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Glassmakers Keep Tradition Alive for New Generations

by Lisa Diggs

If your summer included a visit to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, you might be surprised to discover that the Royal Glassmakers are not part of some national traveling troop. They are in fact part of a company of artisans frequently working out of a studio in Dearborn, Michigan called The Glass Academy.

Husband and wife team, Michelle Plucinsky and Chris Nordin, originally founded the parent company, Ann Arbor-based Furnace Design Studio in 1991. Their fine art business makes stunning one-of-a-kind sculptures and installations. Eventually a desire to educate the public on the techniques and artistry of their work led to the creation of The Glass Academy in Dearborn in 2004. Visitors to the 14,000 sq. ft. studio get an opportunity to see the process from start to finish, and interact directly with the team creating each piece. It’s a similar experience as that of the Renaissance faire, sans the costumes.

In order to blend in with the style and atmosphere of the Renaissance era, the glassblowers don period clothing and are known as the Royal Glassmakers, but the experience for guests is very similar to that offered in the Dearborn studio. It’s an opportunity to see how meticulous the process of creating a one-of-a-kind piece of glass art truly is, and that opportunity exists year-round in Dearborn.

“A big part of our process of selling our wares is to educate the buyer about handmade glass and the expert quality of our manufacturing using traditional methods, said Placinsky. “The best way to do this is in our Dearborn studio, where we can explain the process and they can actually see the techniques happening in the hot shop.” 

While the studio remains a primary focus, according to Plucinsky, a visit to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio a few years back led to another expansion opportunity.

“We approached Cedar Point two years ago as we noticed their glassblowing area wasn’t generating the excitement that we knew glassblowing could bring and we suggested hiring us to run the shop," said Placinsky. “In 2016 they signed a contract with us to bring our expertise to the shop. This included, development of a hands on side to the business in addition to running the gallery, updating the gallery shop with USA handcrafted companies only, and for the first time ever, offering hands on classes in the park.”

The idea of hands on classes was nothing new for the company, as they have been a part of the fabric of The Glass Academy for years.  Currently, for example, the studio is running Tavalo Leaf classes, from now until November.  During these interactive classes students can make their own leaf and actually try the glassmaking process. There are also Custom Mug Nights where guests design their own mug and the artists make it before their eyes.

If designing or making your own piece sounds a little too advanced, then consider a site visit to watch the artists at work. While there, pick up some beautiful functional pieces like mugs and vases, or seasonal décor. All of which make phenomenal gifts with the holiday season rapidly approaching.

With Halloween on the immediate horizon, The Glass Academy will host its annual a Pumpkin Fest later this month. There you can find gorgeous glass pumpkins and other autumn-themed items. This year’s fall events are on October 8-9 and 15-16.

The Glass Academy is located at 25331 Trowbridge Street in Dearborn. 


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