornaments for sale. (Emily Yao)

Other members of the Palo Alto community also emphasized the importance of the program for students to express themselves and relax.

“I’m a huge supporter of the arts,” Paly history teacher Mary Sono said. “It’s super important to let kids shine in all these different ways. [glassblowing] kids find their people; it’s a safe place. It’s so nice to have these programs to give the kids a home base.”

Ferrera presenting a glass moose. (Emily Yao)

“I just think it’s really important for students to have artistic outlets of various kinds,” Williams said. “It’s just a great creative outlet, a great way to make friends and a great way to learn a skill that’s pretty unique — not a lot of people have this skill.”

The fiery arts department also awards Camner Scholarships, named after David Camner, founder of the glassblowing program. Every year, two to four seniors that have shown an “exceptional” incredible amount of dedication to the program are given $200–$500, a scholarship also partially funded by the glass sales.

The sales draw repeated customers, growing the art department’s footprint in the Palo Alto community.

A customer peruses glass pieces for sale. (Emily Yao)

“I’ve been coming off and on for 10 years,” Williams said. “I’ve had friends that have had kids that are older than mine that were in the program. Even years before that…we learned about the sales.” 

Looking ahead, some are hopeful for expansion, to spread the program to more students.

“I hope we can grow,” Paly senior William Bennett said. “ It’s a lot of fun to do, and expanding would be really nice, as we’re basically out of space. ”

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