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National glass shortage forces Ohio City studio owner to get creative

Posted at 7:09 PM, Sep 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-27 19:09:55-04

From our phones to our homes, glass and the materials needed to make it are vital commodities in our every day lives. However, for those who use glass to make unique works of art, it is getting harder and harder to come by. A nationwide shortage in the supply of studio-quality glass forced Dan Miller, the owner of Ohio City Glass, to get creative.

Inside his wide-open studio, several high-powered fans are humming. The bright orange glow from kilns and furnaces provide vibrant pops of color. Back and forth Miller goes with large globs of molten glass on the end of a stainless steel rod.

It’s like a delicate waltz, so to speak, where the margin of error is high.

“It’s a lot like dancing in some ways,” Miller said. “I can’t dance but you have to move with your partner and the material becomes your dancing partner.”

Sometimes that partner has two left feet.

Glass is a very temperamental substance when in a molten state. It has to be cooled down slowly otherwise it will crack and eventually shatter. One false step and the artist has to start over.

“The first thing I ever made was a mess on the floor,” Miller said. “You can’t let it get you down. You just have to do another. It takes constant care.”

Miller began studying glass-making in college after a scheduling conflict prevented him from pursuing ceramics, his original major. In 2013, he opened Ohio City Glass at his studio near Lorain Avenue and West 38th Street. Originally, Miller created one-of-a-kind glass pieces for clients. Later, he added hands-on workshops where novices could learn how to blow their own ornamental glass pieces.

The workshops are now the core part of his business.

With so much production coming from his shop on a day-to-day basis, he needs a constant supply of studio-quality glass, which comes to him in quarter-sized chunks. Miller said he goes through roughly 500 pounds of glass per month and orders it one ton at a time.

Running a small business, he said, is a challenging balance between pursuing a passion and turning a profit.

“It’s a constant challenge. It comes with its own set of nightmares like power outages and glass shortages,” Miller said.

In 2016, one of the largest studio glass suppliers in North America abruptly folded amid intense pressure from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The studio glass manufacturing industry was also severely hampered as a result of the Great Depression as many factories shuttered.

When the main studio glass supplier shuttered, demand shifted to another manufacturing facility in Europe, which struggled to keep up with demand. Glass studios in the United States go through thousands of tons of studio glass weekly.

The shortage created backlogs in shipments, some of them for months on end. It could have been the death knell for Miller’s growing business. Luckily, he had some foresight.

“I had begun saving recycled glass a couple years ago for just this scenario where the normal material would not be available,” Miller said. “I was very grateful that I did save it, even though what I had saved up went very quickly. I had probably two 50-gallon trash cans saved. I went through it in a couple weeks.”

That’s when Miller’s resourcefulness kicked in. He sought the help of area bars, restaurants and alcohol distributors. His requests for clear and lightly-colored glass were met tenfold. The influx of glass allowed Miller to keep his business and his popular workshops running.

Miller takes the glass bottles, jars and jugs and soaks them overnight to remove any dirt, grime and residue. Then, he smashes the glass into millions of little pieces before melting it down.

“It’s a material we can source from businesses and homes that would otherwise – hopefully end up at a recycling center -- but most likely in a landfill in some places,” Miller said.

Although the supply of studio quality glass appears to be on the rebound, Miller said the recycled glass gives him peace of mind knowing that he’ll never run out of product. On Thursday, Miller’s assembly line was churning out glass pumpkin after pumpkin ahead of the fall season.

“It is interesting to think about [how] I have these pieces of me that I have made just floating around,” Miller said. “It is satisfying to think I contributed something – a thing – that somebody else cares about and values.”

Ohio City Glass can be reached on Facebookor its website.