A Glass Act

Peace lover, mentor, gardener, philosopher, bee-keeper, physician, Bud Shriner brings a lifetime to his art

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Church and Maple Glass, Bud ShrinerTen years ago, Bud Shriner opened Church and Maple Glass Studio, in Burlington. Since then, he has quietly, but steadily made his mark in the city’s art community.

Bud Shriner’s Quaker heritage shines through everything he does, just like the light that shines through his beautiful glass creations.

Shriner is the owner of Church and Maple Glass Studio in Burlington. He is, he adds, “also chief designer, senior artisan and what we call ‘gaffer,’ an Old World term deriving from grandfather, which is the team leader in terms of the glass blowing.”

That doesn’t even scratch the surface of this quiet man, who switched his college major from chemistry to comparative religion — and finished cum laude — because he was headed to medical school and knew he would get all the science he wanted later on.

A native of Montclair, N.J., Shriner followed in the footsteps of his mother and uncle and attended Westtown Friends School, a residential Quaker high school in Pennsylvania with “a great emphasis on general liberal education and some liberal values in terms of peacemaking,” he says.

When it came time for college, he chose Vermont, where he had skied with friends of his parents since he was 11. He entered the University of Vermont in 1969.

It was in a research job at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York during his undergraduate years where Shriner had his first encounter with glass blowing. “My boss taught me some scientific glass blowing,” he says. “We made our own equipment out of glass and Pyrex. It was a minor part of the job, but I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a life-altering kind of moment, but it kind of put a bee in my bonnet.”

Following graduation, Shriner applied to UVM for medical school. “I tried for three years,” he says, adding that it eventually took a bit of pressure to convince the school he was a Vermont resident.

After med school, he interned at a family practice in Buffalo, but with his heart in Vermont, he returned to begin his medical career at the Fanny AllenHospital, where he would work with the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph for 15 years.

When the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont took over Fanny Allen, there was a real sea change, says Shriner. “There was a kind of corporate bottom-line thinking, and it was not the humanist kind of institution that had been developed by the sisters. I loved taking care of people, but so many things got in the way of taking care of people.”

Church and Maple Glass, Jordan GulliksonJordan Gullikson, son of the late Sandy Gullikson, a well-known Vermont graphic artist, has worked with Bud Shriner since the beginning.

He continued to do some part-time work there for a while, but eventually left to work for a few years in area clinics in the early 1990s.

All along, Shriner pursued some form of art as a hobby, “with a little furniture design, a little copper work and glass blowing, renting studio time,” he says. In the early ’80s, a friend had put him in touch with Craig Richards, a Burlington glass blower who was building a studio. Shriner helped him with construction, and Richards taught Shriner about off-hand glass blowing, which was different from the mold-blown work he had learned earlier.

“Mold blowing is certainly an old and accepted way to blow glass,” he says. “It was from that method that glass-blowing machines for modern bottles came.”

Shriner’s return to glass in a serious way was sparked by an encounter with an artist-painter, who inspired him, he says.

He began renting studio time three to four hours a week from Alan Goldfarb, a glass blower on North Avenue, until he progressed enough to apply to Haystack School of Crafts in Maine, where he studied with — and was further inspired by — renowned glass artist Fritz Dreisbach.

Shriner entered discussions with Rich Arentzen, whom he had met at Goldfarb’s studio, about joining up to start their own studio. Discussions went on for about a year, he says, while he was looking for a space where they might do it. He found the space at the corner of Church and Maple.

After a complete renovation, which took about a year and a half, he says, he and Arentzen “lit our furnaces” in October 1996. The footprint is 2,600 square feet, and Shriner rents the second floor to Sound Toys, which creates software for musicians.

They began as partners, says Shriner, “but it wasn’t long before he realized he didn’t have much of an appetite for business issues.” Arentzen happily made the transition to employee, Shriner adds, “and it was great to have that relationship continue.”

The two of them developed designs and took them to various shows. “We had some really nice response right out of the get-go,” Shriner says, “and we were producing a lot. I think that in some ways, the first year or two were our best years. Then the economy started to soften.”

