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Business Spotlight: Hooked on Glass

A couple’s passion for fused glass fuels a studio launch

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Creative Escape Glass LLC is a business, of course, but it’s also a passion.

For Rebekah Santiago and her husband, Rafael, working with glass became a surprising obsession during the brief period when they lived in New Mexico – and when they moved back home to the Ozarks, they brought their love of glass with them and opened their shop.

Creative Escape Glass is wholly focused on fused glass, and crafters of all skill levels are welcome.

In fusing, two or more pieces of glass are joined to each other by the heat of a kiln.

A typical project might involve artfully arranging cut glass pieces on a glass surface. Wall art, jewelry, dishes, crosses and ornaments are popular pieces that can result.

Rebekah says she and Rafael first tried their hand at the art form at a studio in Durango, Colorado, about an hour from their New Mexico home, and they enjoyed it immensely. When they went to pick up their pieces after kiln firing, they decided to try just one more piece – and this went on every time they returned.

“Since Durango was about an hour from where we were living at the time, heading to the studio a couple of times a week was eating up a lot of our free time, so we built our own studio in our backyard,” Rebekah says. “We aren’t really sure which one of us is more addicted to glass fusion – we are both pretty addicted.”

Having their own glass studio allowed the Santiagos to embark on bigger projects and more creative experimentation. When they moved to Springfield in 2015, they were eager to open a larger studio in a space on Commercial Street, but then, a year and a half later in 2017, they relocated to their current location, an even larger studio on Campbell Avenue, just behind Rib Crib. Their rent was $700 on C-Street, with an average utilities price of $80 per month. In their current digs, they pay $850 rent, with monthly utilities averaging $300.

Two advantages of the current location are a parking lot and plenty of room for large groups.

The coronavirus pandemic took a toll on the business. Rebekah notes a steep drop in gross revenue to $30,000 in 2020 from $47,000 in 2019. The shop also reduced to one employee from three.

Pricing at the studio is by project, and a small project using limited supplies could cost as little as $12 to make. Special events are offered, including evening classes where a $30 fee is applied toward project costs and date nights priced at $80 per couple.

Rebekah says a lot of people can’t seem to get enough of glass.

“We like to call them glass addicts,” Rebekah says. “You get hooked.”

One of these is Valorie Ockert of Joplin.

“This is the best studio in the country,” Ockert says. “It’s cleaner, more organized and more of a creative atmosphere. There’s help if you want it, and if not, she backs off.”

The way a finished piece catches the light is just part of the appeal of glass, according to Rebekah.

“Glass is such a unique material,” she says.

Rebekah enjoys fused glass in particular.

Of stained or blown glass, she notes, “They can do things we can’t do. We like to celebrate what we can do.”

Rebekah was working on an octopus design recently in the shop, and it had been built up from a photograph by using several different treatments of glass, one of which achieved a filigree-like effect through the firing of particles called frit.

She still marvels at the effects that come from taking various pieces of glass and assembling them into a new whole.

“I love doing mosaics – taking something other people would think is useless and making something beautiful,” she says. “It’s such a satisfying feeling.”

Before working in the studio, the Santiagos require crafters to watch two videos, one on safety and one on glass-cutting technique. As beautiful as glass is to Rebekah, she acknowledges that it can be dangerous, and safe practices protect not only the crafter, but others in the studio.

Rebekah has a list of rules posted on her website, with the admonition, “My studio – my rules. I reserve the right to make up new rules whenever I feel the need.”

Rule No. 1 is a surprise: “Happy vibes only.” And “Blood happens, keep it clean” is rule No. 6.

“Most days in the studio are bloodless days; however, even those of us who have been doing this for years still get minor cuts once in a while,” she says.

It’s not a craft for the weak of heart, apparently, though Rebekah insists it’s for everyone.

“People will come in and say, ‘Well, I’m not creative,’” she says. “Just find something you like and make it. An act of creativity stimulates the creative part of the brain, so the more you try it, the more creative you become.”

Rebekah notes that the studio is not a big-budget operation.

“We don’t run through lots of money,” she says. “Until August 2020, we invested in the studio regularly to make ends meet.”

She describes Creative Escape Glass as a small business providing a service to the community while they try to figure out how to be profitable.

“I got my first paycheck ever from the business in August 2021,” she says.


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