On any given day or evening, you’ll find Rebeccah Byer sweating and geared up in safety glasses, blowing and turning molten glass at The Olio, her beautiful glassblowing studio at West End Millworks beside The Porch Kitchen & Cantina restaurant.
“Glass is magic,” said Rebeccah. “It’s technical; it’s challenging; it transforms objects, but also people. It’s fire and skill, and it is intense. It makes you pay attention to everything.
After art school, where she stumbled upon a glass class and fell in love, Rebeccah had a wide variety of jobs, including working at glass studios. She moved to Winston-Salem in 2006 to raise her children here and quickly found that this is where she was meant to be.
Visitors at The Olio can watch glassblowers work (but please, as the sign says, no questions for them while they work with the molten glass), take classes to create fused glass pieces, jewelry and ornaments. The gallery offers drinking glasses, vases, ornaments, sculptural pieces, custom awards and orders, and other items, all made in the studio.
As part of The Olio’s nonprofit work, Rebeccah created an entrepreneurial Youth Apprenticeship program for those 14-24 years old. Students learn furnace glassblowing, fusing and flameworking in addition to life and business skills, teamwork, customer service, marketing, quality control, inventory and tool usage.
An apprentice program for adults begins in the fall, and applications are now being accepted for the program, as well as for volunteers and interns. Also new this fall are “Hot Lunch” demos for fun midday viewing and a new website with easier glass shopping.
In growing her art, Rebeccah said, “I want to get even better. Now that I have a shop to work in consistently and things are running pretty smoothly coming into our third year, I can focus on my own work and start really thinking about my identity as an artist.”
Though she still struggles with the title “artist,” she is very comfortable being known as a “creative entrepreneur” and “teacher.” And so, The Olio is not only a working art studio but also a shop and maker space where guests can participate in glass classes, student field trips, workshops, team building events, Community Production Nights, private parties, apprenticeships and more.
I’d also add the title “inspirer,” as she helped co-found the group Mary’s Mavens with restaurateur, Mary Haglund, of Mary’s Gourmet Diner after their involvement in EMC Arts Community Innovation Lab. The goal of Mary’s Mavens is to empower women in our community through free discussions led by women pursuing their dreams. The strategy is arts-based and holistic, to help women find their strength professionally and personally.