The global art-glass industry is in turmoil this summer. A large part of the global market for kiln-forming is supplied with raw materials by just four large glass foundries. Glass artists, like me, are fiercely loyal to their preferred brand for a very good reason; you can't mix different glasses as they expand and contract at different rates and the finished product will crack or fall apart if you use them together. I use Bullseye glass, made in Portland Oregon. The two largest glass foundries have grown over the last forty years on the US west coast. Here the interstate road called the I5 runs from Los Angeles up through California into the state of Oregon, through the city of Portland, before heading into the state of Washington and through Seattle, ending on the Canadian border below Vancouver. Tucked up in the northwest, in Oregon near the Washington-state border, the air is clear and the water is cold. The Spectrum Glass Company and the Bullseye Glass Company both come from Portland, Oregon. Their products are both of the very highest quality and are available in a dizzying range of beautiful colours and hues, transparent and opalescent finishes and textures.
Glass artists and hobbyists the world over were rocked this summer by the news that the Oregon glass foundries had been served with 'cease and desist' orders on their production by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Bullseye Glass Co. published a press release stating;
On the evening of May 19, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon Health Authority, and the Multnomah County Health Department held a press conference to discuss a Cease and Desist Order issued by the Office of the Governor, ordering Bullseye Glass to stop using materials that will force us to eliminate 80% of our products. This order came nearly 12 hours after DEQ learned of a reported one-time spike in lead levels May 9 in the air near Bullseye Glass. Bullseye received the Order minutes before it was sent to the press.
It is alarming that instead of contacting the glass foundry to ask if anything in their company may have caused the spike in emissions on that day they simply ordered all glass foundries in the area to stop work without even confirming the source of the problem. The DoEQ, and more specifically the state of Oregon, seem to 'have it in' for the art-glass industry. The CEO of Spectrum Glass Co. then released a statement which included the following;
“After serving the art and specialty glass industry for 40 years, it is with very heavy hearts that we have decided to close Spectrum Glass Company."
"Additionally, the entire U.S. art glass industry is now being evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with respect to potential new regulations. Long-standing interpretations of air quality regulations are being re-evaluated and if new regulations were applied to our facility it would require substantial capital expenses. Spectrum Glass Company has operated well within existing environmental guidelines and has been the only stained glass manufacturer to employ bag-house technology on furnace exhausts. Still, we have already accrued extraordinary, unanticipated expenses since the start of the EPA evaluation and cannot withstand additional investments of an unknown scale for an already faltering business."
Sadly, the Spectrum Glass company announced that it would be ceasing all production of art glass with the loss of many jobs. Selling off existing stock is expected to take until the end of the summer and then it's all over for the famous System96 brand. Bullseye Glass Co., whose raw glass I use to make my art and giftwares, have managed somehow to keep their production facility open, along with their new teaching centre and are slowly working to meet the 'newly-interpreted' regulations and controls being enforced by the state. The work is extensive (rebuilding their foundry furnace-by-furnace) and expensive (spending millions to bring the banned products back one-by-one) and as a result they announced that they would have to introduce an unprecedented 12.5% price increase on all products effective immediately to cover their investments and bring production back up to full capacity to meet global customer demand.
Now, you may be thinking that, whilst these events are sad and unfortunate, everything is gradually returning to normal and a small price increase in due course is all that will find it's way across the Atlantic but, with stable exchange-rates, US-UK trade agreements and EU import tariffs, there would probably be little other impact on the European art-glass world. And that might have been the case were it not for the political meltdown the British electorate unleashed upon themselves last week. At the time of writing the Sterling/Dollar exchange rate has plummeted to a thirty-one year low following the UK's insane decision to leave European Political Union. This means we get less dollar for our pound, which means that expensive American products become even more expensive, and with the added price increases from Bullseye the UK price of raw materials for my work is going through the roof!
The largest UK importer of Bullseye is Warm-Glass-UK, who are conveniently located just up the road from me in Bristol. Yesterday I received an email from them saying that, with immediate effect, all prices had been increased by 12.5%. Warm-Glass explained that under normal circumstances they would have been able to absorb some of the US price increase within their margin, the import tariff and the transport costs but as the dollar exchange rate has gone through the floor this cannot happen and the full cost has to be passed to the customers to ensure that the business can continue. Remember that the recession in the UK has caused a unique phenomenon; the interest rate here has been only 0.5% for over eight years now, and there is talk that it could go lower, so a sudden 12.5% increase is a HUGE thing.
EDIT: Wednesday September 28th 2016.
Uroboros Glass has announced that it is to close, following the difficulties in meeting new regulatory standards. Their statement reads;
Dear customers, fans and friends.
It will be yet another shock in a tumultuous year in the glass industry, but it has become unavoidable. After 43 1/2 years of continual operations in Portland, Uroboros will discontinue operations in early 2017. Our closure will be with pride in a job well done, and in an orderly step-by-step fashion over the next 9-12 months. While we certainly hope to negotiate a deal with a new owner to move Uroboros and restart production of its products in anew location, nothing is certain at this time.
So to my point; we are a small global community and what one of us does affects the rest of us. A decision made by the US State of Oregon officials, over five thousand miles away from me, has caused me to re-evaluate how much glass I can use to make the artwork I sell for a living here in Cornwall. My livelihood is impacted by the decisions of others half-a-planet away. The livelihood of all the staff at Warm-Glass is affected by the decisions of others. The work and output of thousands of hobbyists and amateur glass-makers across the country, across Europe and across the world are all affected. What we sow in our own fields will be reaped by other people in theirs and we must recognise the impact our actions have on our fellow man and act, accordingly, with thought and care.
I will continue to make glass-art no matter how difficult the regulators and politicians make it because it is my passion and because I believe that the art we make is more important that the petty political mistakes we make.