“I’m going back to Gulfport,” 22-year-old glassblower Mia Shea Williams says while she’s waiting for her first cup of coffee to brew. “There’s so many opportunities here.”
The recent Eckerd college graduate and the Industrial Arts Center of Gulfport’s (IACG) first artist-in-residence (not to be confused with resident artist Owen Pach) needs to pack up some things at the IACG, finish her coffee, and hit the road. She’s headed on a road trip, first to Asheville, then to parts north.
She started blowing glass as part of an independent study at Eckerd College in January 2011. Just over two years later, she found herself honored by Owen and the IACG. Owen says he knew of Williams but didn’t know her work; when he saw it, he asked her to be the first artist in residence at the IACG, a non-profit teaching facility.
“For us, it was an opportunity to move in the right direction,” he says. “We’re promoting this as a teaching facility.”
Mia told him she didn’t feel sufficiently experienced to teach but agreed to work in residence and create pieces at the IACG. For her, the path she’s found herself on differs dramatically than her early-college plans for her life.
“In high school, I knew I was artistic but I wasn’t focused on it,” she says “I was focused on psychology and alternative medicine.”
When she signed on for an independent study blowing glass at Zen Glass in St. Petersburg, she didn’t do so with a career as an artist in mind. Her grandfather had just died and she says she thought, “let’s do something fun and creative.”
It turned out that she had a knack for glass, and even though she had some frustrating moments (“At first, everything breaks!” she says), glass became her avocation. She landed a summer apprenticeship at the Glass Shack in Kauai, Hawaii that summer. There, she says, she studied under “two guys who completely changed my perspective... when I came back I was more skillful.”
She worked for Zen to get more “torch time” and she started taking more advanced lampworking classes. She started turning out goddesses, many of which the arts community saw this past weekend at the SoStudio tour.
“It just stuck, it just fit,” she said. “All my work is really feminine.”
And it is: mermaids, winged ladies, and dancing goddesses. As with an artist-in-residency, she’s leaving a piece with the IACG: a gnarled tree twisting into the graceful female form, which in turn gives grace back to the tree. It’s not for sale, though, according to Owen.
“It’s going in our permanent collection.”