Is there ever a right time to quit your day job and pursue your passion full-time? How do you know? Michelle Plucinsky and her husband, Chris Nordin, decided that before children and a mortgage they'd launch Glass Academy, a glass blowing business and gallery in Dearborn, Michigan. The 14,000-square-foot facility is both a private art studio for commissions and a classroom. The adjacent 4,000-square-foot gallery is where they sell their products.
We had the opportunity to talk to Michelle about how she got into glass blowing and when she and Chris knew it was the right time to start their business.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Learning from Watching
My first exposure to the craft was when I was hired to work for an early American museum that had a live glassblowing demonstration area. My boss wasn't the most communicative guy, so I didn't get any formal instruction. He basically just said, "there's the tools do the best you can." I started to learn by watching and mimicking others. I started out slowly with small bits and pieces of glass. Once I got better and began mastering different techniques, I was ready to move on to the next level.
Later, Chris and I had the opportunity to work with a master glass blower from Italy who came to the states to teach glass blowing in the 1990s. He didn't speak much English, but he could teach by example, so we learned by watching him do demonstrations all day long. We would watch his hands spin the pipe, his color application, how he took his tools to the glory hole, and even more importantly his timing. We learned how long it took for each move before the glass cooled off. There were so many subtle things you just can't learn from a book. I really value those years learning and watching the Italian style of glass blowing.
Glass is a seductive medium. It's challenging. But once you learn a technique, you want to keep repeating it until you master it. And if you want to keep doing it, you have to sell some of what you make or you won’t have any grocery money. We got to a point when we had to ask ourselves if we could continue doing what we love and turn our passion into a career and a successful business.
Quitting Their Day Jobs
Turning glassblowing into a career was not an easy choice. At some point when we both still had full-time jobs, we decided we needed to really dive into our passion while we were young — before we owned a house or had kids. I quit my job first and we started building our small studio in a rented warehouse space in Detroit. As time went on, my husband also quit his job. Then we were both able to go to wholesale shows, which is where you go to showcase a body of work to the galleries who come to purchase. At the time, we also did large-scale commissions for hotels and restaurants. Sometimes those projects would take a year or more to build out and then install in the client’s facility. So we created Glass Academy as our bread and butter so the classes and smaller-end items could keep our sales going while we worked on those bigger projects.
We built Glass Academy by trial and error, figuring out what worked and eliminating what didn’t. We were constantly pivoting to keep the things that worked the best while developing our craft. We also had to learn the business and marketing side of things. On top of that, we became new homeowners and then we started having children. So while we were going to these wholesale shows, we also had to balance childcare. I was trying to figure out how to keep my hand in the business while raising my kids. Those early years were challenging but as the years went on, the challenges just changed.
Today, we have a group of artists. I'm one of the designers and artists. Our son Jake also joined the business. Jake grew up around the shop and has been blowing glass since he was very young. After some time away at school and working in other shops, Jake is back working with his family.
Our visitors always want to try glass blowing, so besides classes we offer hands-on experiences where people can get immersed into our daily life and really experience what it's like to be a craft person.