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Reprinted with permission of Henderson Dispatch of Henderson, NC. Reproduction does not imply endorsement.
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Pained glass

Beauty belies work behind woman’s art

Few of the browsers inside Cedar Creek Gallery near Creedmoor have any idea how Lisa Oakley’s colorful glass bead necklaces and bracelets featured in the display cases came to be.

Initially just designs in her mind, they took shape during many painstaking steps of the creative process inside her six-year-old glass-blowing studio.

That workshop is inside a 3,000 square-foot building that is several hundred yards away from the store on the 10-acre plot that used to be a tobacco field, near what is now Falls Lake in Southern Granville County.

The complex is on Fleming Road, which is off Will Suitt Road, which runs into N.C. Highway 15, which crosses Interstate 85.

The hot shop was where Lisa dipped a steel rod into a ceramic crucible filled with molten clear glass inside the melting furnace. As the gob began to cool at room temperature, it got stiffer. The glass was placed inside the “glory hole,” which is a re-heating furnace, to become more fluid.

A wooden tool called a block was used to shape the gob.

“I’ll blow a little air in it and let it cool,” Lisa said. “A lot of glass-blowing is about knowing when it needs to be hot and when it needs to be cool.”

After adding another “gather” of glass onto the gob, Lisa layered on colored glass in a metal scoop in the forms of both powder and chips. The latter is also called “frit.”

Delight spread across her face as the she talked about the prospects of one day having a furnace in which she will be able to melt color.

Back to reality, she held out her rod to attach the gob to the end of another rod wielded by her 34-year-old assistant, Brian Tomlinson, who also lives in Raleigh.

They began to move apart from each other, until the glass became a “straw” or tube that was about 20 feet long. Lisa thought it was short, since some stretch out to 100 feet. The average is about 40.

Then the straw was divided into sections up to about 18 inches in length. Rough glass beads made from the tubes were placed in a small kiln and heated to 1,000 degrees before they were smoothed on both sides by a propane torch.

The cold shop is where machines are used to grind, cut, etch, and sandblast pieces of glass at least 24 hours after they come out of a kiln, to prevent them from breaking.

Necklaces and bracelets and earrings comprise about half of what Lisa makes for sale at Cedar Creek, a crafts gallery in Beaufort and at shows in the exposition center in Raleigh.

The other 50 percent consists of “vessels” such as bowls, vases and ornaments.

“She makes it look easy,” Tomlinson said. “She produces so many pieces every day.”

Lisa’s previous workplace only covered about 800 square feet.

After a three-year construction period, her new studio was completed in 2002, just two years before her famous father, Sid Oakley, died at the age of 71.

Designated a “living treasure” in North Carolina, his name is inscribed on the bottoms of a number of pottery pieces that permanently reside in the Smithsonian.

He and his wife, Pat, started their business in 1968. Lisa said her mother continues to live on the property, and occasionally still throws a pot or two.

“My daddy told me to build what I would want ‘10 years from now’ so I wouldn’t grow out of it. He said ‘You’re not going to want to build anything ever again,’ and he was right.”

Lisa thinks her father felt he wasn’t going to be around forever. "He knew I was the next generation to carry on Cedar Creek. He wanted me to have a studio that was fit for a queen. I’ve had total support from both of my parents.”

Her being there, Lisa said, “is good for me and good for Cedar Creek. I guess if my mother and father had been lawyers instead of potters, I would not be doing this.”

She commutes every day from Raleigh, where she lives with her husband, Craig Chandler, and their two young children, Carson and Emily.

Lisa remembers what life was like as a 3-yea-old back when Cedar Creek started out in 1968.

“I was breaking things in the name of helping,” she said.

In one memory, her mother was using a small piece of wood to delicately put the finishing touches on the edges of some clay plates. Pat stopped what she was doing to attend to something else. When she turned back around, Lisa was stabbing the plates with a similar instrument.

“I was doing exactly what I thought I saw my mother doing,” Lisa explained. “She didn’t get mad at me.”

These days: “My daughter is already helping me out in the studio. It’s really weird to think that was me 40 years ago. I expect they (Emily and Carson) will break a few things.

“They are more important than things.”

Contact the writer at awheless@hendersondispatch.com.