Burning Love

Uncovering the fire in Manhattan Beach glassblower Mayauel Ward.

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  • Written by
    Fabienne Marsh

Inspired by the sea and working with sand, the circle closes for glassblower Mayauel Ward as he pinches another world-in-miniature off his jack, adding to the thousands of paperweights that, over the past 30 years, have become bestselling works of art.

“I lived at the beach, which is a huge inspiration in my work,” the Manhattan Beach native says. “On my honeymoon in Hawaii, I took underwater pictures and wanted to capture that world inside glass.”

In his Inglewood studio, Mayauel nimbly steps over two Labrador retrievers—one yellow, the other chocolate—to transfer a molten bulb of neon orange from the 2,200º furnace to the glory hole, heated to 975º. “If it cools too quickly, it will explode,” Mayauel explains. He has burned himself a few times, and tendonitis is an occupational hazard, given the astonishing intricacy and detail required for his torch work.

At El Camino College, Mayauel intended to become a physical therapist. A course in glassblowing changed both his mind and his life. “I liked the immediate satisfaction,” Mayauel says. He also met his future wife, Eileen, who was the sister of his instructor and is now his business manager and also a piano teacher.

After college, Mayauel apprenticed at Correia Art Glass in Santa Monica for three years, then became a glassblower at Abelman Art Glass in Van Nuys. In 1988, he founded Mayauel Ward Art Glass. His collection includes paperweights, perfume bottles and vases. He was even recently featured in an American Express commercial where Conan O’Brien masters the art of Italian glassblowing.

Other than the rapturous underwater world that informs his work, Mayauel is inspired by the use of color in the work of Dale Chihuly and William Morris. He has fond memories of hanging out with his father and their painter friends in the Art Cellar, a family-owned gallery in the late ‘60s.   

“My father taught my brother and me to use oil paints when we were 4 years old,” he recalls. “I try to give my glass pieces the feeling of a painting without using paint. I look at my vases as a kind of canvas.”
If Mayauel could own a painting, it would be one of Gauguin’s Polynesian nudes, a Picasso bullfighter or any one of Monet’s Waterlilies.

Mayauel Ward’s ability to suspend entire worlds in glass—from Buck Rogers to jellyfish to his current favorite, the crimson and black vases from his “lava series”—put him in an enviable position. “If I never had to work again, I would still want to blow glass.”