In 2008, with her Fort Myers home in foreclosure, glass artist Stephanie Martin made a snap decision to move to Islamorada and open a studio in the The Rain Barrel artist village.
Four years later business is booming for Martin's Seaside Glassworks -- so much so that she opened a second location this summer to have space for the four part-time apprentices she has taken on over the past 18 months.
The new studio is in a remodeled storefront at mile marker 81.9, next to Angelika clothing boutique. It is officially open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but don't hesitate to check in during off hours, as Martin often can be found in the evenings and on Sundays designing new glasswork and glass jewelry, or monitoring one of the seven kilns she uses to fuse her layered creations into a finished product.
"There's never a time where I'm here and not open," she said on a recent Monday afternoon. "I usually work seven days a week."
Martin, 42, has been in the glass art business for a decade. But her fascination with glass as a medium dates back to when she was 3 and her mother set up a stained glass studio in the family's basement.
During the day, while her mom worked, Martin snuck downstairs every chance she got to play with the glass.
"I was always getting cut," she said.
For Martin's safety, her mother gave up the studio after just 6 months.
Many years later, an adult Martin took up stained glass herself. Then, in 2004, she took a class to learn glass fusion. But as she worked her way through various projects, she said her instructor told her she was doing it wrong.
"I thought to myself, 'I'm not doing it wrong,'" Martin said. "So I've been doing it wrong ever since."
That unique "wrong" style is on display at both of her Seaside Glassworks locales. Martin's fused-glass jewelry and large pieces typically have marine themes. Jewelry ranges from $20 to $75. Larger art glass starts at $100 and goes up to $4,000.
An alluring feature of fused-glass jewelry is that the appearance of a piece changes depending upon what one is wearing. For example, a pendant that Martin showed off last week was iridescent with yellows and greens when placed against a white background. Set against a black backdrop, the piece took on a vibrant look, highlighted by bold oranges and purples.
Along with retail pieces, special orders make up a major portion of the Seaside Glasswork business. Martin has especially found a niche doing fused glass portraits of people's pets. One day last week she was at work layering various cuts of glass on a special order poodle. Martin said she has made about 60 such pet portraits. But like every fused glass piece she works, not even she was going to know the final appearance of the poodle until after it went through the kiln.
"It's an organic material. I love that it has a mind of its own," Martin said of glass. "It's always exciting when you open the kiln to see what you've created. It's like Christmas."
For more information, call Seaside Glassworks at 727-776-3389.