A former social worker finds her new calling working in glass.
It took 50 years, but Andrea Cleeton finally found her passion. She was watching a TV show about hobbies nearly 10 years ago when she saw a woman making fused glass plates. Something clicked. Her interest was so piqued by the process of creating art out of glass that she immediately went to work researching opportunities to try it out for herself.
“I found a woman 20 miles away who was teaching classes,” Cleeton says. “I took one class and was hooked. I found my passion when I took that first class.”
Her first order of business after that class was purchasing her own small kiln so she could work out of her basement. Today, her studio holds three kilns of varying sizes. It’s an ironic turn of events for Cleeton, who was always interested in art but didn’t think she had any artistic ability. As a little girl, she once told someone she wanted to be an artist when she grew up, but her mom told her that drawing wasn’t among her strongest gifts.
“It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized I was creative and artistic,” Cleeton says. “I was a state social worker for 30 years in the child welfare field and then a trainer in the industry for 22 years. That’s where I realized I did have some creativity and artistic ability.”
In her retirement, Cleeton has found the time to devote herself to glass: working with it; learning new techniques; traveling around the country to take classes; and keeping up to date with a glassworks Facebook group devoted to sharing tips, advice and techniques.
Today, Cleeton’s work is on display at The Art Bazaar, a local artist co-op in historic Warwick Village Square. She pays rent to the co-op and volunteers her time to work in the store, where about 30 different artists display and sell their work. Her collection includes ornaments, bowls, clocks and pendants, but her best-selling piece is a dish for serving olive oil and dipping bread. “There are fused pieces of glass in the bottom so you can take a clove of garlic and rub it into olive oil for dipping bread,” Cleeton says. “A friend of mine saw them made out of ceramic in New Mexico. She sent me a picture, and it took me several attempts to figure out the right firing schedule, but they sell like crazy.”
Cleeton says many times her inspiration comes from nature, where shapes or colors that she likes seem to call her to translate them into glass. Sometimes she sees a piece by another artist and works to perfect that technique in glass, and sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night with an idea that makes her anxious to get into her studio to create.
Although she often creates pieces based on her own inspirations and visions, Cleeton says she gets excited about opportunities to collaborate with others on commissioned pieces. She recently created a clock for a customer based on a photograph of water. “I had that picture hanging in my studio, and I looked at it for several weeks, trying to figure out how to manipulate the glass to look like water,” she says. “I consulted with my client several times, and, in the end, we both really liked the piece.”
Cleeton is also excited about the opportunity to make glass tiles to complement the Fountain of Hope in the park next to Saffees.
“People will be able to purchase tiles in memory of someone who has died of cancer, and each will have an awareness ribbon based on the type of cancer,” Cleeton says.
“It’s really nice to be part of a community project like this, and to know that the tiles will be there forever is really exciting.”
Now that she’s found her passion in life, Cleeton has nothing but excitement for the future. She is anxious to purchase an even larger kiln for her studio and to continue learning, branching out and creating things that feed her artistic spirit.
“Sometimes I wonder why I had to be 50 when I found my passion in life, but I came to the conclusion that that’s just when it happened, that’s when I could enjoy it, when I could put my all into it,” Cleeton says. “I’m just glad it happened.”