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David Graeber: Preserving Nature for Eternity in a Paperweight

Talking Out Your Glass podcast

Release Date: 04/24/2024

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Early in his career, Paul Stankard used to trade paperweights for gasoline and car servicing with John Graeber. In 1989, through his uncle John, David Graeber wound up casually visiting Stankard’s studio and weeks later was invited to come and work with him. Young Graeber started learning about glass in the deep end of the pool. Thirty-five  years later, he continues to work with Stankard about a day a week. 

Having mastered numerous glassmaking techniques and having developed his own working style and visual aesthetic, in 2009 Graeber started his own art glass business. One thing he shares with his mentor Stankard is a deep appreciation for and interest in imagery from the natural world. His paperweight subjects include Chysanthemum, so life-like you want to reach out and pluck them from their crystal orb. Fall Harvest, including pumpkins and blueberries in floral arrangements that celebrate their season with color and vibrancy. And Fruits of Discovery that pays homage to the enchanting yellow lemon trees of Italy.

Graeber says: “My stories in glass have evolved over time. However, one fact, my love of nature, remains constant. Many of my creations celebrate the memory of a loved one or the joy of a special event. All capture nature’s elegance and remarkable diversity.”

In order to create paperweights that reflect nature precisely, Graeber studies his subject matter carefully. A major source of natural inspiration is the million-acre Pinelands National Reserve, which has served as a living laboratory. He is always trying to “find a new illusion,” a new way to express the transcendence he experiences in those environs. Despite his stunning and widely collected artworks, Graeber prefers to be regarded as a craftsman continuing the South Jersey glass tradition into the 21st century.

A life-long “Jerseyman,” Graeber honed his craft under the watchful eye of teachers, mentors, and friends including: the late George Vail, who introduced him to the world of architectural reconstruction and forensic sculpture; William “Bill” Marlin, Ed.D., a dedicated teacher and established painter; Stankard, the internationally acclaimed glass artist who encouraged him to strike out on his own; and the late Ed Poore, a renowned master cutter whose skill has enhanced several of Graeber’s paperweights. 

Graeber has created both a life and a living from the magic of glass. His intricate glass paperweights and impressive flameworking techniques are on display and can be accessed through the L H Selman website as well as Graeber’s own website. He is careful to always keep in mind how much more there is to know and that you always need to be learning something new to expand your horizons as an artist. He is restless and often makes no more than a few paperweights of a particular design before he needs to explore another direction. 

Two years ago, Graeber met filmmaker Dan Collins at an event, and the two decided a documentary film was needed focusing on the paperweights and artistic contributions of Stankard. Graeber took on the role of executive director and began fundraising for the project in earnest. Since January, Flower and Flame has thrilled hundreds of viewers at packed regional venues, including the Morris Museum, Perkins Center for the Arts and Salem Community College’s International Flameworking Conference. The next showing will be at the Paperweight Collectors Association convention May 15 – 18 at the Warwick Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. Plans for national distribution are ongoing and will be updated on the film’s official website as they develop. The film is an official selection of the G.A.S. Film Festival in Berlin, Germany (May 16, 2024), and the Jersey Shore Film Festival (June/July, 2024).

Considering art to be a vehicle for sharing and giving back, Graeber started a glass program five years ago at the nonprofit Perkins Center for the Crafts in Collingswood, New Jersey. There, he recently organized a showing of Flower and Flameto raise money for veterans – a group to whom the artist is particularly interested in teaching glass. Graeber has also given his time and energy to the nonprofit Project Fire, located on Chicago’s West Side, and helmed by glass artist Pearl Dick. 

He states: “I have a passion for the simple gifts of nature: the timeless beauty of a rose, the industriousness of a small bee, or the untamed wildness of a sunflower. Working in glass allows me to explore this passion, and under the tutelage of master glass artist, Paul Stankard, I refined my passion to the art of capturing nature – frozen for eternity in a paperweight.”

More about Flower and Flame

1. Film Reviews

Andrew Page of Urban Glass: REVIEW: An exquisitely crafted film examines Paul… | UrbanGlass

Richard Pope, The Independent Critic: https://theindependentcritic.com/paulstankard

2. Upcoming Screenings | 

  • Many not listed here are in planning stages. The updated list is at www.flowerandflamefilm.com/screenings
  • 4/18 Levoy Theatre, Millville, NJ
  • 5/16 Official Selection, GAS Film Festival, Berlin Germany
  • 5/18 PCA Convention, Warwick, RI
  • Late June (TBD) Official Selection, Jersey Shore Film Festival
  • 7/10 Common Ground on the Hill, McDaniel College, Westminster, MD

3. How can people host a screening?

Answers to screening inquiries and general questions can be found here at our FAQ: FAQ | Flower and Flame (flowerandflamefilm.com)