Looking for something thoughtful for an extra-special person in your life? How about a completely unique gift that speaks to your family’s heritage or reminds you of a special time?
Lee Fusion Art Glass has just the ticket for you. And, these thoughtful items can be enjoyed and shared every day. Sheldon Bickford and Wayne Taylor have been producing and selling unique glass designs in Mount Dora for eleven years. The location of their shop within downtown Mount Dora may have moved around a bit during that time, but they’ve been a part of the merchant community for over a decade.
The shop is located on Fourth Avenue between Baker and Donnelly Street, mid-block, nestled between Julianne’s Coastal Cottage and In a Nutshell Miniatures.
Bickford says he and his partner took over their business from Mr. Rod Lee, who, along with another gentleman originally started the glass business. Back then, Lee Fusion Art Glass operated from Bickford’s home stomping ground of Winter Harbor, Maine.
Bickford and Taylor, were operating a restaurant in an historic post office when they met the Mr. Lee of Lee Art Glass Studio. Mr. Lee was a regular customer at their restaurant – and obviously felt at home there. So at home, that one day, as the two of them were in the kitchen of their restaurant, they walked into the dining room to find Lee nailing a plate hanger into the wall of their dining room.
“He thought one of his plates would look beautiful hanging there,” smiles Bickford, wryly. “That’s the way he was. Wayne and I just sort of chuckled and went along with it. Our place was an old, old post office, so the decor was old scales, post office boxes from the 1800s, and things like that. The plate was outside of our decor, but he was a good customer, so…,” Bickford trails off with a smile and a shrug.
Their relationship carried on for several years, but Mr. Lee eventually became ill, and didn’t venture out as often to dine. He did, however, ask Bickford and Taylor to deliver his meals to him. Being good neighbors, and appreciative of Lee’s business, the pair agreed. Later, as Lee’s health declined he also asked them to help him, by lifting the finished glass out of his kilns. Again, they complied. When Lee finally passed away, Bickford and Taylor, by now old hands at fusing glass designs, bought the business that they continue with it to this day.
“We bought the business and the name from his estate – we keep the name out of respect for Mr. Lee,” explains Bickford. “He was tough, though. I can remember him purposefully ruining a design I was working on once, because he took a look at it and said it wasn’t perfect. All of his patterns, the doilies he used, the process we learned – we still use it all,” he says. “We have about 300 doily patterns and 200 different designs, flowers, fish, birds, lighthouses…you name it, we can it make on a plate.”
Bickford has two working kilns in the Mount Dora shop and says he has eight more at his home and another eight still operating at their Maine shop, where his partner still runs that original art glass business during the summer months.
The kilns heat the glass to 1500 degrees, fusing colorful designs between two pieces of glass. “It takes seven hours for us to fire a large bowl, but regular dinner plates only take four hours,” he says. “Then each piece has to cool, in place in the kiln, for 24-48 hours.”
The process of creating the design around the intricate patterns of doilies takes control and great patience, but Bickford obviously has a practiced hand. “We use different mesh and sifters, depending upon the design and the number of colors we are incorporating in the piece,” he explains, as he layers striking, cobalt blue glass powder over a doily that is draped across a piece of glass. “All of these doilies have been used and re-used for years; we just rinse them out thoroughly after each piece – the process doesn’t harm them at all,” he says, as he spreads out the cleaned doily he just used.
Because the doilies aren’t harmed by the process, Bickford offers people the opportunity to bring in their own family heirloom doilies, which he will use to create the most custom and familiar of designs for any customer. “We do charge a small setup fee to use someone else’s doilies,” he says. But Bickford can turn that doily into a custom plate, bowl or other item – and then return it intact.
If you’re looking for a picture or design beyond the intricate doily patterns offered you have, literally, hundreds of options to choose from, as well. Bickford says his partner is the artist who creates the drawings that are used as templates for the designs on many of their plates. “First, he has to do a drawing, then he creates a stencil for each color, each stencil is then overlaid as the different colors the customer wants are incorporated into the design of plate or bowl or coaster.”
Bickford says all of his glassware is durable, food and dishwasher safe.
In addition to their shops in Mount Dora and Maine, Lee Fusion Art Glass has a website where you can shop their products, see the link: here. If you would like to have a special, one-of-a-kind dinnerware pattern created just for you, stop in and visit with Sheldon Bickford – 137 E. Fourth Avenue, Downtown Mount Dora.
Melissa DeMarco, Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org)