Glassblower Amber Marshall moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Appalachia to be part the Energy Xchange. Before arriving in North Carolina, Marshall spent much of her time on the road at arts festivals, selling her work. “It’s very expensive and time-consuming to travel to the festivals,” noted Marshall.
Festivals also have proven less profitable than they had once been. The recession hit decorative glass particularly hard. Although Marshall’s shapely vessels and pitchers can be used, they are designed with form over function.
“Right now, people are looking for more inexpensive, utilitarian things rather than art pieces they can add to their collections,” she explained. “Glass is one of the most expensive forms out there, so glassblowers like me have really felt the effects of the economic slowdown.”
Marshall’s signature pieces include voluptuous clear glass vases with shapely lunaresque lumps in hues like mustard, teal, and slate grey that erupt from the bottom. Equally distinctive are her cockeyed frosted-glass pitchers in sherbet colors that are so anthropomorphic you almost believe the tiny swirl appliqués are winking at you.
For Marshall, the Energy Xchange has been a lifeline. She now has studio space with a 400-pound tank furnace that otherwise would be cost-prohibitive for an individual artist.
“It is incredibly expensive to blow glass because the energy bills are so high,” stated Marshall. Having a studio here, with no overhead and no energy costs, has enabled her to work longer hours, try new designs, and even create more utilitarian pieces like stemless glassware, which help sustain her business.
Located in the remote Black Mountains of North Carolina, the Energy Xchange is the first in the world to capture and combust landfill gas to power energy-intensive artisan studios.
Currently, there are seven artisans – potters and glassblowers – working at the six-acre site. Clay kilns and glass furnaces run exclusively on the landfill gasses. Additionally, the radiant heat in the studio floors is powered entirely by gas created from the decomposing refuse.
The energy savings is significant, estimated to be about $1 million over the project’s 20-year lifespan. (Methane gas harvested from the landfill has a shelf life, based on decomposition rates and burn method). The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that the impact of this project is equivalent to planting 14,000 acres of trees or taking 21,000 cars off the road.
The state of North Carolina worked with the department of Agriculture and with nonprofits to create the Energy Xchange. The idea of reducing greenhouse gasses, reusing existing resources, and supporting the work of artisans like Marshall was all part of the plan.
The Energy Xchange, which also has a gallery on site, has a competitive application program for artisan residencies, which typically last about three years.
Whether you want to ditch your career and follow your passion into a new profession or you have aspirations to be a highly skilled hobbyist, you can study under working artisans to learn the timeworn tricks of the trade. Here’s a sampling from around the country.
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM), once a site of seafood packing houses, docks, and workboats, now houses the world’s largest collection of Chesapeake Bay boats. It also offers workshops and weekend classes in traditional shipbuilding methods in everything from bronze casting to oar making with professional shipwrights. There is even an apprentice program where students learn boatbuilding under the direction of a CBMM shipwright by being part of the creation of a seaworthy boat. Students can be part of the whole 17-week process or drop in for a day.
Here you learn everything you want to know about creating string instruments, including fretting, guitar maintenance, and crafting ukuleles, from a professional luthier. The school runs day programs as well as weekend and weeklong classes. These short-hit intensive programs are geared toward students from out of the state and out of the country. Owner Ian Schneller teaches all of the classes himself, and many students go on to apprentice in his prestigious studio, which has created one-of-a-kind instruments for legions of well-regarded musicians, including Jack White, Neko Case, and Lenny Kravitz.
As more people turn to their smartphones for time telling, the pedestrian wristwatch might seemed doomed to become a relic. That may be true for run-of-the-mill, mass-produced watches, but handcrafted, quality watches are headed in the opposite direction. They have become highly sought after specialty jewelry items, thanks to their increasing rarity.
Quality watchmakers not only are in demand but are creating something – forgive the pun – timeless. The Nicolas G. Hayek Watchmaking School, which has branches around the world including in Miami and Shanghai, teaches classic Swiss watchmaking techniques like micromechanic measuring, moon-phasing calculations, and casing.