Student discovers artistic side, with help from entrepreneurship program

HCC helps man overcome challenges to create and sell glass works of art

December 11, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Paul Weller is seated beside his work, colorful fused-glass art pieces that display his feel for texture and design. They're the kinds of pieces that would rival any church's stained glass and are a testament to the talents of a man born with physical and mental challenges.

Weller hopes that his artwork can help others with similar challenges. Jean Weller has enrolled her son in an entrepreneurship program at Howard Community College to assist him in forming a nonprofit that offers financial assistance to help the disabled enroll in creative arts programs.

Paul Weller, 28, is one of many students enrolled in HCC's Center for Entrepreneurial and Business Excellence, which provides one-on-one guidance, courses, business space and other resources to help entrepreneurs get their projects off the ground.

Born prematurely and having suffered hypoxia, Weller has cerebral palsy, cortical visual impairment and seizure disorders. Still, he has created about 80 fused-glass works since taking up the practice after making steppingstones with an art therapist. Weller creates hanging ornaments, plates and earrings. His pieces are priced from $20 to several hundred dollars.

CEBE's director, Betty Noble, said Weller's mother is trained to handle the business aspects of her son's company. Jean Weller enrolled her son in the center in January, and center instructors meet with the Wellers once a week for about an hour with a business coach to help develop his business, Glass Expressions by Paul Inc.

Noble said that last semester while she was teaching an entrepreneur class, she allowed students to help Weller with his business. Noble said Weller is among a few students with physical or intellectual challenges to have been enrolled in the program; others have launched businesses that print T-shirts or scan documents.

"It's a holistic approach, because we're an educational institution and you can't have one without the other," said Noble. "You can have a snap business idea, but if you're not willing to work on it, then it doesn't work, and vice versa."

Weller works with fused glass, which is fired in a kiln at temperatures of 1,000 to 1,500 degrees. Shapes and textures form as a result of being fired at particular temperatures.

Weller said he delights in creating the artwork and enjoys working with colors, but added, "For one thing, you have to be really careful because you don't want to cut yourself. … All these pieces are mostly glass pieces."

When her son worked with steppingstones, which involved putting pieces in a specific place, "he didn't have the dexterity to be able to do that independently," Jean Weller said. "We went to an art teacher in Frederick. She had stained-glass classes and supplies, and she thought that fused glass would be a better medium because he could be freer to put things wherever he wants."

Jean Weller said that her son places glue, sprinkles and other colorful objects on the glass, which spins while he works. Then the glass is fired to make colorful designs.

"You never know how it's going to come out," she said. "The neat thing about this is that you give him a shape, and he can do whatever he wants with that shape."

In November, HCC held an art exhibition featuring Weller's pieces. Jean Weller said her son has sold more than a dozen pieces.

Like other students in the program, Weller benefits from being able to showcase his talents, Noble said.

"The business is one thing, but that's part of it," she said. "It is really [about] the exposure that they get."

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