Glass artist gar­ners new nick­name as Eureka’s ‘Sand­man.’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PERSPECTIVE - Mike Master­son Mike Master­son is a long­time Arkansas jour­nal­ist. Email him at mmas­ter­son@arkansason­

Sil­ica-and-glass artist and out­door ad­ven­tur­ist Randy Wood­ward of Eureka Springs has big dreams for him­self nowa­days. He’s rather en­joy­ing his new nick­name as “Sand­man” around this Ozarks arts com­mu­nity.

I would never have known what the con­fi­dent 67-year-old crafts­man was up to in re­cent years had we not been strolling past the for­mer Su­san Mor­ri­son Sig­na­ture Art Gallery in Eureka Springs the other day. And there the long­time ac­quain­tance stood, pa­tiently teach­ing three mid20s vis­i­tors from Lit­tle Rock on a pa­tio area near the front steps.

One of those stu­dents was se­lect­ing from var­i­ous bright hues of in­cred­i­bly fine sil­ica sand, then care­fully feed­ing them be­tween sheets of glass in a thin and nar­row glass frame. The best way to de­scribe it is like one thought­fully fill­ing a 5-by9-inch glass sand­wich with a blend of sil­ica sand.

“Oh, I re­ally like that color,” the stu­dent told Wood­ward, who ac­quired the Mor­ri­son Gallery from his for­mer wife and na­tion­ally ac­claimed artist/poet Su­san dur­ing their di­vorce af­ter 34 years to­gether. Su­san still lives in Beaver, where she retains her art stu­dio in the river ham­let.

“Good, so just keep pour­ing it through the lit­tle spout be­tween the glass sheets a lit­tle at a time,” Randy pa­tiently coached his stu­dent. “See how the dif­fer­ent col­ors layer on top of each other? Just wait un­til you see what you’ll be cre­at­ing here in a minute.” She smiled, the ex­cite­ment ev­i­dent in her eyes.

Wood­ward is busy con­vert­ing the ram­bling three-level gallery (also his home) into a “fun, wholly non­threat­en­ing” place the quirky and en­er­gized Eureka and her vis­i­tors can ap­pre­ci­ate.

Part of the plan in­cludes teach­ing sil­ica sand art to those who stop to ad­mire and par­tic­i­pate. “For $15, any­one who has 20 min­utes and an in­ter­est in cre­at­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful and to­tally per­sonal will want to stop to ap­pre­ci­ate and en­joy what they can do,” he said.

“But there’s go­ing to be a lot more com­ing here to the gallery in the com­ing months. Up­stairs we are cre­at­ing a tea room where vis­i­tors can en­joy a nice, peace­ful meal in an el­e­gant set­ting. Across the hall I’m es­tab­lish­ing a mas­sage stu­dio, and ad­ja­cent to that will be a heal­ing room. It will have some­thing for ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing art classes with a chance to play while cre­at­ing.”

When re­mod­el­ing is com­plete, he says he’ll re­name the gallery— care to take a guess? “The Sand Cas­tle,” of course.

Randy said he’s al­ready cre­ated sev­eral panoramic cus­tom sil­ica pieces for lo­cal mer­chants (Mud Street Cafe, for one). And he’s com­pleted var­i­ous ma­jor com­mis­sioned scenes for cus­tomers who un­der­stand­ably were mes­mer­ized by the bril­liance of images and col­ors that emerge from back­light­ing.

Back on the gallery pa­tio, a young man steps to Randy’s easel and reaches for his first plas­tic bot­tle of col­ored sil­ica to gently squeeze into the glass frame. There’s yel­low, gold, red, greens, pur­ple, or­ange, black and pink. You name the hue and odds are Randy has it handy. As with his younger fe­male com­pan­ion, this man’s uniquely per­sonal scene slowly came into view as Randy demon­strated how to steadily turn and pre­cisely “thump” the par­ti­cles into po­si­tion. As if by some form of Eureka-es­que con­jur­ing, a moun­tain range sud­denly ap­pears, then an­other more dis­tant, and still a third, all in dif­fer­ent col­ors.

“Bet you never thought you could do this kind of thing,” Randy says, smil­ing. “Most who stop to watch the process be­come caught up in the fas­ci­na­tion that comes from not know­ing what to ex­pect. They usu­ally hang around long enough to be­come amazed by the fi­nal prod­uct. Next thing you know, they are at the easel cre­at­ing one of their own.”

Randy and Su­san cer­tainly are no strangers to the state’s artists and in­flu­en­tial art lovers across Arkansas and the na­tion. Some of their big­gest sup­port­ers over the years have been the Wal­ton fam­ily and the Clin­tons. De­spite their mu­tual de­ci­sion to part three years ago, they wish each other well, Randy said.

And while Su­san con­tin­ues to build on her re­mark­able legacy and con­tri­bu­tions through cap­tur­ing out­door wildlife with pen and ink, as well as color pen­cils and po­etry, Randy said it’s never too late to recre­ate and re-en­er­gize him­self in­di­vid­u­ally as the glass artist that has lain dormant for decades.

“Now is my time to cre­ate and dis­play my own form of art,” he said. Work­ing as the hot-end foreman in the Merry-Go-Round Stained Glass plant in Fort Smith dur­ing the 1970s helped in­spire Randy and gave him the skill and knowl­edge needed to per­fect his art form in sil­ica.

“Now I feel the need to teach oth­ers and steadily im­prove my­self and what I can of­fer in a place like The Sand Cas­tle. I’m ex­cited by all of it.”

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