The first thing you'll notice when you walk into Michelle Plucinsky's workspace is that it is hot. That's because she runs a glass-blowing facility, which uses ovens set at roughly 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. On a nice summer day, it's not so bad; if it's a scorcher outside with temperatures nearing 100 degrees, you can definitely feel the heat, as some of her employees can attest.
But Plucinsky and her staff do it because they love the craft of glass-blowing. One will quickly notice the 46-year-old is beaming with energy, bouncing around her facility in Dearborn, showcasing what her team at the Glass Academy produces. She gives the impression that not only does she love running a business based in a craft she's impassioned about, she just loves being alive.
Since June 2005, Plucinsky and her husband, Chris Nordin, have operated the academy inside a cavernous 14,000-square-foot building just off Michigan Avenue, a former machine shop. Along with a dozen part-time staffers, the Ann Arbor couple has produced glass sculptures for an array of clients for nearly 25 years, many of which are in the health-care industry.
But it's not just private businesses that get in on the action; the academy hosts numerous classes for the average Joe who's interested in glass-blowing. That's not to say it's an easy task, Plucinsky says. It's an art that takes years to perfect, and it's not something you can learn from, say, a YouTube video.
"I'm not here to teach you how to be a glass-blower," she says. "It's for the experience."
One staffer, Fred Sittig, echoes Plucinsky's point. An employee of eight years, Sittig says, "There's a lot of variety to what we do."
People still come in droves. The environment can be especially enthralling to be a part of, Plucinsky explains. Between the academy's three major shows — Christmas, Easter, and Pumpkin ("Not Halloween," Plucinsky says. "Pumpkin.") — as well as the fan-favorite "Hot Glass + Cold Beer" event, there's numerous occasions where the large facility is packed with people, buzzing with activity.
The couple first started their business in southwest Detroit inside a steel warehouse. For years, they maintained a working relationship with the Big 3 automakers, as they were the only state-certified school to teach the art, Plucinsky says. The auto giants would cover the cost for employees to attend their five-part glass-blowing curriculum. But 2007 came, and the automakers had to shed the program due to the economic recession, Plucinsky says.
It forced her and Nordin to rethink their business and "reinvent themselves ... in a good creative way," Plucinsky says. They utilized Groupon, a then-growing online coupon service, which "got people into the facility" for glass-blowing instruction sessions, she says. The pair can be found across the region, offering demonstrations inside Eastern Market or at the annual Renaissance Center. The couple's efforts eventually expanded into well-received events like the upcoming "Hot Glass + Cold Beer," now in its fifth year.
Though attendees won't physically perform any glass-blowing, they still design their products. Guests will receive a mug with their ticket, Plucinsky says, and customize it if they like.
"It's not rock-star stellar, but you will come away with something," Plucinsky says, adding that many enjoy the highlight of watching their mug being produced in a live setting.
She says the glass-blowing experience harks back to an era when people actually made things to use on a daily basis. Her shop makes that tradition tangible, she says.
"Why wouldn't you want to drink out of something that was handcrafted? she asks, adding, "It's [something] that you live with ... like your favorite shirt, your favorite pair of jeans." — mt
The Glass Academy is located at 25331 Trowbridge, Dearborn, and is open Wed.-Fri. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., and Wed.-Sat. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The "Hot Glass + Cold Beer" event will take place Aug. 7 from 7 to 10 p.m., featuring live glass-blowing demonstrations, five Michigan brewers, food, and more. More info and tickets available at glassacademy.com.