Local glassblower Sam Lightner has always liked fire. Now, that affinity finally has a home.
Lightner, who’s been making art in the area for years, opened her own blown-glass gallery November 1 on Route 2 in Middlesex. The space — christened Lightner Glass — acts as both a studio and a showcase of her work. Her shop’s shelves are stacked with reflective pieces she’s crafted, glassy silhouettes of fluorescent hearts, feathers, cups, ceiling lights and more.
With the studio neighboring Camp Meade, Lightner has been splitting her time between her art and teaching kids the craft.
“Teaching kids glassblowing is actually not as terrifying as it sounds,” Lightner said, laughing. “They actually pick up quick on what to touch and what not to. They’re like me — they just want to play with the glass.”
This last summer was Lightner’s first spent at Camp Meade, giving lessons to any kids who wanted to give the act of melting and bending glass a try.
“With the little kids, we blow mostly smaller pieces like glass hearts, as it’s hard for them to blow anything bigger,” Lightner said.
It’s been fulfilling for her to share her molten joy with kids, and it has helped the steady income Lightner needs to live life as a glassblower.
“You know, there have been years where I have to ask myself if I can really do this full time, and sometimes that can be scary,” Lightner said.
ALWAYS A BALANCE
It’s always a balance. As Lightner puts it, “When you’re an artist you have to find out how to make money while keeping yourself happy with the art itself.”
She never questioned committing herself to glassblowing, though. About 15 years ago, when she was a teenager, Lightner would venture downstairs into her home’s basement, blowtorch in hand, and fill the dark room with an orange blaze as she turned melted glass into glowing beads.
At the time Lightner was completing high school through online classes taken, which helped her have more time to spend on art.
“I did ‘computer school’ for a long time, and they would give me assignments that involved glassblowing because that’s what I liked,” Lightner said. “I knew then that when I completed school I wanted to immerse myself in it.”
She got her wish after high school ended when she pivoted to working as a full-time assistant for Wheaton Arts Museum in New Jersey. The museum had living quarters above its ceramics department, and that’s where Lightner would catch some shut-eye while learning how to glass blow.
MAD RIVER GLASS GALLERY
After three years at Wheaton, Lightner’s passion led her to the Mad River Glass Gallery in Waitsfield. The owners, Melanie and David Leppla, had met while they worked at Wheaton Arts three decades ago, and regularly made visits during Thanksgiving to sell their art. That’s how they met Lightner.
“At the time I didn’t know them too well, but I decided to message them anyway asking if they ever needed any help at their place in Waitsfield,” Lightner said. “Luckily for me their assistant had just left so they asked me, ‘What do you think about moving up here full-time?’”
She moved north early February 2014, and she’s been here ever since as a glassblower full-time.
Even after opening her own studio this past fall, Lightner still works for the Lepplas three days a week at their glass gallery.
“It’s not the easiest thing to have a glassblowing assistant leave and look for an immediate replacement, so I’m still currently working there, which has provided a nice safety net as I start my own studio,” Lightner said.
Lightner’s current project has involved fusing glass together into trays cannabis-enthusiasts can use to prep their goods — often called rolling trays. She aims to sell them to Waitsfield dispensaries. She has also been experimenting with embedding working light bulbs in her glass creations.
She’s been taking inspiration from the cosmos: Visitors can find her store lit up like the Milky Way past dusk, shooting starry colors onto her studio walls.
Lightner wants to share her love for glass with folks outside her camp lessons too. People can sign up for lessons by emailing her at