After 20 Years, Third Degree Glass Factory Is Still On Fire
By Rachel Huffman
Glassblowing is a team sport.
Glass artists Douglas Auer and Jim McKelvey are intimately familiar with that fact, which is why they wanted to create a facility where they could build a community around glass art.
“Neither of us wanted to have to sell our work to pay our bills,” Auer says with a laugh, “and we knew that people would enjoy learning about glass. So, we founded Third Degree Glass Factory, which is simultaneously exciting, educational and entertaining.”
Initially, to get people in the door, Third Degree Glass Factory held open houses on the third Friday of every month. That was 20 years ago, but the events were so popular, they’ve continued them to this day. The activities and offerings vary, but the Third Degree team always shows guests a good time.
The facility also hosts private training sessions, which are usually booked several months in advance, and it rents studio space to glass artists from near and far. There are two large gallery spaces as well, which can host wedding receptions, corporate events, birthday parties and more. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we hosted more than 220 events a year,” Auer explains. “That’s a huge part of our business.”
If you’re not in St. Louis, you can still shop for holiday gifts, studio ornaments, jewelry, barware, statement pieces and wall plates – all handmade locally – in Third Degree Glass Factory’s online store.
Here, Auer expands on his love of glass and what you can expect from a visit to Third Degree Glass Factory.
What makes glass such a great medium?
For me, it’s the fact that I get to work with this fluid, molten material. It’s so dynamic, and it’s really captivating – which is a good thing because if you don’t pay attention, that glowing mass will just drool onto the floor. It requires constant attention – some people compare it to therapy; others compare it to a drug. It’s great for those of us who are impatient because once you start a piece, you only get one shot to finish it. If you like instant gratification – which a lot of us do – it’s the perfect art form.
So, when people come to a glassblowing class at Third Degree Glass Factory, do they get to experience that instant gratification?
The honest answer is no. It takes time to get comfortable with the material; however, most people enjoy trying their hand at glassblowing, no matter what the outcome. If you watch a glass artist, we make glassblowing look simple. You might think, “OK, I just have to roll it on the table, poke at it with a few tools and I’ll have a bowl.” When you start doing it, though, you might find that rolling it on the table produces something square rather than something round – you might think it’s the table, but it’s not; it’s you. That can be frustrating for some people, but other people love the challenge.
Tell me about the gallery space at Third Degree Glass Factory.
In the gallery, you can shop for glass that fits your style. Everything is handmade locally. Right now, we have approximately 36 in-house artists, and they also create custom art and awards. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and everything that you see is for sale. Most days, you can also watch artists work in the studio.
What does Third Degree Glass Factory bring to the St. Louis art scene?
Third Degree Glass Factory gives people the opportunity to work with a material that they can’t work with in many places. It’s extremely difficult to set up a glass studio and maintain it; there are only a handful of artists in the area who have their own studios. So, outside of our selfish desire to make glass, Jim and I wanted to give St. Louis artists the opportunity to work with a material that might otherwise be out of reach.
Do you still create glass?
I don’t make glass very often. My focus has shifted beyond the walls of Third Degree Glass Factory. Jim and I have established the Delmar Maker District between Union and Kingshighway boulevards, where you’ll find MADE, a makerspace, which is essentially a shared workshop. There’s a wood shop, a metal shop, sewing equipment, laser cutters – basically, any tool that you can imagine. We offer classes and training sessions, and artists can rent space there, as well. Craft Alliance, a St. Louis institution, moved to our two-block stretch, and The Magic House opened MADE for Kids, a kid-friendly makerspace, on the second floor of the MADE building. That’s a long way of saying that my focus is on making art in that sense, by developing a district that fosters people who make things of all kinds – including coffee. The latest addition to the makerspace is Brew Tulum, a specialty coffee experience. The owners had a coffee roaster and café in Tulum, Mexico, and now, they offer an authentic Mexican coffee experience in St. Louis. During our open houses on the third Friday of every month, all of the spaces in the Delmar Maker District are activated, so there’s plenty to see and do.
The next open house at Third Degree Glass Factory is Nov. 18. We hope to see you there!