Saturday, March 5, 2011 | 1:55 a.m.
By day, Robert Shield is just one of the thousands of cab drivers roaming the streets of Las Vegas. By night, Shield can be found in his new Henderson studio creating glass masterpieces.
Wearing dark sunglasses, Shield wields a piece of Pyrex glass, turning it over and over through the flame of his blowtorch. As the glass turns into an orange blob, he places it between metal tongs, presses hard and slowly pulls out a leaf-shaped necklace.
The 48-year-old Australian transplant said he grew up fascinated by the glass blowing demonstrations in the local shopping malls.
“It was awesome watching it being done,” Shield said, a giddy tone escaping his lips.
When he was 20 years old, Shield began a 10-year apprenticeship at a glass factory in Queensland, Australia, and thus began a 28-year sometimes-hobby, sometimes-career in the art of glass blowing.
Since then, Shield has made countless glass pieces from small jewelry to large swan vases, which he sells from $3 to upwards of $200. Some of his art is simple – a basic leaf necklace that takes five minutes to make – but other are more intricate, taking hours to complete.
Shield points to a horse-drawn carriage made entirely of glass, a piece that took eight hours behind the torch to make. A similar piece of his adorned the cake at the 1986 British royal wedding of Prince Andrew and Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, Shield said.
“I thought it would be a nice wedding gift,” he said. “It was a gift from all of Australia.”
Two years ago, Shield moved from his homeland to Las Vegas to be closer to his father, a marketing consultant working in the hotel industry.
“It was a good excuse to see Dad and see the States,” he said, counting New York, Chicago and Austin, Texas, as cities he would like to visit.
To save up for his trips, Shield took on a job as a taxi driver, and in January, opened his glass blowing academy, Studio Royal, located at Weld Rite Services, 648 Joey Lane. To attract students to take his 12-session, 18-hour glass blowing course, he turned to discount-coupon website Groupon.com for help.
Eighty-five locals, part-time residents and tourists from as far away as Florida bought the $65 Groupon for an introductory lesson with Shield. It was a “great response,” he said.
One recent afternoon, Bette Grimes, a 45-year Las Vegas resident, stopped by Shield’s studio to use her Groupon. For an hour, she watched and then tried out the glass blowing craft, taking home a few small handmade glass pieces of her own.
“I was excited,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do this.”
Grimes, a frequent art and craft show attendee, said that although glass blowing was not as difficult as she had originally thought, she was impressed by Shield’s meticulous handiwork.
“He makes it look a lot easier than it is.”
For Shield however, the lessons have a larger purpose, he said.
“I set up my glass blowing school here to teach Americans the craft,” he said, taking a pause. “To keep it alive.”