From men’s clothes to making glass, how one Delaware woman made a big career change

Deborah Appleby had a successful men’s clothing shop in Rehoboth, but the outlet mall was coming so she decided she needed a change of careers.

Suddenly, there were 15 men’s stores competing for business. It was during a buying trip to New York, that Appleby, a Delaware native, saw an ad for a glassblowing weekend, and the rest is history.

Deborah has been making glass now for about 20 years. She is a production glass blower, which means instead of laboring over one piece of glass as a piece of art, she may have to crank out a dozen of the same style of bowl. She describes her work as traditional and functional.

A lot of Appleby’s inspiration comes from nature whether it’s the colors or the ocean itself. “Each idea and each piece comes from something that I’ve either had inspiration from outside of my environment, I’ve been doing a lot of colors with the ocean of course and that kind of thing,” Appleby said.

Not an artist

Deborah doesn’t consider herself an artist. When she is describing her creative process or how she works though, it sure sounds a lot like what an artist might say.

She didn’t go to college for glassblowing, after her initial class she traveled the world apprenticing in different studios learning all she could about the craft. A craftperson in fact, is how she describes herself, not as an artist.

“I think about the functionality of will the colors work with the piece, does the neck flow with this. I am more about structure and about is the lip going to balance with the base. That’s my dialog.”

Appleby could have turned her creative talents to anything she wanted, but she saw something in the glass and was drawn to it. She has an eye for the creative process, just not what she considers an artistic one.

“I never looked at things as artistic, I was never going to be a sculptor I was never going to be a goblet maker, but I wanted to make well crafted pieces that were pleasing to the eye as well as functional,” Appleby said.

Long Days

Depending on what she’s working on, Appleby may spend days or hours on it. Some things can be made using molds, those she can crank out. Some take a bit longer and can make for some long days.

So is she happy? Can you be happy making the exact same thing over and over again for days on end?

“There are days where I’m really happy, the pieces work out and its well crafted and beautiful. And there are days I hate it, like really another spin bowl in the process of how many spin bowls in how many days of spin bowls, but every day can’t be perfect.”

Like many craftspeople, Appleby feels there is a certain level of zen when creating, an energy that sucks you in until you expend the energy and are left with something you created with your own hands.

“There’s something about that making with the hands, there are some days where especially when we are making some of the bigger pieces or we are in a production, there’s 13 of us working, and there this joy, this energy that flows,” Appleby said.

Its that camaraderie and joy that putting the energy into something and seeing the finished product can produce, that gets Deborah up in the morning, sweating away her days at furnaces that melt glass at 2,000 degrees.

“I’m happy, and when these pieces leave then someone will hopefully enjoy it and they’ll pass it on. Is it something that will hopefully stand the test of time that you will love and will pass down to your children? That’s more from where I come from.”


You can see more of Deborah’s work or make an appointment to visit her studio when you visit her on the web.


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