Designer Crush: Annie Morhauser

How did you get your start in the design industry and what drew you to glass in particular?

I’m in the craft, design, glassmaking, engineering, retail, tabletop and gift industries. I wear a lot of hats! I saw glassblowing on the beach at a precursor to Burning Man at Waddell Creek in 1975 and got hooked. It was a full moon and someone showed up with a portable glassblowing furnace- which is highly unusual. Since I was studying art and dance at the College of San Mateo I thought I had to try it, or die trying, I was so smitten.

2. What led you to develop your own version of the ancient glass forming process called "slumping"?

Sloth/ ignorance /curiosity. By the time I got to California College of the Arts I had learned to blow glass and been in two glass programs. There was a student there making glass envelopes and love letters that really fascinated me. Marvin Lipofsky, the head of CCA glass program (then called CCAC in Oakland) really pushed me because of that. Mary Shafer came to do two workshops where she hung thick sheets of clear glass in the kiln by meat hooks and made these incredible sculptures that looked like towels of glass hung on the hooks. My mind was blown at the possibilities.

Once I started my own studio I wanted to streamline the process and stopped the double firings done at the time in the industry. During the first firing the glass is slumped into shape on a mold, removed and cooled from the kiln. Then it is carefully cleaned and re-fired at a very low temperature, so the shape would hold but the gold luster would not and consequently come off. I figured do it all at once. Fire it hotter to get texture into the clear glass, show the imperfections in the brush strokes and call it Roman Antique to emphasize the maker’s marks rather than the machine perfection that was the only thing available in glass dishes at that time. I wanted to share the beauty of craft with the mass market but I did not realize how long it would take. Once Barney’s New York started carrying it , my work in opening up a market for it was done.

3. Tell us about Roman Antique and how it was received when you first debuted it in 1983.

It was initially not received very well- we started to refer to Gump’s as Grump’s after my brother-in-law was thrown of there numerous times because the crystal buyer would not see him. No one understood it, we did not fit into a category of stationery, china or crystal, glass dishes were not durable, were machine made and all the gold came off. Even my gold supplier in Germany didn’t believe what I was doing. Once they tested it and saw the durability they gave it a rating for dishwasher safety. Basically, the idea for me was to do it once, do it well and be more efficient. I failed to see the value in making anything someone could not put into a dishwasher.

4. Where do you draw inspiration from?

For Roman Antique it was my first trip to Italy seeing the Catacombs. In general my designs are my interpretations of what I see around me that influence me, sometimes its science, travel jewelry or nature. I’ve experimented with putting a picture of something I adore in my peripheral vision on my desk and see how that works it’s way into my consciousness. 

5, What are a few of your favorite pieces and why? 

Edgey collection — the Trophy Bowl in particular- I love the rawness of it against the sheen of precious metal. The Shell Series, two are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. I was on fire when I made those at the mold makers. It was really the first time I got my hands into wet clay to sculpt the forms and I was thrilled. My new Poppy sculpture is the largest that I have attempted- it is so big our mold make had to use a forklift to tilt the mold for casting. Oddly it has super delicate fluttery edges that I love.

6. You’ve been in business for 35 years — what’s your secret for sustained success (and staying sane in the process)? 

Having a fantastic crew here at Annieglass. One-fourth have been here 20 years or more. Another fourth have been here more than 17 years, our customer service and shipping manager Sherlyn Torres has been here 30 years. That’s the key — since she oversees both she always makes sure the customer gets what they need on time and she does it with much care for them.

Who said I was sane? I’d like to know! Keep your head down and just do good work is my motto. Be fair and give back as much as you can.

I love what I do — it’s rare that it ever feels like a job. Just when I might get bored the glass teaches me how little I know, and I spend much of time problem solving, experimenting and working on the next collection- we produce them twice a year.

7. In what ways is Annieglass a sustainable company and why is that important to you?

It's sustainable because we all have to work here together so we only make things that we have much pride in, that are challenging and take much skill. We are using creativity and ingenuity in equal parts of our daily problem solving.

In regard to environmentally sustainable, I am an old Santa Cruz hippie — I’ve been recycling since the first Earth Day and I was horrified to find out that only 10% of glass collected for recycling actually gets reused or recycled- some gets crushed and used for drainage or roads but none of it can be re-melted unless its done in a glass factory and there are precious few of those. The factory that made the sheet glass that I use to slump into Annieglass was near Sacramento and shut done several years ago. We always sent the scrap back to them to re-melt. Once they closed, the only option was the landfill which was not an option and never has been a sustainable choice for my company so I designed Greenieglass first- which took forever to fire correctly. I abandoned that and came up with a thinner version for a line of trivets and trays called Elements that has been a big hit. The great thing about it is that it uses recycled glass, craft knowledge, and the technical innovation of waterjet cutting. We are pretty knowledgeable in all those. I have a patent pending and am training a research assistant from UC Santa Cruz’s Arts Advocate program to broaden the scope to address the problem on a massive scale...fingers crossed!

In the building, we are as environmentally conscious as one can be with a glass factory — we fire 30 ovens during the night to reduce impact on the grid, constantly improve insulation and materials in our kilns for minimum firing times. In shipping, we only use green materials and have completely eliminated any kind of packaging – we never used any to begin with and never changed. Annieglass made a social impact here in Watsonville when it moved in 21 years ago. The town will still suffering the effects of losing its largest employers. We trained, educated and taught English to our staff providing benefits unheard of in agriculture. Many of those employees kids are first in the family to go to college. The mayor thanks me for my tax revenue and tourism.

8. What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?

Yoga class above my friend’s glass studio on the ocean, a walk with the dog or hike (he’s too old for a hike) or bike ride in some of this gorgeousness I call home — redwoods or ocean. A good book I can sink my teeth into, maybe a nap, some time with loved ones.

Lightning round!

9. Cook at home or dine out?

Both.

10. Shop new or vintage?

New.

11. Dog person or cat person?

Love both, but only dogs will survive in the woods where I live.

12. Hike the trails or ski the slopes?

Hike, used to ski until a bike accident.

13. Cheesecake or pumpkin pie?

Neither— all sweets but those!