They began to notice a decline in sales in February 2001, or, as Shriner says, “the February before 9/11.” He admits that they also could have been experiencing the “new-kid-on-the-block phenomenon, when everything’s new and fresh, or perhaps a waning of the wave of enthusiasm and excitement about glass and the heyday of crafts in general.

“Some of the expectation in the craft world is that you’re reinventing yourself every year. I just try to make the work better. It’s both a strength and a weakness,” he confesses, “but it’s somewhat of a conscious decision. We want our work to be collectible; we want people to be able to add to their sets.”

The down side, he says, is that “the imagination part of the creative process gets sidelined to the exigencies of small business and the elements of manufacture that are involved.”

Keeping the imagination part of the creative process in his work is important to Shriner, says Dennis Wilmot, an architect at Truex Cullins & Partners, who has known him since 1971. Shriner identifies Wilmot as a creative mentor.

“When he took an interest in the arts,” says Wilmot, “Bud used to ask me about things pertaining to art; I spent time with him on that, discussing the nature of creativity, and I think over the years, he probably found some real value in that.

“He certainly tries to make money, which is a good idea,” Wilmot quips, “but I think that whether or not he’s making it is second to actually creating stuff. I think he sticks pretty true to the course of creativity.”

Dealing with the business side has always been a challenge. “I’m no good at it,” says Shriner, “probably not real interested in it, and those are probably not unrelated. You know, you have to wear so many hats in a small business, it’s hard to wear all of them well; and of course, the natural inclination is just to enjoy designing and making things.”

Church and Maple Glass, examples of artIn the open studio at Church and Maple, examples of Shriner’s work can be seen and purchased.

These days, the only employee is Jordan Gullikson, who wears lots of hats, according to Shriner: “assistant, chief technical officer, chief information officer and production manager.” Gullikson has been there since the beginning. Periodically, a third person comes in to assist. “It’s best as a three-person team,” says Shriner. “We draft various people as they’re available.”

Work comes from several areas, including architects, specialty shops, galleries — more than a hundred across the country — the Web and sales at the studio. Visitors to the studio are encouraged to watch as the glass is being made, with no obstacle between the viewer and the artist. Examples of the work are on display right there, including his fused glass pieces, such as mirror and picture frames, ornaments, trays and a table.

In the last year, Shriner has been thinking about finding someone to be a “team leader — to keep us on track.” He’s also hoping to find sales reps to help market a new line of lighting he’s designed.

The lighting designs include wall sconces, pendants, a desk lamp and table lamp, he says. These complement an existing line of outdoor lighting and floor and ceiling lights. “We made the pendant lamps hanging in the Charlotte library,” says Shriner.

When he’s not at the studio, Shriner pursues athletic activities. “I swim regularly,” he says, “work out at the gym, I ski and bicycle in season, and I do a lot of vegetable gardening at my home in Burlington.”

Since 1973, he has also kept bees. “I had a roommate who decided to get into it, and he bought a starter amount of bees. I helped him get those into the hive, and within the next year or two, bought a couple of hives from an old-timer, and soon consulted with and worked with Charlie Mraz, who is New England’s largest beekeeper.” Shriner keeps his bees on a farm in Richmond. “The bees make the honey; I steal it from them; I jar it up and sell it at the Co-op.”

He is an avid, and eclectic, reader. Right now on his nightstand are The Sacred and the Profane by Mercia Eliade, Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers and Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques & Recipes by Claude Aubert.

Shriner preserves much from his garden, by freezing or making sauces, and he gives much of it away. “And I give lots of glass away. I probably donate about $2,000 worth of glass a year to various groups.”

Over the years, he has given many art and glass-blowing students a chance to develop. “They usually find us,” he says. “We’re always interested in introducing people at some level to the work.”

Mainly, though, says Shriner, at Church and Maple, “we just make stuff and hope we can sell it. It would be really nice to get some professional marketing help.” •