Glamour, Glass and Gratitude
I always feel like an A-List celebrity when I receive an invitation to attend Stewart and Juli Juneau’s “Annual Holiday Party and Glass Art Extravaganza.” It’s held at their 15th floor penthouse apartment atop The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, at 921 Canal St.
Once there, you mix and mingle with hundreds of “see and be seen” guests including politicians and professional athletes, musicians and movie stars. You nibble on tasty hors d’oeuvres and desserts in their luxurious living room and watch snippets of the game on their giant movie screen in their media room. Inevitably, everyone migrates out onto the Juneau’s massive rooftop terrace, which used to house a putting green, to gaze at the city’s twinkling skyline in the crisp, yuletide, nighttime air.
The only thing more dazzling than the glitterati of the evening, is Juli’s hand blown glass artwork which is showcased, and for sale, throughout their home.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie commissioned a big black, white and red piece. Sir Anthony Hopkins dropped by and picked out some, too. Dustin Hoffman, Russell Simmons, Lou Gossett, Jr., New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, the Lupin Foundation, the Goldring Family, the Anheuser Busch Private Collection and multiple galleries throughout the U.S. and 8 countries all have Juneau originals.
The allure of Juneau’s glass artwork attracts admirers from actors to activists, but, with some of her colorful creations costing as low as $25, any collector can feel like a celebrity patron.
Not invited? No problem. You can RSVP to a “Glamour and Glass” early shopping day on Friday, December 12, from 11:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. to see, and shop, for yourself – (email@example.com, (504) 615-2113).
Juneau’s way of doing business is as unique as her hand blown glass ornaments, ring holders, gavels, musical notes and tumblers. She considers herself an art entrepreneur who never says no, always “puts it out there,” and “leaves no stone unturned,” when marketing her vases, bowls, platters and wall art.
Relying on word of mouth, exhibiting at the Palmer Park Arts Market and partnering with different groups and organizations, Juneau finds additional success in selling to friends and guests who attend her special events.
“We all have a finite space in our home,” Juneau said, “and when someone wants to include some of my glass in their home, I’m truly honored.”
Juneau isn’t jaded by the intense interest from her high-end clientele. The striking blonde’s humble and gracious nature is personified in the honest design of her art and the vivid colors that pay homage to the inspiration she gleaned when living and traveling through Africa.
A native South Carolinian, and former VP at CNN Radio, Juneau moved to New Orleans in 1989. Soon after, she took a 2 ½ year solo adventure to Africa where she visited 23 countries by land, boat, barge, train, and even donkey cart, from Dakar, Senegal to Cape Town, South Africa.
In 1995, she started Nomad Collection, an import business featuring Balinese sarongs, Tuareg jewelry and her own travel photography, and in 1999 she started experimenting with glass.
“The organic creation of glass is part of its mystique and power,” Juneau said. “A lightning storm, a bolt ignites and a piece of glass appears, much like a genie rising from the desert sands of Africa. This magic is the lure and the passion of glass for me.”
“Blown glass is extremely seductive and attracts the feminine side of us all,” she said. “Yet creating these lush and sensual forms is powerful and intense. When I handle a large mass of molten liquid-glass at the end of my 5-foot blowpipe and face the blasting heat of 2,300 degree furnaces, I find it a macho, masculine, sometimes Herculean task requiring every drop of physical strength and stamina I can muster. Yet, at times, my touch must be as delicate as brushing a hair from my face.”
Juneau returned to Africa in 2003 with her husband Stewart, a real estate developer, to volunteer for a year with the International AIDS Trust in Johannesburg, South Africa, an organization chaired by Nelson Mandela and, their friend, Bill Clinton.
With renewed stimulation from engaging with the people, music, culture, wildlife, and geography of Africa, Juneau, who speaks Swahili, channeled her artistry into glasswork, full throttle.
“I love glass,” Juneau said. “The look and feel, the colors and designs. When you’re making it, you have a plan. Sometimes it goes according to plan, sometimes the plan does not work. You make glass, heat up your colors, and 24 hours later you open the oven to see your piece. There’s always a little bit of surprise with glass blowing. And the colors mean a lot to me. I use colors that remind me of the colors in Africa in people’s clothing, jewelry, the colors of the jungle, the sea and plains, animal prints and butterflies. It’s all inspiring to me.”
Juneau creates her vibrant art at the public access glass studio at YAYA, Inc., located at 3924 Conti St. Founded in 1988, YAYA’s mission is to provide educational experiences in the arts and entrepreneurship to New Orleans area children and youth, fostering and supporting their individual ambitions.
Juneau has helped raise more than $1 million towards the $1.3 million construction budget for YAYA’s new Central City location on LaSalle Street. “We will be breaking ground in January 2015, and moving in next summer,” Juneau said. “Central City is becoming such a wonderful, viable and unique area of New Orleans. We are proud to be joining the businesses that are currently establishing themselves there.”
The new location will boast a state-of-the-art, fully equipped hot glass studio, open to the public for rentals, demonstrations and workshops. Current classes focus on beadmaking, marblemaking, lampworking, mold blowing, sandcasting, kilnforming and fused glass jewelry.
In addition to being an active traveler (seeing the Sphinx, the Pyramids of Giza and the 2nd century B.C. “Winged Victory of Samothrace” always takes her breath away), philanthropist, fundraiser and humanitarian, Juneau said she loves people and loves to attend parties. She said it’s natural that she hosts them as well. Turning marketing into its own art form, she sends email blasts to friends and collectors and invites them to special events where her work is on display.
Like many businesses, Juneau said a big percentage of her annual revenue is generated by sales during the holidays when she creates and sells special holiday gifts from $25 to $700.
Juneau is also capitalizing on the changing tide of the art business and its trends. She said the challenging economy made her adjust her prices and the type of art she produces. “My art is useful art,” she said. “And I’m proud to sell at all price ranges.”
Juneau’s utilitarian pieces include her popular tree ornaments, ring holders, tabletop glassware and paperweights. She’s also breaking into the bridal market and creating Mardi Gras inspired works. “It’s a new avenue and a new market,” she said. “I like to make things to celebrate happy times.”
Juneau also started to create glass trophies for national organization’s award ceremonies, glass urns and glass memorials that have been placed at different hospice centers in the Northeast.
“What I do is very unique for these special pieces of art,” she said. “I create the piece while I am actively holding the loved ones or the commemorated ones in my thoughts and prayers. So, as I am actively touching and breathing my breath into the glass in order to create the art, I am sending peaceful thoughts to the loved ones…. I feel like I get to know them a little, and in doing so, it has been a very special experience for me.”
“Art is so personal,” Juneau said. “And glass is very popular right now. People are interested in hand made art and local art.”
“The forecast looks good for artists in New Orleans,” she said. “More people are moving here, and combined with their interest in locally made items and local art markets, local artists are doing better and earning a living.”