Monthly Archives: November 2008

Back in the mid-90s we got the idea that watching someone else work would be a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

1995…Dan: “Got any plans for the next ten Thanksgivings?”
Dante: “Hmmm. Where’s this going?”

The decade of the Dante Circles (1995-2004) is fast becoming history. But like lots of history, it only seems to get grander in its passing.

So it is that this weekend I am again fondly remembering all those years that Dante, Janusz and Paul came down to Portland for the three days following Thanksgiving to blow “cups” while we drank champagne and brunched on the bleachers. It was our celebration of glass. Humored by Dante & Friends we got to sit in front of the furnaces watching them work.

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The Answer: Inspiration, Education, Availability.

So, what was the question?

Catharine Newell is more than an exceptional artist. She’s one of the most sharing, inspirational and encouraging teachers I know. Classes by teachers of this caliber are what will keep our “industry” vital.

The last time that Paul Tarlow posted a comment to my blog I ended up writing a reply that was so long I never posted it. He’d commented weeks after the blog had drifted 40,000 leagues below the main page and I figured I’d be babbling alone in the underworld. This time – because Paul’s comments touch on some critical issues – I’m going to turn the answer into a blog post itself.

OK. First, go read Paul’s comment. It’s no. 7 on the last post (“Mystery Shopper”).

In short, Paul asked 1) “what Bullseye sees as the market drivers…for the kilnformed glass ‘industry’” and 2) whether we think that our online ordering program is going to be perceived as a threat by “independent studios” (by which I think he means teaching studios that also retail supplies).

No. 1: The Market Drivers

To repeat myself, these are the components that I believe will create and maintain a healthy future for our field:

Inspiration: this kiln-glass “industry” (if, at its current size, it even merits that title) needs, before all else, a public face that is awe-inspiring. The works it generates need to be shown and seen in museums, art galleries and stores merchandising good design wares. People need to want to create in this glassworking method and to know that they can.

A once-in-a-lifetime retrospective by a major artist in kiln-glass like Klaus Moje at a major venue like the Portland Art Museum doesn’t happen every day. But why not? Our field has artists in it that are worthy of this sort of public exposure. We can make it happen. We must make it happen.

(But before anyone is intimidated by Museum Art, take a look at some of the fantastic work showing up on Etsy recently. This is Good Design, dreamy – and affordable – kilnformed glass jewelry)

Education: our community needs local teaching studios that satisfy the interest created by exposure to good quality kiln-glass. Paul operates just such a studio – Helios – in Austin, Texas. Top quality teaching studios are the gateway to our field. They should also be gathering points for people sharing this common interest. Internet communities are useful but they are not a substitute for face-to-face personal interaction and hands-on experience in the craft.

When was the last time you got to suit up in yellow slickers and headphones to enjoy an Internet bulletin board session on coldworking? There is no substitute for the bricks and mortar classroom.

Availability: once introduced to the medium, the end-user needs to have quick and easy access to the materials and supplies. This is often more difficult for the small teaching studio to supply. The largest wholesalers in the stained glass industry have historically been poorly stocked in fusible glass and supplies. The situation is only aggravated at the local retail level. Online availability fills a need and keeps the user active and engaged in the field.

The sheer variety of materials and tools demanded by enthusiastic students and artists in our field can be a challenge to small retailers. Online supply can fill in the gaps sometimes missing in local supply.

If those three elements are in play – inspiration, education, and availability – they will drive a healthy future for our field.

No. 2: Online ordering as a threat to bricks-and-mortar retailers

I’m a Mac-fanatic. I can get anything I want to feed my addiction online. But my idea of a Great Shopping Experience is a visit to my local Apple Store, in person, in The Flesh. Why? Because it’s teeming with People who can answer my questions. I go there to learn, to get my hardware fixed and my software explained – personally. The place is CRAMMED with people – customers and staff – talking about the activity and the products that excite them, signing store visitors up for “One-to-One” sessions, giving advice at the Genius Bar, selling stuff.  And while I’m there I too buy stuff. I wouldn’t ONLY go to buy. But my interaction with that staff and the electricity of that community stokes my passion and encourages me to pick up something I usually didn’t even know I needed.

And a lot of the time, it’s having seen something online that drives me to the local store – to see it for myself, to talk to a specialist face-to-face.

“Online competition…putting brick and mortar stained glass retailers out of business?” My opinion? Absolutely not. Quite the contrary.

Local stained glass retail stores have been struggling since I first worked in one 35 years ago. That was long before the Internet. This blog is long enough already without my opening that particular can of worms.

Is Bullseye a threat to retail by selling online? Not even close.

The greatest threat to this fledgling industry is a newcomer becoming inspired and educated, then not having access to the materials s/he needs to keep growing and learning. If those supplies are available locally, to be seen, handled and explained by savvy sales staff, online is not a threat.  If the products are not available locally or are constantly out-of-stock, both the end user and the retailer are headed to a dead end.

Paul, as far as I can see, your teaching studio is doing a great job of providing inspiration and education. And you’ve already said that Bullseye’s online operation isn’t a threat to your ability to sell product.

