Medicinal Herbs is both a strong and a typical example of Stankard’s use of a glassmaking technique called flameworked. With a gas oxygen torch, the artist melts thing, colored glass rods and then manipulates them in the flame with hand tools. After combining the many individual pieces for a given work, he encapsulates the entire ensemble in molten transparent glass, which cools around the delicate object.
Stankard’s earliest glass works were relatively spare, but they evolved in the 1980s to include the depiction not just of flowers but also their roots and other elements from the natural environment to suggest stages of growth. He also began to lean on his skills as a realist sculptor to pursue imaginative additions—words, mask-like faces, and tiny earth spirits like those seen around the root system in Medicinal Herbs. These infuse Stankards objects with his own sense of spirituality; he says that he explores, “the cycles of nature with wildflowers as a personal metaphor. The addition of tiny human forms and words as emblems allude to unseen forces of growth and decay.” In considering with the natural world, Stankard has drawn inspiration from the poet Walt Whitman, and he has also written poetry of his own. In Stankard’s hands, the paperweight leaves the sphere of decorative art and comes to reflect much more personal and even wondrous engagement with the world. Having been made in 1992 as one of Stankard’s “assemblage” pieces, Medicinal Herbs is both a valuable example of the artist’s mature work and one of his larger and more complicated creations.
Title, signature, and date incised into glass BC on one side