Shattering the Norm
Sep 26, 2019 12:44PM
By Sean Robinson
From sweating in 100-degree heat to laboring next to a 2,100-degree furnace, it’s all in a day’s work for Matthew Shrader.
By day, he’s constantly moving to and fro as a member of Omaha Parks and Recreation, filling potholes, maintaining the Heartland of America Fountain, and performing general grounds maintenance. By night, his hands continue to stay busy and his feet don’t stop moving. Sunshine is traded for a studio and hedge shears are replaced by the kind that helps transform molten glass into structural art.
“It can be a labor-intensive life going from working outdoors to blowing glass,” Shrader admits. “On the days I’m doing both, though, all it takes is a minute psyching myself up in between and I’m ready.”
It took a little psyching up between his first exposure to blown glass and his pursuit of it—three years to be exact. In 2000, his alma matter, Central High School, hosted a Dale Chihuly exhibit that showcased some of the famed sculptor’s work while local professionals from Hot Shop’s Crystal Forge demonstrated the process outside. Shrader was immediately mesmerized and knew he needed to be next to the kiln someday as well.
“It wasn’t like this was ever going to be my path,” Shrader says. “It just captured me right away, the enormity of Chihuly’s pieces and seeing how it was all done right there.”
Shrader is now 16 years into glass blowing and serving as the lead gaffer alongside those same experts from Hot Shops who first enthralled him with the medium in the Central High parking lot. While his job for the city pays the bills and provides benefits, he also sells commissioned work out of the Old Market Artists Gallery as well as at local art shows and farmers markets.
From urns to drinkware to vases, his pieces run the gambit. It’s when he looks into nature and makes more sculptural work that Shrader feels most challenged and fulfilled, crafting penguins, flowers, fish, and the occasional swan-frank. That’s a swan sitting on top of a hot dog.
“It’s all a juggling game between making stuff that everyone loves and will sell well with doing what my heart lives for,” Shrader says.
If anybody knows how to juggle, it’s Shrader. Beyond his two jobs, he also plays percussion in the band Edge of Arbor.
“He’s inquisitive and an artist through and through,” said Ed Fennell, founder of Crystal Forge. “I got to know him as a glass blower, but then I saw his band and thought, ‘Oh damn, he’s as good at music as he is at glass.’”
Add one more ball to juggle: family and fatherhood. Just as Shrader learned from Fennell and at other institutions like the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, his 7-year-old daughter has become his pupil. She safely helps dad with occasional projects, but his most important lesson for her is a simple one—have fun.
“I do this because it really fills me up, and everyone should find that,” Shrader says. “It took me years to finally look into this and do it, but I’m so glad I did. Even when I’m tired and frustrated I know this makes me happy because I want to go back.”
This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.