Rosetree Glass Studio, Inc. was founded in 1993 with a goal of making quality, affordable, beautiful, handmade blown glass objects. Every piece is individually made to give each its own unique character. Due to the nature of glassblowing, no two pieces are ever exactly alike.
At Rosetree we melt our own glass from raw materials to give us the clearest glass available for studio use. An extensive color palette is achieved through the addition of color glass chips and powders to the clear glass. The glass is then treated with a solution of rare and precious metals to produce the beautiful, multi-colored, iridescent effects. Rosetree Glass is found throughout the United States in fine craft shops, galleries, museum shops, and specialty stores. Our beautiful creations have been purchased as corporate gifts for major corporations, including White Westinghouse and Gibson.
When I split from my partner and a thriving glassblowing studio to be out on my own, one area in New Orleans was my only choice in relocating. Algiers Point, an historic neighborhood just a short ferry ride across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, offered proximity to a large city, but with the closeness of a neighborhood of older homes that were being rehabilitated by caring owners.
One building a vintage Art Deco movie theater, caught my interest. The perfect location for my studio, it offered space - 6,000 square feet - high ceilings and room enough for a gallery. The major drawback was that it had been vacant for 10 years and was in extreme disrepair. With enough capital to start a new business, but not enough to take on such a big renovation project, I set up Rosetree Glass Studio in rented space two blocks up the street from the theater in an old lawnmower repair shop.
Over the next few years, I passed the theater quite often, daydreaming of how I would use the space. As luck and hard work would have it, business grew to a point at which the 1,600 square foot former lawnmower repair shop was getting very cramped. During this time, my wife, Brenda, and I drove around the area looking for a building suitable for our needs and in better shape than the theater. We found two other properties that could have worked and put in bids on them, but neither deal worked out. The theater had always been in the back of my mind, so I started to put some serious thought into its rehabilitation.
Although I had had experience running a business, the construction, real estate, contractors and all that accompany a project of this scale were pretty new to me. After selecting contractors, getting architect drawings, talking endlessly with both my banker and my real estate agent, and negotiating with the owner, we decided to buy the building. We closed on March 22, 1996. The building that we had dreamed about was finally ours - and then, reality set in!
After cleaning out all the debris, we found the damage to be more extensive than we originally had thought. More than 50 percent of the roof was severely damaged (you could see the sky), and the floors and ceilings were a mess. The good news was that while working, we discovered the original terrazzo stairs and lobby - still intact. The bad news was that the work that had already been done up to that point had to be removed in order to restore the lobby. My original thought had been simply to make the building functional, and worry about the upgrading later. After finding the terrazzo, however, everything changed. We decided to build a large gallery and a viewing room in addition to the blowing studio.
As work progressed, we ran into more than our fair share of setbacks, including our general contractor having a heart attack, and our roofer disappearing for two weeks (and resurfacing in St. Louis), rain for an entire week after the roof was taken off, a handicap ramp that went through three changes so that it wouldn't take up all of our studio space, and a plumber who did not understand the needs of a glassblowing studio. We worked our way through all of these problems and started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
At the very start of this project, I already had an idea of what I wanted to do for the grand opening. In New Orleans, we have festivals and parades for everything from gumbo to strawberries. Since we would have to move the furnace two blocks on a forklift, I thought, "Why not have that forklift lead a parade with a brass band and second-line dancing?" We named the event "Glass Fest." The idea was received with great encouragement from the Algiers Point neighborhood.
We set the date for the opening for early August, but then had to move it back when we realized that the permits and inspections could not be done in time. Even though we had postponed the date for three weeks, we still had to sweat through the fire marshal's inspection and the plumbing inspection on the day before the opening.
August 24th finally arrived. Our parade started at the old studio (two blocks away). With the brass band leading the way, my wife and I, and our children, Marcy and Max, second-lined in front of the forklift, which carried the glassblowing furnace. Following behind was a large number of friends, neighbors and people who had read about the event in the newspaper or seen the preview of the studio on a local television station. By the time the parade reached the new studio, there were more than 250 people outside the building awaiting the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Glass Fest was a great success.
As I sit and write this a month later, it's hard to believe how far we've come, and the potential for where we can go. We've learned a lot along the way - both good and bad. On the whole, we are very proud of what we have accomplished. But we can't rest on our laurels - we've got a lot of orders to fill!
