Most people go to Greenfield Village to peek into the past. When Michelle Plucinsky arrived there as an art student more than two decades ago, she got a glimpse of her future. After trying her hand at glassblowing with the historic tradespeople at the museum, she was hooked.
"It's very seductive," she says. "It's like a campfire; everybody stands around watching it. Once you do it, it's like a runners high."
Today, she and husband Chris Nordin share their glassblowing expertise with students and visitors at The Glass Academy
"I feel I understand it, and can feel the glass and how it moves to create objects that are wonderful," says Plucinsky. "It’s a neat way for me to enhance the lives of others through what I do."
That enhancement comes in the form of more than just learning a new skill. Surprise and delight are common themes around The Glass Academy where many people experience the art for the first time.
"In a world that produces things by machine, we still do everything by hand," Plucinsky says. Because machines have started making most things made of glass, a lot of people don't realize that there is the option to have a hand-made glass mug."
Plucinsky and her team are on a mission to connect people to the art of glassblowing in practical ways. Those hand-made mugs are one way in which they do it. They've partnered with the South Lyon's brewery, The Witch's Hat Brewing Co.
to supply unique mugs for the business' mug club. Dozens of the beautiful glass pieces of art hang in the brewery, giving prospective mug club members even more incentive to join up and showcasing The Glass Academy's craft to the world.
Twice a month, anyone can come to the Dearborn school to design their own mug as well, during the Custom Mug Night events. It's one of the many special events offered the public at their studio. And, of course, there are the classes as well.
"Our classes in the studio are a big draw," says Plucinsky.
Even though the overhead cost of glassblowing makes it a hobby most students won't be able to do on their own later, Plucinsky says the magic of the art lures people in all the same, with students often returning again and again.
"I think it's not a craft you see every day," she says. "When you see people who are doing it, they look like Cirque du Soliel. They make it look beautiful and are very poised. We look like we're dancing."
It's that entrancement that sucks people into the world of glassblowing, but fascination isn't the only benefit of the craft. From demonstrating their craft in schools to opening their doors to healthcare workers, Plucinsky says outreach is their way of bringing the healing and therapeutic aspects of glassblowing to the public.
"Right now we're teaching a class with workers in the healthcare profession from Henry Ford Hospital," she says. "It's something to let them take care of themselves for the night. Between the heat coming off the furnace and the teamwork, it takes you away from everything happening in your life."
The lessons of The Glass Academy are, of course, about the art of creating glass items, and depending upon the class, student may go home with their own, unique class paperweight or flower. But Plucinsky and her team are also focused on passing on the art of being a creative entrepreneur, and their visits to schools help deliver that curriculum.
"I think running a business has become an art for me," Plucinsky says. "A lot of kids have an idea of doing something creative, but they don't know how to make it a career. We're teaching an art and business class."
They're a pretty good source for business advice, too. The Glass Academy was awarded the 2012 Small Business of the Year award by the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce, and has been selected as a candidate in Intuit's Small Business Big Game contest
to be featured in a commercial in the 2014 Super Bowl.
They may be busy with all of that recognition, but also with maintaining their fast-paced scheduled. The Glass Academy is working on a sculpture garden to be featured at Cranbrook next year, as well as preparing for their upcoming events, such as the Glass Pumpkin Fest Show & Sale on Oct. 19 and 20.
It's a busy life for Plucinsky, Nordin and their Glass Academy crew, but given the fact that they've been able to craft a bustling business out of a rare trade makes them feel that having their hands in several glass-related projects at a time is worth it.
"We were able to take our passion and our design sense and create glassware that people enjoy," says Plucinsky, "and that's pretty fulfilling."