Hanover's resident glass blower

Shaffstall has turned a passion into art

"I probably have a (glass) bird in every country in the world."
– Jim Shaffstall

By Nita S. West
Contributing Writer

(June 1999) – By his own admission, James Shaffstall is a builder of things.
“My life has been centered around making things,” he reflects while sipping iced tea in the living room of his Hanover, Ind., home – a home he built.
He adds that he enjoys the “problem solving of the manufacture – getting the bugs out of things.”

Jim Shaffstall

Photo by Libby Richards

Jim Shaffstall heats glass at his
shop in Hanover. His recent retirement
from teaching at Hanover College has
allowed him to spend more time at his
art, along with his other passion –
building small airplanes.

Shaffstall recently retired from Hanover College, where he taught for 32 years and served as a department head for 27 years while teaching sculpture, pottery, glass blowing and Eastern Art History.
He has more time for building now. And much of that time is spent converting the two-story building on his property from a pseudo airplane hanger, where he built small planes, into a studio for producing hand-blown glass.
Most Madisonians are familiar with Shaffstall’s work, and many own an example of it. Apples for teachers, paperweights and a variety of small birds are among his most popular pieces with locals and tourists looking for a small memento of Madison to take home.
“I probably have a bird in (almost) every country of the world,” Shaffstall said.
Glass blowing is not a common craft.
“There are probably more blacksmiths than glass blowers,” he said.
It is a time- and space-consuming craft that requires patience, skill and lots of equipment. The type of hand-blown glass he produces is sometimes also called mouth blown, off hand, pipe blown or free blown, as opposed to torch work or lamp work.
Shaffstall uses no molds. Each piece is developed slowly and painstakingly with its own unique patterns. By using this method, no two pieces are ever exactly alike, creating a truly unique piece of art.
It is the uniqueness that appeals to Shaffstall. “So much about glass gives me a special customer.”
An example of that unique specialty is illustrated in an order he is working on now. A superintendent of a Toledo, Ohio, school placed a large order for several apples in three colors to be given as scholastic achievement awards to the school’s top students.
Shaffstall described the particulars of the order by saying, “The top achievers will receive a cobalt blue apple, the second group of students will get a yellow apple and the third group,” he adds with a chuckle, “will get a red apple with a green worm coming out of it.”
Although he receives many special requests, Shaffstall finds time to produce the type of work he enjoys most: free form or abstract sculpture. Along with his figurative pieces, these are some of the most impressive works.
Approximately 90 percent of this work is shipped to northern Ohio galleries, with about 80 percent of that going into Toledo galleries. Locally, he regularly exhibits at the Madison Chautauqua and the Hanover College Christmas Craft Show, where he began offering his work for sale in 1981.
It is Shaffstall’s distinctive style that makes his work so popular. With pieces varying from paperweights to long-stemmed flowers to vases to free-form figures with prices that range from $10 to $200, his work suits the public’s pocketbook as well as its eye.
He plans to build a small showroom adjacent to his home studio but for now sells from the studio itself by appointment only. He enjoys demonstrating his skills and calls glass blowing “a novel craft” that people like to watch being made.
With two or three kilns going at the same time, he creates pieces in a myriad of colors. Some of these colors come from recycled, or culled glass, purchased from large commercial manufacturers, such as Fenton.
The cranberry color in a bird or vase may have come from a Fenton basket that didn’t turn out properly or was broken. Some factories specialize in a certain color of glass for all their work, but Shaffstall takes pleasure in combining several colors into a single piece. Other colors, batch glass, may come from raw materials shipped in from as far away as Canada, France, or Germany.
Together with crystal, they are heated, mixed, blown and formed into a finished piece. After cooling and finishing he signs and dates each piece. He says he struggles to keep up with the demand for his work and always sells whatever work he has done.
Shaffstall spends cool mornings working in his studio and warm afternoons building small planes. He has one plane “almost ready,” one about half done and another a quarter of the way done. He refers to himself as a Sunday pilot and lumps his reasons for flying, building planes and working in glass into one phrase: “Because it’s fun to do.”
Perhaps that is reason enough.

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