By MELODY JAMESON
GIBSONTON – In a world of mass production with the help of high technology, Calvin Sloan is a man out of step every day with that contemporary standard.
He neither apologizes nor brags about it. Call him a master craftsman and he’ll own up to it without belaboring the point. It may not be comfortable to march always to the drummer demanding the most precise artistry by hand that is humanly possible, but it’s a compulsion, he’s learned, that cannot be escaped.
Like the Alafia River flowing gently past his studio on the south shore, he simply goes with it, producing art in glass, both functional and decorative, with painstaking hand work, on equipment rare enough to be restored rather than replaced.
Following a craft centuries old, Calvin Sloan etches imaginative scenes on sheets of glass, creates door and window panels in unique designs with pieces of glass in rainbows of colors, restores precious stained glass windows, bevels glass edges for all manner of valuables from delicate small clocks to decorative large mirrors.
Now in his late 50s, he’s been doing this since he was a child in Michigan– literally. Lounging recently in his large office beneath the modern stilt house with the riverside balcony he shares with his wife, Susanne, Sloan said his first recollection of a fascination with glass, as light played through it, is as a youngster four or five years old. The interest was encouraged when his mother gave him as a gift a stained glass kit from which he created a lamp shade. And, with that he was hooked, he said.
Eager to learn everything he could about glass, its properties and its potentials, as soon as he was able to make the choices, he took classes wherever possible, learning glass cutting, even glass blowing. Over time, he grasped and then refined the techniques involved in etching with sand and with the wheel as well as beveling or faceting. With glass as his “canvas,” he was able to exercise his bent for the whimsical and the unconventional.
Sloan, the glass artist, opened his first studio in Ybor City in the mid ’70s. It was not, however, an instantaneous success, he recalled. He persisted, though, picking up small commissions, working without heat in the winter, without air conditioning in the summer, often even without hot running water. “It sucked, but I didn’t care,” Sloan asserted, emphasizing the supreme importance – the first priority – of work well done, whether for an architect or a door maker or an interior designer. He also shared his knowledge, teaching others at the University of South Florida.
And, slowly, over the decades the client list grew. Eventually, there were substantial, six-figure commissions such as multiple orders for beveled and etched glass dividers in the Morrison Cafeterias, beveled glass office dividers for the design division of Harmon Glass, an etched mirrored wall for Devco Development Corp, etched doors for Azzarelli Construction, beveled mirrored walls in the Urban Centre at WestShore, his successful bid for similar work at Universal Studios.
The corporate work led to paying assignments from individuals for their homes in exclusive sections, Sloan added, ticking off some of the higher profile names in Tampa Bay’s political, legal and entertainment circles. He does not drop these names publicly, he noted, because he believes private clients have a right to expect privacy regarding the art work in their homes.
By this time an acknowledged master of his craft, featured locally and in pertinent trade journals, Sloan had moved his Star Bevel Studio a couple of times and then settled into a small business center on U.S. 301, north of Riverview. But, it was the height of the local real estate boom; buyers were both plentiful and competitive. Made the offer he could not refuse, Sloan cashed out.
And that is how, he allowed, the studio of today came to be located on a spit of land surrounded by a bayou of the Alafia, steps away from the spacious ground floor offices – one for him, one for Susanne – and the second story home of spectacular river views they share with three rescued mixed-breed dogs.
Neat and functional, the oblong studio, cooled with breezes from the river when fully opened at both ends, houses long work tables, storage bins of glass, both art and stained, samples of finished pieces, and the old, valuable, irreplaceable machinery required for beveling and etching tasks on turning wheels made gritty with small streams of water and polishing material.
Assisted by Winston Hasper, also competent in the disappearing art of beveling, Sloan currently is working on two projects of considerable historic significance. Both are restorations, one of stained glass windows in the Ruskin home of Conrad Peterson, who rehabilitated the former arts and drama center of that community’s 100-year-old college, and the second involving some 80 stained glass windows in varying sizes, eight to 22 feet, from a Tampa church built in 1904. It can be delicate work, demanding care in handling and attention to detail in matching colors, Sloan said, pointing out that such work cannot be rushed and yet done properly.
But such challenges still excite Sloan as he looks ahead to his sixth decade coming on fast. “I’m still learning; you never learn it all,” he said with a grin, “and it still gets the mojo flowing.” Being out of step can have its advantages.
© 2010 Melody Jameson