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Gone Shack Wacky: Marystown woman turns fascination with glass into livelihood

MARYSTOWN, NL – Just below the road along a stretch of Ville Marie Drive running through Creston sits a lime green house.

Towards the back there’s a workshop inside where bottles of coloured glass and glass sheets of all sizes fill several shelves.

The material waits to see what the mind of Denise Withers has in store for it, be it a soap dish, a bird bath, or a row of jelly beans house on a snow-covered hill.

Withers and her husband John own a crafting business called Shack Whacky. One of their featured products is fused glass art.

“I’ve always loved glass since I was a kid – the cobalt blue was always my favorite,” she told the Southern Gazette as she motioned to a container of translucent, dark blue broken glass.

She said she has always been fascinated by glass.

“Even though it’s delicate, it’s strong and it’s clear.”

Withers first started working with stained glass about 10 years ago.

“We were at it a little bit and did a few craft fairs, but we were also working full time,” she explained. “Then I saw people doing it that had more time to put into it. I get bored easy – I found with the stained glass, it just took to long.”

She was also limited in the type of pieces she could create since she says stained glass is not food safe, along with being hard to work with and messy.

Fused glass doesn’t have those issues, she said, and if you get stuck on one piece, it’s easy to take some time away from it and work on another.

Withers said her husband suggested she start doing the glass products.

“I was puttering around here with the (homemade) candles and soaps and he has the hand-painted silks that he does, and he wanted something else to do. He just said, ‘let’s get back into glass.’

“I would never be at this stage except for him (saying) hey, let’s do it …start learning this totally new thing.”

Withers has been doing fused glass for approximately seven months now. She said starting out it took a little time to get over her fears of working with the kiln.

“The first time I fired it up I was afraid the whole room would combust.”

Learning curve

Withers said even after setting up the kiln it still took time to get comfortable using it.

“I was terrified – I was like, what am I going to do?”

After some practice and using some learning resources from suppliers and online, she became more comfortable.

“Every kiln is different, so you have to do your own experimenting, you have to have your own mistakes.”

Withers also hopes to start making her own project molds, which would allow her to create a wide range of projects.

“If I want to make a soap dish that’s shaped like Newfoundland or a fish, I can.”

Future plans

Withers spends as much time as she can in her workshop, as she is not currently employed in her trade as a scaffolder.

“Hopefully I’ll get it to the point where it will be my retirement job,” she said.

She has posted a few pieces online and is working on a website for sales. She has also approached some stores about selling her work on consignment and wholesaling agreements.

“Especially with the soap dishes,” she explained, “That’s looking to be very popular, a lot of people are using the pump soaps, but the trend now is more towards hand-made soaps.”

Withers also sells her products at craft fairs, but she hopes by taking her business to the internet she can rely less on craft fairs and focus on doing what she loves, in the places she loves to be.

“We want to stay here, and I don’t want to (wonder) what am I going to do for work,” she said. “If you can be at something that can give you an income and you’re enjoying it and you can stay home, you’ve got it made.”

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