Community and the Arts Barbara Streeter & Dennis Stevens
By Leslie Moore
Owners of Conway Glass, Barbara Streeter and her husband Eddie are known in Conway for their cultivation of the arts in their community. Located just off 12th Avenue, their thriving business has recently settled into a new location. The site is also home to two arts-related nonprofit organizations; one managed by Barbara and one managed by Barbara’s son, Dennis Stevens.
Conway Glass opened in their new location in early October, shortly before Hurricane Matthew passed through our region. The front section of the charming, eclectic building was built in 1909 and was originally an oil distribution and propane business, known locally as Creel Oil & Gas Co. Another section was added in 1938 – the arched roof, brick building is both lovely and practical. Barbara, Eddie and Dennis as well as a hardworking and generous crew of friends and family spent many nights and weekends in August and September painting and remodeling the building before the move. “We hated to leave downtown Conway but, this new location is great; our customers are more comfortable and the parking makes it more convenient,” Barbara said as she showed us around.
Always creative and artistic, Barbara never envisioned that she would be making art as her career. Laughing, she told me, “I wanted to be a writer and studied journalism, but when I learned how hard it was to make money writing, I took accounting classes!” In 1983 Barbara landed a job at WKDY radio in Spartanburg. The station let her do some on-air work, night time weather and sports. “My manager told me to not be nervous, no one was listening anyway!” Shortly after, Barbara, a single mother with two children, relocated to Conway from Spartanburg to work for WLAT radio.
Barbara and Eddie met in 1985, were married in 1986 and then opened Conway Glass, but both kept working while the new business grew. “Eddie worked in commercial glass, but he has always been artistic. When he had the opportunity to apprentice in the stained glass department, he found that he loved it.” When Eddie’s employer decided to get out of the stained glass business, they sold him the equipment – and that was the beginning of Conway Glass. “For four years, Eddie’s dad kept the business open while we both worked our day jobs to get the new business off the ground.”
Barbara and Eddie’s exquisite glass art has become a part of Conway and surrounding communities. For those of us who look forward to Brookgreen Garden’s Nights of a Thousand Candles annual holiday event, Barbara and Eddie have something special in store. “We will have a new sculpture, an eleven-foot glass tree in Anne’s Garden to add to our sculptures from last year. We’re also adding a flower component to the reeds from last year,” Barbara told me excitedly.
This talented artist is not limited to one medium. Barbara has another, completely different, project in the works – The Hyperbolic Crochet Wisteria Project. When unveiled in March 2017, it will be displayed in Balentine Public Library in Columbia. “I received this commission to do a crochet and knitted yarn tree – it will be eleven feet tall and twelve feet wide with a wisteria theme. I have 27 crocheters and knitters working on it now,” Barbara told me. “I receive this commission to do a public art project through One Columbia, a nonprofit that places art in public spaces.”
The creative drive is in all of us in some form, and those who want to learn the art of glassblowing can take classes at Conway Glass. “Eddie teaches the glass blowing classes where students learn all of the first steps of glassblowing,” Barbara explained. “They learn about the equipment, how glass is made and how color is added. Then students get to mix colors, melt it in the oven and after Eddie starts the bubble, they get to finish blowing the piece of molten glass.” All types of glass making classes are offered throughout the year, and the schedule for classes is listed on the Conway Glass website.
I asked Barbara why Conway has become such a mecca for artists. “I think CCU has a lot to do with it,” she began. “Many talented art professors and artists live in the area, and a lot of art students settle here. It’s an inspiring place! We have the river and the beautiful landscape of the lowcounty.”
Barbara’s son Dennis Stevens also maintains an office in the Conway Glass building where he develops and leads projects that use arts and culture as a tool to enhance the livability and the economic vitality of Horry County. Barbara is the volunteer director of Create Conway, a membership organization for artists that has been in existence since 2005, and Dennis, who is also an artist, is the president of Conway Cultural Development Corporation, a community development corporation that addresses community improvement priorities through the arts.
Some of the sample projects of Create Conway and Conway Cultural Development Corporation are a public piano project, where the organizations purchased a used piano for $40 from Horry County Schools, and a team of volunteers tuned and painted it. The piano was previously on Laurel Street, often seen on the sidewalk in front of the former Conway Glass location. It now resides inside their new studio. In the future, additional pianos will be located in the cultural district that the nonprofits are developing. In April, the nonprofit groups host a popular Indie Market, and in June, in collaboration with Clemson Extension, the two organizations lead the Ag + Art Tour – a free, self-guided tour of farms and farmers markets in Horry County featuring local artisans and musicians.
“I’m an artist and a designer,” began Dennis when I asked him about himself. “I also invent things that occasionally people pay for!” He told me this with a chuckle but then went on to elaborate. “I’m not a scientist, rather I’m an artist. But, one project I’m working on now is developing a new iron oxide nanomaterial that will have applications in enhancing the design and manufacturing of textiles.” Dennis originally led a cultural planning effort for the City of Conway in late 1990s with Mayor Greg Martin– the outgrowth of that effort led to the establishment of Conway Cultural Development Corporation in 2015. Dennis left South Carolina for a few years, but he came back in 2013.
With a doctoral degree in Art and Art Education from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City, Dennis is naturally passionate about incorporating the arts into community economic development. As president of Conway Cultural Development, he is working with Create Conway, the South Carolina Arts Commission and community stakeholders to create a cultural district in Conway as a way to benefit both the arts and economic development in the county. “Conway Cultural Development is slowly becoming better known to people here,” Dennis began. “The boards of both arts organizations are working with an outside consultant to develop a joint strategic plan that will identify and address the needs in and through the arts in Horry County.” Dennis is determined to help make good things happen via the arts for Conway and Horry County. “The idea of using the arts as a tool for community economic development, as well as the term “creative placemaking,” are new concepts in Horry County, but these approaches have been successful in many other parts of the country.” A busy professional, Dennis also makes time for the people that mean the most to him. He visits his daughter, Ella, in New York City about every three to four weeks and also travels often to the upstate to see family and the special woman in his life. “I am building a life for myself that is fulfilling, and I am determined to push through on this important work for Horry County!”
For Christmas, the Streeters, along with Dennis, will travel to the upstate to be with Barbara’s daughter, Tricia, and her three grandsons. Dennis’ daughter, Ella will fly down from New York and join the family for the celebration. Both Barbara and Dennis are excited about the future of the arts in Conway and Horry County. If you’re in town, stop by and say hello – you can be sure they’ll be present wherever the arts connect with the community to make things better!
Conway Glass is located at 708 12th Avenue in Conway. Contact Barbara or Dennis at 843-248-3558 or visit www.conwayglass.com for class schedules, information about upcoming events. You can learn more about the arts-related non-profits by visiting www.createconway.org and www.conwayculture.org.
About this writer
- Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.
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