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Rick and Melissa Ayotte: A Nice Little Family Business

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Like father, like daughter: Rick and Melissa Ayotte are glass artists who share a studio in a former helicopter garage in New Boston, New Hampshire. Rick is a veteran of the trade; he began as an industrial glassblower and gradually turned himself into an artist. He's one of the very best in a specialized field: fine-art paperweights. His pieces routinely sell for thousands of dollars; one commissioned piece fetched $14,000. Melissa has learned the trade from Rick, and taken her own art in new directions. And if all that family togetherness isn't enough, Rick's wife Clara manages the business side of the family studio. (You can see her in the background of this photo.) Here's a passage from their story. 

 

You think "paperweight," you don't usually think fine art. "When I describe them to people, I say I make small-scale glass sculptures," says Melissa. "because when you talk about paperweights, they think about some plastic thing with a fake butterfly in it. Then they look at our work, and say 'How did you do that?'" 

 

A Rick Ayotte original doesn't usually fetch 14 grand, but his pieces can go for several thousand dollars. Melissa isn't quite in that bracket, but you can pay a thousand or more for one of hers. And if you visited their studio, you'd understand why. 

 

On one tabletop is a stunning array of miniature leaves, flower petals, and other replicas of nature. Rick is hunched over a Bunsen burner, making tiny leaves one at a time. Some are less than a quarter inch from end to end, and all are accurate reproductions.  "It's an interesting thing," says Melissa, "to break down a flower and know it from inside out, and try and uncover how this was actually created, and how can I do this in glass. The mystery of nature is never so apparent." They also re-create insects, birds, and other small critters. 

 

A single Ayotte paperweight contains dozens, or even hundreds, of handmade miniature pieces enveloped in a perfect globe of glass. Rick isn't boasting when he says, "Most of the stuff we do is unique in the world."

 

The father-daughter partnership may not be as unique as their work, but it's certainly unusual.  "99 percent of the time I'd say it works very, very well," says Rick. "We work well together artistically, that's for sure. She has a different outlook, and that can lead to nice avenues.  I might try something I wouldn't normally try."

 

"Others would not have chosen to follow in the footsteps" of a famous parent, says Melissa. But she agrees that it works well: "There's plenty of interaction. We have a fun time. There's always a small tension, as in any family business." She says working together has made their relationship stronger and deeper. And it has allowed her to quickly hone her skills; she freely acknowledges that working with a master is a huge advantage.  

 

Rick may have a lot more experience, but he treats Melissa as a complete equal. He appreciates the talents that she brings to the partnership: "She knows a lot more about art than I do, believe it or not. She's studied art, music, all those things. I'm a nature guy who worked hard, but never had an art background."  

Read the rest of their story in my book, including Melissa's years as a high school basketball star, and the challenges of moving their glass studio. 

Contact me by e-mail at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com