Our Personal Hurricane Katrina Story:
- September 2005
On August 28, I was as ready as I could have possibly been. I had heard all of the reports in the media and, being a resident for over 25 years, I knew almost instinctively what I needed to do. I had to protect myself, and my family, and I had to do what I could to preserve my small business. A category five hurricane was bearing down on my hometown-New Orleans.
In 1993, I opened my own glassblowing business: Rosetree Glass Studio. Three and one half years later, we renovated a vintage Art Deco movie theater into an award-winning studio that houses our business. Rosetree sells work to over 400 retail shops, galleries, and museum shops across the country. I make the handblown glass pieces along with the help of three employees and my wife, Brenda. We wear many hats, as most people with small businesses do. We design the artwork, make the pieces, do publicity, market the work, handle sales, and run a gallery that is located in the front of my building. Each piece is individually made with care.
On that fateful day, while my wife prepared at home with my teenage children, Marcy and Max, I prepared the studio. I intended to take everything necessary to re-establish our business, if we were wiped out. The most important thing was the computer with all of our back-up files. I also took my Rolodex with years of contacts, a notebook in which I keep track of everything that I order for the studio along with phone numbers, copies of our accounts receivable, and copies of our upcoming orders. I emptied 400 pounds of molten glass out of our furnace and turned off the gas and power to the building. As I screwed the final piece of plywood across my door, I took one last look at everything that we have spent the last 13 years building, not knowing if there would be anything left when we returned.
We planned to evacuate to Magnolia, Texas. This is the home of Brenda’s brother and his family. With the car loaded with essentials, mementos, and cherished items, again I surveyed what we had accumulated in 16 years. With the dread that we might not ever see our city and our lives the same way again, we entered a sea of traffic that would ultimately take 16 hours to navigate through the, typically, six hour drive.
When we arrived in Magnolia, I knew that there were many things that were out of my control. I tried to concentrate on the things that would be positive or beneficial to my family and business. All of the reports and warnings indicated that this was the “perfect storm” that would crush New Orleans. We were told that we might not be able to return to our beloved city for six to eight months. This was out of my control. What I could do was try to get my family back to some sense of “normalcy.”
The first thing I had to do was to become financially sound. We had to contact everyone possible in our accounts payable and work out a payment plan. The response was resoundingly positive. The first credit card that I called was American Express. The person I talked with went out of his way to defer payment, add to my credit limit, let me know that emergency cash was available, and to even give me his home phone number in case I needed him at any time. He told me that I had been a loyal customer for many years and now it was their turn to take care of me! It was an incredible expression of customer service that will be appreciated for years to come. Next was my cell phone provider, Sprint. I knew that I would have to use my cell phone extensively for business during our time away from home. The customer representative changed our payment plan to give me more minutes and free text messaging (two teen-agers take up a lot of minutes) for less than I was paying before the storm. One week later I received a text message from Sprint that told me they were giving me a free month of service. I received similar service from most of the accounts that I called.
Setting up a place to work was next. A glassblowing studio is not something that can be set up without logistic problems. A furnace that holds 2000-degree molten glass is not quickly thrown together. I had an incredible response from both friends and strangers I had never met before. I was offered studio space at over 15 studios across the country. The problem was that I would have to leave my family, and I had always maintained that remaining together as a whole family unit was the most important part of our evacuation. I explored finding a studio in Houston and found two wonderful people, Dick Moiel and Kathy Poeppel, who turned on their studio, Houston Studio Glass, and allowed me to start making my art.
As I sit writing this from Magnolia, Texas, we are waiting out the next hurricane, Rita. I have had reports that our home and studio have both sustained damage, but not irreparable. The area of New Orleans that our studio and home are located in, Algiers, was not badly damaged from the storm.
When we are able to, we will go back to New Orleans and re-establish our business. In the past few weeks we have learned a lot about what transpires ina disaster of “biblical” proportions. We also have learned that there are some very thoughtful and caring people who are willing to help their friends, as well as those whom they have never met.
- November 2005
After five weeks of being displaced and apart, my family is now home and whole. After five weeks of emotional, physical, and mental anguish, we can start a new and better chapter in our lives. Brenda and I returned last week to assess damages and realized that although we had damage to both our home and studio, it was not enough to separate the family. We enrolled both kids in school on Friday and went back to Houston this weekend to bring them home. We are lucky; a lot of families are torn apart by this disaster.
