Linda and Ken Perrin are used to making things take shape.
As artisan glass blowers working on Mount Desert Island, they turn molten silica and glass into finished glass pieces that are sold in galleries nationwide. They make the pieces with long, rodlike blowpipes, blowing air into globs of liquid glass to make them take shape. As the liquid glass hardens, they use metal tongs and picks to mold them into colorful vases, bowls, paperweights or jewelry.
The Perrins’ plans to relocate their business, Atlantic Art Glass, may help them shape more than just glass, however. They plan to move from Hulls Cove to Ellsworth and convert an old brick warehouse on the corner of Hancock and Pine streets into their new glass-blowing studio.
It is a move that they and city officials hope will help reshape Ellsworth’s waterfront neighborhood and diversify local development to include more than the construction of large retail stores.
According to Ellsworth City Planner Michele Gagnon, the type of redevelopment the Perrins have in mind should draw more people – and their wallets – to the waterfront instead of having the area dominated by commercial vehicles.
It also will help demonstrate that Ellsworth is not just a location for big-box retailers such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart, she said recently. Home Depot opened a store in Ellsworth in 2000 and Wal-Mart, which opened a 93,000-square-foot store in Ellsworth in 1993, has announced it hopes to open a 203,000-square-foot Supercenter somewhere in the city by 2006.
By making the waterfront more user-friendly, the city planner said, local officials hope to broaden the city’s appeal and encourage small-business growth.
“It’s such a good reuse of that building,” Gagnon said of the Perrins’ plans to live and work in the two-story brick warehouse, most of which in recent years has been used for storage. “It’s perfect.”
Linda Perrin, a native of Minocqua, Wis., and Ken Perrin, who grew up in Worcester, Mass., came to Maine from San Francisco in 1997. The pair, both 40 years old, said recently that they are moving to Ellsworth because they need more room – a need that is evident when they are at work in their small Hulls Cove studio.
While making globe ornaments recently with apprentice Nate Parker, the Perrins and Parker rotated positions in the cramped converted one-car garage almost as if they were performing a tightly knit, choreographed dance.
One of them would dip a blowpipe into a furnace, which maintains a ready supply of liquid glass in 2,000 degree Fahrenheit heat, and then remove a small blob of the molten substance and roll it in tiny glass pieces lying on a nearby metal-topped table. The blowpipe, tipped with the glass glob, would be inserted briefly into a secondary kiln to keep the glass at a workable temperature and then taken to a workbench a few feet away and rolled along two rails. At the workbench, the glass was shaped further with tongs, picks or a wooden cuplike tool dripping with water.
Using old-fashioned lung power, one of the trio then would blow a bubble of air into the middle of the glob through a hose attached to the far end of the blowpipe, while another would work the glass. After a few more hand tool touches, the resulting globe would be placed into a 900 degree Fahrenheit annealer, which enables the glass to cool slowly without cracking.
The glass is so hot when it goes in the annealer that it does not break. By accident, Linda Perrin demonstrated this by dropping a hardening globe on the bare concrete floor and catching it with tongs after the second bounce. Had she missed, it would have cooled enough to shatter upon hitting the floor a third time, Ken Perrin said.
For each finished ornament, this process, minus the rare bounce, was repeated in the crowded studio as the three artists shifted around like chess pieces from one work area to another.
“We’ve made the most of this little space,” Linda Perrin said, pausing momentarily between tasks. “I think [the] Pine Street [location] is a really great opportunity for more work, bigger work and bigger equipment.”
At 3,500 square feet, the new studio will have roughly 3,000 square feet of space more than they have now in Hulls Cove, where they have a “hot” studio, in which they shape the molten glass, and an adjacent “cold” studio, where they cut, grind and polish the hardened glass into finished pieces.
The couple plans to renovate part of the interior of the Pine Street building and to use the glass furnace, which runs all day, to heat their studio and residential quarters, according to Linda Perrin. They will not have a retail space for their finished pieces, but they do plan on having open studio days when the public can come see their work. They also hope to offer glass-blowing instruction, she said.
They have grown their small business slowly over the years, perfecting designs and painstakingly developing a list of about 30 galleries nationwide to which they sell and distribute their glassware, according to Perrin. She said the move to the larger Ellsworth space will allow them to continue to expand their business slowly.
“There are dreams of growth for us,” she said. “We’re excited about it.”
Perrin said she, her husband and their apprentices are excited about moving into the Pine Street building for the space and also for being part of the surrounding residential and commercial neighborhood. She said they will enjoy being in a place that is growing culturally, where they can walk to the Grand Auditorium for movies or plays, to local restaurants and to nearby shops for coffee and a loaf of freshly baked bread.
“I think it’s a quiet thing that’s happening in Ellsworth,” Perrin said. “It’s a beautiful building in a great spot. It just fits us.”
Ellsworth officials also are excited about the neighborhood, which abuts Main Street and Water Street, the latter of which they hope will be redeveloped to become more user-friendly.
For decades, Water Street has been home to industrial uses such as a car dealership and maintenance shop, a seafood distribution company, an oil depot and the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Ellsworth is using a federal Brownfields grant to identify properties in the area that may require environmental clean-up as they are converted into other uses.
In 2002, the City Council adopted a waterfront redevelopment plan aimed at increasing the number of shops, professional offices and residential buildings in the area. The document also calls for more pedestrian access to the Union River, which flows behind businesses on the west side of Water Street.
“With the waterfront, we want to extend that sense of place” that exists on nearby Main Street, City Planner Gagnon said. New sidewalks and antique-style street lamps were put in on Main Street, which is lined with shops and offices, when the street was reconstructed in 2000.
“We have a lot to offer, more than what you see on that strip,” Gagnon said, referring to the shopping malls and large-chain retail stores found locally on High Street. “I’m very proud that we have an ordinance that lets this [type of smaller redevelopment] happen downtown.”
According to Linda Perrin, part of the reason she and her husband, who has family in the area, moved to Maine after living in San Francisco for 11 years was to stop working for other artists and to pursue glass-blowing for themselves full time.
After working hard for eight years, first just to find a rental property on MDI where they could set up shop and then to establish contacts by which they sell and distribute their wares, the Perrins are excited at the response their pending move has gotten from Ellsworth officials.
“They’ve been so receptive,” she said. “We feel very encouraged about what we want to do.”