2010-05-20 / Top News

Local artist’s glasswork hurtles through space

BY KITTY CAYO Florida Weekly Correspondent

Creating the bead COURTESY PHOTO Creating the bead COURTESY PHOTO The carefully created work of a local artist is now stashed in the payload of the space shuttle Atlantis, hurling through the galaxy at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

Port Charlotte glass artist Terri Fout entered a bead she created in a contest sponsored by Beads of Courage and won, earning the privilege of having her creation launched into space for one of the final NASA shuttle missions. Before traveling to Cape Canaveral last week for the shuttle launch, Ms. Fout remarked, “I’m not a scientist, engineer or astronaut. I’m just an artist, and so I defi- nitely consider it an honor.”

She may consider herself “just an artist,” but Ms. Fout’s winning entry is getting lots of attention, including a spotlight on NASA’s Web site. Beads of Courage spokesperson Lori Greenberg explains that beads were judged on the space theme and level of “kid-friendliness.” She suspects the contests judges were impressed by the level of skill it took to create the winning bead. “It’s hard to sculpt molten glass into such a specific shape and remain realistic,” Ms. Greenberg said.

Artist Terri Fout creates at her workstation. Artist Terri Fout creates at her workstation. The mission of Beads of Courage, based in Tucson, Ariz., is to reward children facing serious illnesses with glass beads each time they reach a milestone in treatment. The beads help the kids cope, and provide them with something tangible they can use to talk about the experience. Beads of Courage programs help thousands of children and their families at more than 60 hospitals throughout the world.

Ms. Fout began her artistic journey as a potter. But once Hurricane Charley cut through her neighborhood, glass became her medium of choice. After the storm, Ms. Fout recalls, there was “glass everywhere.” She collected and recycled it, making wind chimes out of windows.

Today, she uses it to create sculptures, ornaments, beads and jewelry. To create the tiny yet amazingly intricate beads, she uses a blowtorch, raising the temperature of thin glass rods to the point where the material is malleable. Then, with steady hand and help from a magnifying glass, she forms the now-supple glass into desired shapes.

The idea to send beads in space came from an employee of Marshall Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., whose 6-yearold daughter, Sydney, has cancer. Each time Sydney was rewarded with a bead, her father noticed Sydney’s spirits would lift. It was his idea to contact NASA who agreed to carry a maximum weight of 8 ounces (nine beads) as part of the cargo on this mission.

Florida glass artists are responsible for a significant share of the 30,000 glass beds donated to Beads of Courage each year.

Many are made by “Florida Glass Dragons,” a chapter of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers — of which Ms. Fout is a member.

The artists meet once a month for work sessions, often dedicating the time to make beads for the charity. Ms. Fout has made dozens of “beads of courage,” for the kids, some shaped like dinosaurs and race cars and others made to look like popular cartoon characters.

When the beads return to earth, they will be placed in a traveling exhibit and taken to member hospitals. The charity is working on finding the historic beads a permanent home in a museum.

Meanwhile, Ms. Greenberg says each child in the program will receive a commemorative postcard with pictures of the beads, to let them know “Astronauts in space were thinking of them and their journeys.”

As for Ms. Fout, she thinks of the children, too. As she works on the beads, she says she “always imagines the kids smiling.” ¦

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