We traveled through two different hurricane destruction zones on our way to get the kids. As you travel, you first notice trees and signs down, then billboards, then structural damage. You can see where the eye made landfall because the trees and signs change the direction of where they dropped. We passed convoy after convoy of tree services, power companies, and military (with drivers seemingly barely old enough to drive). You think “good luck and god speed” and silently say “thank you.” The traffic into New Orleans was heavy on Saturday with people who had just been given the o.k. to see their property. On Sunday, the traffic was heavy leaving the city with people who saw much more destruction and despair than we experienced. The estimate is that over half of the population won’t come back.
Although we weathered the storm in better shape than many, my life has become a series of Russian dolls. One problem is solved and another is exposed. The status quo has changed. My city has become an occupied camp that has very limited services. It is common to see young troops walking the streets with M- 16s. Humvees are everywhere. We have basics such as electricity, potable water, sewage, and gas, but in a city that used to number 50,000 on this side of the river, we have only a couple of gas stations, three restaurants, and two markets. They all do not have a lot of stock, but they all have lines. A six-pack of Heineken is the coin of the realm to facilitate things. There are a few people in the neighborhood who can “requisition” whatever you ask for. It is like Radar and Klinger on M.A.S.H.- that’s how I got a lift to get up on my studio roof!
I fired up the glass furnace in the studio, and we should be able to start making glass this week. It is hard to concentrate on work when it has become a full-time job getting all of the other things done (or started). We have been making lists to feel like we accomplish something during each day.
There are three things that you notice now. One is the smell. It is the smell of rotten meat and rancid fish. Almost everyone lost their refrigerators and freezers and the contents. The units line the streets, taped up and waiting to be hauled away. Another is the piles of garbage that are heaped on the sidewalks. They say that it might take over a year to haul off all of the debris. The final thing you notice is that the once lush tree canopy of the city was severely damaged. So many trees were toppled or split. Not many trees are taller than two stories and if they are, they are stripped of leaves. You see a lot of empty space over neighborhoods where there once were large oaks, pecan, cypress, smagnolia, and pine trees.
That is enough observations for today. I’ll leave you on one last note. I saw a hawk circling over a broken tree in front of my house…another creature displaced by a horrible storm. I hope that it finds its home and its family. I have mine. ··
- July 2006
Yes, it’s been a long strange trip, but the journey is only beginning. Some days, it’s good, and some days not so good. The situation in New Orleans has faded as old news on a lot of fronts, but here we are bombarded 24/7 with all the crap that surrounds us. It seems that everyone here is suffering from PTS syndrome. That is understandable in our situation, but it does not make it better. There are many times that I stop and have to remind myself that things will get better.
To answer the question, my response is this: New Orleans is like a friend, relative, or lover who is critically ill in the ICU of the hospital. Everyone is gathered in the waiting room waiting, and waiting. Hours pass and no one comes to tell you how the patient is. You just have to keep waiting for that one doctor or specialist to interrupt the anxiety and tension and tell you of a course of action that they will take to make the patient better.
That is our situation en mass. We keep waiting for someone to come forward with a plan that will help this crippled city off of her knees. All sorts of plans are bandied about but nothing gets put into action. Large areas of the city look the same as when the floods receded. Looted stores sit empty. Large piles of debris mount on the streets. 30,000 abandoned cars are still sitting and waiting to be disposed of. FEMA trailers sit empty while requests for them are still at a staggering height. Everyone is going to spend the next 3 1/2 months with one eye on the Gulf in anticipation of the next storm. It’s not an easy way to live —full of anxiety. Brenda and I have “upgraded” our evacuation plans and have even talked about where we will go when the next one hits. This city can not survive another blow right now and that is frightening.
We were very fortunate to be on the “right side” of the disaster. We did not flood. My heart aches for those who lost everything. I really want to help make New Orleans a city to be proud of. We have been told that this will be the land of opportunity, that we have the chance to start fresh and new. But right now those statements only scream of political rhetoric. It will be a great day when plans are put into place and progress is made. Now we only have small victories—the zoo, aquarium and art museum have re-opened. Restaurants are slowly coming back. Mardi Gras and Jazzfest were amazingly successful. The Saints will have their first game in the Dome on Monday Night Football on Sept 25th . Tim McGraw and Faith Hill played Thursday night to a capacity crowd for the first show in the Arena. All of these things would have gone without fanfare before, but now they are touchstones.
I don’t mean to be a downer, but I thought that y’all might appreciate some thoughts from inside. We have to look at the glass as half full, but somedays someone spills the glass and you have to wait to get more….