So again, I’m kind of confused by your question. I think that YOU (& Helios) are your own answer.

You may have noticed that Bullseye’s launched an eCommerce site where you can buy the full line of Bullseye Glass and Other Stuff online…yes, from the privacy of your own home, office or iPhone (I suspect that only Cynthia is capable of THAT particular feat).

It’s still in the “soft launch” stage as the IT people fine tune the software, but I couldn’t wait. I don’t care about software (ignorance is indeed bliss). I wanted to find out what the packaging was like! So I ordered up a bunch of stuff. And unpacked it.

Dan is used to finding inedible stuff on our dining room table. This lot beats all.

I wanted to see whether a) the sheet glass would arrive intact, b) it would arrive in a timely manner, and c)  I could find something WRONG with it.

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Shopping is a political act. (OK, what did you expect from a town whose mayor took 800 of its citizens to New York to visit Bergdorf Goodman after 9/11?)

Shopping is also a very personal act. And increasingly, as we are less and less able to make those political statements by buying heartily at places whose values we support or whose pain we’d like to ease, it is still a means of human connection.

This is the ride. And the story of how we’ll all make it. Together. And aware.

I’ve been shopping less lately. But I’ve been trying to be more conscious about each purchase.  A while ago I discovered ETSY. It was probably inevitable. I love craft fairs, but don’t have the time anymore to visit them. Nowadays I mostly shop online.

The best part about ETSY is the enormous range of work there. The worst part is – like actual fairs – slogging through aisles and aisles before finding the piece that truly speaks to you. Of course the Etsy search function is awesome and since I’m always looking for “things Bullseye” it brought up a ton of stuff, some great, some not so.

But in the end what I find myself buying is not just a piece that’s made of our glass, but a piece with a story. Just as I was always mesmerized in talking to a weaver or a potter or a jeweler about the sheep, the mud, or the passion behind the work when I stopped at a craft fair booth, I love to find a good story behind anything I buy.

So, when a Bullseye search brought me to the Venerable Bead’s site, I fell in love with a necklace that wasn’t made of Bullseye at all (it’s boro), but had a story that reminded me of a long ago pet and our family car trips. That little story hit my heart. And my credit card. I’ve since turned the necklace into a keychain. I use it every day.

But the story still lives in the artist’s sold folder. READ IT HERE…it’s so sweet.

The next purchase I’m contemplating seems almost psychic considering my last post on this blog. “Play nice”?! Moi??

And no, I don’t know the jeweler personally. But I admire her work – and I’m a sucker for her stories!

It’s only two weeks since Halloween; I should have expected to find this bogeyman still lurking around.

Boo! Guess what? This is NOT compatible by Bullseye’s standards.  This is Uroboros red frit fired three times on Bullseye T-glass. The shocking white halo is stress. Lots of it.

Yesterday this post jumped out at me from a thread on the Warm Glass Bulletin Board:

…I’m sure the folks at Bullseye would not agree but I know that many glass studios use [Bullseye and Uroboros] together with no problem.” (post #15 in the thread)

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Everything after Opening Night at SOFA is largely a blur.

After some great initial sales, it slowed down, but was still an excellent fair for us – more for the contacts and future opportunities than for the immediate returns.

Sunday night, November 9, 2008. Seems like a year ago already.

For an excellent wrap up on the fair, check out the SOFA link. Some of our sold works are listed there, including works by Jeff Wallin, Cobi Cockburn and Carrie Iverson, as are works in other galleries by artists whose art always makes our glass look SO good, like… Mel Douglas, Giles Bettison, Jeremy Lepisto, Miriam di Fiore – to name just a few of the many exceptional artists that make a SOFA visit the highlight of the glass year.

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It’s showtime. And a good one. Everyone is smiling. Work is selling. Contrary to the some pre-show worries, the economy doesn’t seem to have dulled enthusiasm or frozen many credit cards. After the first day and a half I’d rank this fair as one of the best starts ever.

I’ve been too busy to scout the entire fair, but so far I haven’t seen anything that looks like a fire sale or panicked discounting…with only a few exceptions…

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I suppose it’s in the nature of historic events to make all the small moments in their shadow seem like metaphors.

So it was on Tuesday morning in Chicago, standing in the chaos of our SOFA shell, wondering how it could possibly all come together, fearing the worst, praying for a miracle.

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Woke up to the Chicago skyline, a little hazy, but prospects of sunshine ahead.

Grant Park at 7am Tuesday, November 4, 2008.

Navy Pier gives us its annual finger from the lake  – it’s the long arm at 3 o’clock in the pic.

But despite the prospects of sore feet, aching backs and the inevitable snafus of all art fairs, I expect we’ll have our SOFA booth set up by the end of the day.

Just in time to celebrate.

A lot of waiting.

United We Sit.

Ryan, Jamie and I set off for Chicago early this morning to set up our SOFA booth….it’s approaching afternoon. We’re still in Portland. So is our (broken) plane.

Sigh.

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