Flagler Artists: Rob Stern pushes the limits of glass blowing

For most of Rob Stern’s life, there was art. Both of his parents artists in their own right, it was a matter of time before he found his own medium. In his sophomore year of college, he discovered glassblowing, and has spent the last thirty-five years making a career out of it.
Stern describes it as instant love. He was very athletic in his youth, playing just about every sport that interested him, from football to X-Games-related events. Glassblowing is an art form that is physically demanding and works best when there is a team. His experience in team sports melded perfectly with his creativity.
“Blowing glass is a bit of a game itself,” Stern said. “All the hand-eye-coordination that comes with sports pays off.”
Glassblowing was experiencing a renaissance around the time Stern started studying. It was becoming more accessible to the average artist. Instead of glassblowing in a big factory, one can do it in the garage. This made it easier for colleges to teach courses, the same way they might for a ceramics course.
“I was very lucky to get involved with top tier glass makers at the start of my career,” Stern says.
Through his professors, Stern met glassblowing giant Dale Chihuly and attended his workshop at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State. Stern found out the world of glassblowing is more expansive than one might expect, and so he was determined to absorb as much information as possible.
After nearly ten years, now with enough experience under his belt, Stern decided it was time for a change. “It has someone else’s name on it,” he says, describing the sculptures he helped craft. “Let me put my name on it.”
In 1999 he moved to Florida to teach at the University of Miami for several years. He honed his craft further, guest lecturing and teaching seminars and workshops across the United States and Europe.
Stern’s constant work made him a recognizable name in his own right. He entered into the professional sphere by selling his pieces, and soon started to expand. “It was just one foot in front of the other. Sell one thing, move to another project, etc.” It’s a romantic formula for him. The art form makes him happy. He feels engaged with the team he works with and is proud of what he does.
Beyond just being able to travel, keeping up with glassblowing was the natural decision. The hard part was learning the business end. “Glass-making is only twenty percent of it,” Stern said. Keeping his focus and work ethic aimed at staying engaged with the community helped him get started, and it has ensured his continued success.
However, hardships would eventually rear their head. As it turns out, glassblowing is a physically demanding form of art.
As it is for any athlete, thirty-five years of regular wear and tear on the body caused Stern to reevaluate. With years’ worth of students having studied at his feet, he finally felt he could step away from the ovens and the wrestling with the molten molds, at last casting his career into its final form.
Casting and creating full sculptures is where Stern now focuses the future of his work. Solo exhibits and shows, in this community, means you are at the height of the industry. That’s where Stern has his sights set now.
After that will be museums. The Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida has recently recognized his work, and Stern hopes more will follow
Another recent milestone in both his own career and in making glassblowing more accessible to the masses is Rob’s participation in the third season Netflix series, ‘Blown Away’.
“I am a group enthusiast,” Stern said. “I like to get people involved, then grow the energy around the material. I am a teacher in that way.”
Residents of Palm Coast can see Stern’s work displayed at the Baliker Gallery on Oceanshore Blvd in Palm Coast.