There’s a small imperfection on the wood floor of his gallery that glass artist Jeffrey P’an easily spots as he walks through the space.
Running a hand over the old wood he points out the mottled, tiger-like stripes of darker color to a visitor.
“Look at that. Isn’t it beautiful?”
It’s an interesting comment considering that P’an is surrounded by the gleaming beauty of dozens of glass vases, chandeliers and sculptures that he creates inside his studio at the former American Velvet Mill in Stonington Borough.
But it’s the wood floor’s imperfections, and the overall rustic ambiance of the old mill, P’an says, that helps inspire his glass work, creations infused with intense waves and blocks of colors and translucent light.
“It’s a great place to work,” he says. “I love these old mills.”
P’an is one of more than 80 artists and business owners who lease studio and gallery space inside the former mill that sprawls over 13 acres along Bayview Street and Meadow Avenue in the borough. The 175,000 square-foot brick building was once home to a working velvet mill for more than 100 years. The American Velvet Mill closed its doors in the mid-1990s, one of the last of the iconic New England textile mills to either go out of business or move elsewhere to escape the high cost of doing business here.
The building sat vacant until about six years ago when several local artists, realizing that its cavernous rooms with their high ceilings and well-worn wood floors would make perfect studio and gallery space, began leasing portions of it. The mill has since grown into a thriving community of artisans and entrepreneurs.
P’an, a glass blower who lives in Mystic, used to rent space elsewhere in Stonington, but outgrew that 800-square-foot studio. He moved his business here about eight years ago.
The 4,000-square-foot space dramatically changed his small glass business, P’an says. He has several employees now and ships his artwork, which can range from a $15 ornament to a $10,000 sculpture, to stores and galleries all over the country.
His studio and gallery, located on the far eastern end of the mill in a section of the building that runs along Meadow Avenue, is an eclectic blend of design elements that are at once intentional and necessary.
Here, the edgy modernism of P’an’s brightly lit gallery, where glass and wooden display cases that hold dozens of his glass creations are artfully illuminated by small spotlights hung from the approximately 13-foot ceiling, is in sharp contrast with the hard-edged workspace adjacent to it.
While the former features the mill’s original maple floors, refinished to a soft luster that lovingly accentuates the scrapes and dings the floors suffered over the years, the latter has an uncompromisingly hard concrete floor and a large propane furnace that runs, day and night, at 2,100 degrees - the temperature necessary for P’an to form glass.
The two spaces are separated by large wooden columns whose painted surfaces have been sanded down to expose the raw wood beneath. At the edge of the line that separates the wood floor of the gallery from the concrete one in the studio are several tall stools where visitors can sit and watch P’an and his workers when they are forming new glass pieces.
Every day, P’an says, his studio and gallery are open to visitors. The rooms beyond include a small kitchen, a packing room and a space where P’an welds the metal superstructures that form the skeleton of some of his large chandeliers and sculptures. These art pieces feature multicolored plates of finely blown glass that have curved “lips” along one end that allow P’an to hang the plates over metal bars that make up the frames of his sculptures.
The mill, P’an says, has provided him with a work and gallery space that perfectly blend form and function.
“I couldn’t have done any of this at my other studio,” he says.
His glass creations are also on display in a store in downtown Mystic.