Visitors at Stan Hywet will notice quickly that there are many new plantings in the gardens at the historic Akron estate.
Throughout the gardens are 32 sculptures of glass flowers and other glass creations, created by Michigan glass artist Craig Mitchell Smith. The display, called Bloom!, opened June 2 and can be seen through Sept. 20. Bloom! Is part of Stan Hywet's 100th anniversary season, 2nd Century in Bloom.
"About two years ago, we were thinking of some of the things we could do [for our anniversary]," said Linda Conrad, president and executive director at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens. "We thought perhaps we could do something with glass. Glass is bright and colorful, and it has significant meaning at Stan Hywet, with all of its leaded glass windows."
Then, while on a trip to Disney World, she noticed a display of glass flowers by Smith, Conrad said. She said she looked him up, got in touch with him, "and the rest is history."
Smith said that he had numerous occupations before becoming a glass artist.
"I kind of stumbled into glass," Smith said. "I never saw myself as an artist. In my life, I've run a flower shop, I've done carpentry, I've done plumbing. Then in 2006, I took a class in glass, which merged everything I had done in my life up to that point. All my experiences came into play. I think I exasperated my teacher because I kept asking questions. 'Why can't we do this?' 'Why can't we make it curve like this?' 'Why can't we make it more round?' My teacher finally told me, 'Why don't you get your own kiln and find out.' Well, that's just what I did."
Smith said that he is "largely self taught."
"That's probably why my glass art is so different," he said. "I was doing things I was told I couldn't do."
Many people think of glass as being fragile and easily broken, but Smith said that his sculptures, which are all on sale, are good outside all year around. In fact, once he had a display of his glass flowers during a winter show in Michigan.
"And their weather is not that much different than from down here," he said.
That does not mean the pieces don't need some protection. Smith said that he used about 2 ½ miles of bubble wrap to transport the sculptures from Lansing to Akron.
Perhaps the most impressive sculpture is about 20 feet tall and located near the Manor House. It resembles a white dandelion puff. Smith said he calls this one "Make a Wish," and that he has made many of them. The piece was inspired by a little girl he saw making a wish, then blowing on a dandelion.
"There was a look of complete joy on that little girl's face," he said. "I want that expression on my face. Really, how often do we stop to make a wish?"
Another interesting feature are numerous glass red poppies. Smith said these poppies were used as part of a Wizard of Oz feature at Walt Disney World. They were among 163 poppies created for that feature, he said.
Smith said all of his flowers, including the leaves and stems, are hand-made.
"No two anythings are alike," he said. "It's all hand-made, there's no mold work."
Conrad said that the glass sculptures will be lit during Stan Hywet's Twilights & Flashlights, special evening garden tours in Aug. 21, 22, 27, 28 and Sept. 3 and 4.
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens is at 714 N. Portage Path in Akron. For details, call 330-836-5533 or visit www.stanhywet.org online.