Arkansas Bluebird of Happiness
aka: Bluebird of Happiness
The original Arkansas Bluebird of Happiness was created by Leo Ward at Terra Studios near Durham in Washington County. Since their introduction in 1982, over nine million bluebirds have been sold. Each bird is individually crafted from molten glass by artisans at Terra Studios and is signed and dated. Though Terra Studios creates glass birds in many colors, the bluebird has always been the most popular choice.
While living in San Diego, California, in the early 1970s, Leo Ward discovered a passion for glass blowing. Along with his wife, Rita, Ward opened a gift shop and constructed a glass furnace on the premises. When a city inspector discovered this furnace, the shop was closed, and the Wards moved to Arkansas, where Rita’s parents had retired.
In 1975, the Wards purchased ten acres of land near Durham and slowly began to establish themselves as artists. One of Ward’s creations was a little glass bird, which he began selling at the War Eagle Craft Fair in 1982. When Ward placed an advertisement for these birds in a regional magazine, The Ozarks Mountaineer, a salesman suggested the name Bluebird of Happiness.
After Ward’s bluebirds became a regional success, Rita urged him to sell the birds at hospital gift shops and was instrumental in starting a wholesale business. The Original Bluebird of Happiness is a registered trademark, and the birds have been sold at 8,000 gift stores nationwide. The bluebirds are also sold internationally and have been shipped as far away as Australia and Japan. Each bluebird is individually crafted at Terra Studios, and it has sometimes taken as many as twenty glass artisans to keep up with the demand.
The enormous popularity of Ward’s bluebirds has fueled the creativity of many artists in northwestern Arkansas. Over the years, Terra Studios has grown into a 160-acre showcase of artwork created by hundreds of artists who have worked or taken classes there. Ward retired in 2006. The bluebird business was taken over by his son John.
Terra Studios announced in November 2019 that the company would suspend production of its bluebirds indefinitely at the start of 2020 as a way to bring attention to the global problem of climate change. The blowing of glass involves a large amount of natural gas and electricity, a process that produces greenhouse gasses, and the studio continues to seek an ecological means of producing the bluebirds. In September 2022, Terra Studios opened the Bluebird Museum in its old education building.
For additional information:
Helmar, Matthew S. “Nesting Ground for Creativity.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 19, 2000, p. 1E.
McGowan, Joyce. “Leo William Ward.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 1, 2002, pp. 1D, 3D.
Terra Studios. http://www.terrastudios.com (accessed September 23, 2022).
I came across about 150+ small glass bluebirds at a Habitat for Humanity Restore in Teays Valley (Hurricane), West Virginia. One of the workers said that someone bought a local house and there was a bucket of these birds in the basement. They didn’t want them, so they took them to the Restore. I didn’t find a signature on the birds except for one. The name Leo Ward was etched on the bottom of the one bird as I was looking through them to remove the cracked birds. I set it to the side while I continued to look through them and a lady came by and picked it up, but I hadn’t noticed until I started to gather them to pay for my purchase of 150 birds. I hated that I lost the signed bird, but I remembered Leo’s name, and it allowed me to look up the history. I bought them to give to a group of ladies at a Christian retreat. I am excited that they will be receiving the symbolic bird to remind them of happiness. I also read that when you see a bluebird, it was to remind you that you are not alone. I wonder if it is possible that these bluebirds were seconds and just didn’t make the cut. I am searching for answers that I may never figure out. But I just wanted to also share the story.
I have a red AND blue bird (1993) inscribed W. Ward. I wonder if Leo William Ward signed his works as W. Ward.
I loved reading this article. When I lost my grandma to cancer when I was twelve, the one thing I wanted of hers to remember her by was the bluebird she had hanging on a shelf behind where she always sat. My mom held on to it for quite a few years, and in this last year gave it to me. I decided to research its history, so I did a search on Google and ended up here. Thank you to those who created my beautiful bird!
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