(an open letter to the new generation of glassworkers we just met)
By Igor Peev and Rob Zverina
It is perhaps the best thing that can happen to any small business – a sold out table at your first trade show in 10 years. Sure, it was great not having to pack out all that glass, truck it to the airport, then lug it all the way back to Seattle, but the level of success in Madison that I am talking about is different. The best for me was seeing and meeting YOU – young people who have embraced the trade with a level of abandon that’s contagious.
I confess to being skeptical at first. My family makes boro rod, the raw material of your art. Glass is just glass, I thought. But what you showed me is that lampworking is not just a livelihood, it’s a calling. In today’s robotic, automated, outsourced world, few have the guts, vision, and determination to carve their own path. It was inspiring to meet those who are not only dedicated to their craft, but savvy enough to put time into getting better at marketing, social media, basic business practice, and logistics; they’re the ones turning their passion for glass into sustainable careers. As Ruth Gordon said, “You have to have a talent for having talent.”
I wish I had your skill in making things. I challenge you to think beyond and expand beyond what’s here today. Make more and try more. There are tons more things to be experimented with and to be invented, whole categories of custom glass to be tapped.
For example, everyone needs a light by their bed but what you can buy at the average store is lame lame lame and all made in China. We can do better.
What else can be made of glass? Bob Snodgrass has the right ideas and thinks outside the box. I loved meeting him in Madison.
I saw an example of a sconce shaped like a lion and that was great, it radiated, it was no longer a wall light, it was art light. I saw a giant elk rack on a wall made of multi colors. I see the replacement of all that dumb and dead taxidermy in the hipster bars of San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Oakland, Madison. I see tiles with integrated solar panels and LEDs. I do not see neon; I am sorry, that’s so … 70’ies Vegas and it seems posh. I see the emergence of objects that can store energy and emit light and do not require ‘black light’ to be beautiful.
This medium has been a new and interesting challenge for me. I am new to it. It challenges one to learn more about chemistry and physics, technique and temperatures, equipment, making deals and maintaining relationships.
For the time being, this is your industry, not yet in the grip of any massive and faceless corporation. The industry is emerging, it is growing, perception is changing. The Internet was built 20 years ago for things like the transformation you are part of.
You are making history. Make no mistake of it.
I encourage you to talk to each other and share. Build on each other’s successes. Talk to us, the suppliers of fundamentals in the business and tell us what you need. Tell us what you torches you want. What kilns? What colors? Who are your heroes? What do you aspire to be? Tell us what you want to invent and let us help.
It’s challenging to function in isolation. Speaking as an emigrant from the “planned economies” which failed, trust me when I say it is better to work and live in an environment which is both cooperative and competitive, like a dance contest, where successful ideas emerge organically from interplay, not just the rubberstamp of a bureaucrat or some other monopoly that drives artificial hype. Competition makes us stronger and takes us into the future. Cooperation keeps us human. Cooperative competition is where we’re not working against each other but where we all share ideas and strive to overcome stale thinking, stagnation and the ever consistent invasion of bland.
Innovate. Grind rocks and silver and gold flakes. Keep experimenting with unusual approaches and techniques. Fail fast and fail often because that’s the best way to learn.
Bob Snodgrass showed us a piece of basalt rock he used to grind to color glass. It was shaped as a the face of the Buddha. Paul Trautman showed us a picture of glass made out of induced lightning. He and his friends did it with a small rocket attached to a spool of copper wire, the end of it planted in a container full of sand. During a lightning storm.
Be like these guys. Push the boundaries. Life is colorful. As the French say, la vie en rose.