Under cover of his signature top hat and distinctive moustache, Lewis Wilson has accomplished more than most people dream of. His list of achievements includes success as a glass art instructional video producer, demonstrating lampworking artist, promoter of the world’s largest hot glass competition, and founding member of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers. A fixture at glass bead and pipe shows, “Looie” is also a fire-eating juggler, knife swallower and a black belt in karate. In his Crystal Myths gallery, you’ll find everything from goblets and vases to birds and dinosaurs. The fantasy realm is where this artist draws much of his inspiration.
Being from New Mexico, it is only fitting that Wilson is also known for glass sculptures of Native American ceremonial dancers. The intricately costumed pieces have not only become prized additions to private collections, but were also given as official presentations from the state of New Mexico to visiting dignitaries such as King Juan Carlos of Spain, blues legend Bo Diddley, and Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Born in 1949 in Roswell, New Mexico, Wilson was part of a military family that moved frequently to places such as Dallas, Texas, then Morroco, North Africa, and on to Riverside, California. In 1960, 11-year-old Wilson moved with his family to Goose Bay, Canada, where he taught himself how to eat fire, juggle, throw knives and do various magic and circus tricks. In 1963 following a move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, he started learning Shotokan karate, receiving his first-degree black belt in 1969.
Joining the United States Air Force in 1970, Wilson was a medic during the Vietnam war, stationed at Cocoa Beach, Florida. During the slow hours of the night, he taught himself about glass through an old scientific glass blowing book he found in the Air Force base library. The medical lab was his studio and a Bunsen burner his equipment. There he made intricately woven animal figurines from 4 mm Pyrex stirring rods.
Wilson’s first real lessons in glass blowing came in 1973 under the tutelage of Alfonso and Tomas Arribas who had reportedly caught the attention of Walt Disney when the brothers represented Spain at the 1964–‘65 New York World’s Fair. Wilson talked them into an apprenticeship at the Crystal Arts on Main Street, U.S.A at Disneyworld where he made thousands of crabs, teapots and birdbaths for the tourists. Mexican glass blower Miguil Bonilla, who also worked for Disney, was another of his mentors.
Upon leaving the Air Force in 1974, Wilson went the following day to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, to try to secure a job as a glassblower. There were no glassblowing openings, however they did have a vacancy for a juggler and fire-eater. For the next two years he worked with tattooed belly dancers, a magician, and an organ grinder and his monkey. Later that year, Wilson married, and his family moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he opened his glass business, Crystal Myths.
In 1993, Wilson produced his first glassworking video, Glass Bead Making, and now has produced more than 20 titles. In 1996, Crystal Myths promoted its first show, The Best Bead Show, in Tucson, Arizona, earning him the nickname of “the P.T. Barnum of Beadmakers.” In 2002, Wilson promoted the world’s largest hot glass competition called the Albuquerque Flame-Off. There, 300 glass workers from the U.S. and Canada worked on six torches running for 12 hours a day for two days.
In 2005, Wilson demonstrated at the Kobe International Lampworking Festival in Kobe, Japan, and only spoke Japanese, which he taught himself, during the demo. Later that year, a building was named after him at Art Glass Invitational in September, one of the highlights of his career.
Wilson sold the Best Bead Shows in 2008, re-emerging as a talented artist able to concentrate fully on lampworking. Later that year, at the Oakland ISGB convention, he was presented with the Hall of Flame Award. In 2011, Wilson married glass artist Barbara Svetlick with whom he founded Soft Glass Invitational, promoted for two years in Hilliards, Pennsylvania. In 2015, the event was given to Kris Schaible, and she continues to promote the event.
These days, Wilson spends the bulk of his time filling commissions and doing standard production work, with the remainder dedicated to new designs. He and his wife enjoy collaborating, which comprises about 10 percent of each artist’s work. With Svetlick’s flowers added to Wilson’s glass sculpture or her sculpture incorporating his beads, the artwork benefits from the best of both worlds.