Editors’ Spotlight: The Glass Guru, Inc

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Bob Thompson

and His Fabulous Glass from Around the World

(Bob is not only a member of our guild…..but spent most of his life working with incredible glass products from all over the world that were used in mostly architectural projects. He lives in Portland OR and has also been a longtime supporter of our guild plus done classes with and purchased glass art from many of our members. He is sharing some of his unique history with glass here. We will break this story and photos into three parts over the next three newsletters. The last section will show his more recent innovative use of mostly non fusible glass using special UV glues.)

I got into the International Decorative Glass business more by default than intention.It seemed, at the time, no one else could see the potential, creative possibilities and market for the beautiful and unusual glass I was fortunate to have gained access to.The glass business was the final link in the chain of six distinct, unique and satisfying careers that stretched, unbroken, back through my life. I couldn’t proceed to the next link until the last one had been forged in place. There was also an enormous amount of serendipity, synchronicity and blind luck involved that connected this chain together.

Bob Thompson, our Glass Guru

The foundation started with a child who always liked making and building stuff and helping others who were doing the same. It continued with a wonderful, transformative High School art teacher and then an extensive and comprehensive education in architecture, followed some years later by a glorious four years in Europe. This was an Age long before computers, cell phones, computer aided design (CAD), color TV and the internet. Everything was done by hand, lettering, arrowheads at the ends of dimension lines, prospectives and watercolor skies done in the bathtub for project renderings.

Skipping ahead through the next exciting, dynamic thirty-six years, we have to pause a tthe link preceding the last glass link in my life chain.I was asked by a friend, who had taken over the Pella Window franchise in Oregon, to run the Commercial window, department of one, since I was familiar with most of the architects in town and a member of the AIA (American Institute of Architects). These were part of the residue of relationships from the previous career that was now complete. I had also recently completed a course in the new Auto Cad technology that had recently come to market that pre-empted my MBA program at PSU which no longer seemed relevant at this point in my life at the tender age of 45.

A fabulous and ever changing play of light possible with glass in architecture

The time in the commercial portion of Pella produced some noteworthy projects such as the Mt. Saint Helen’s Visitors Center, the Vollum Science Center at OHSU, the window replacement in the historic McKensie Hall at OHSU, student housing window replacement at Willamette University, window replacement in the historic Post Office building in Corvallis with large double-hung windows that only Pella could do, the Engineering building at OIT in Klamath Falls, the tear down and windows in the rebuilt, historic Crater Lake Lodge and Ranger buildings, the window replacement in the Children’s wing of the Providence Medical Center in Portland and the Water Resource Building for the Portland Water Department with the largest order for tilt-turn windows anywhere in the country.

One of the unique features of Pella windows happened to be the introduction of low emissivity glass (Low-E) that totally revolutionized the energy efficiency of windows and the cost savings in energy use for customers. No one else in the window industry was offering this technology and no one was producing this type of glass in the States. As a result, Pella was buying it from Glaverbel in Brussels, Belgium. One interesting facet of the glass business is that there were only six major manufacturers in the world and they owned all the other glass companies. By chance, the company that owned Glaverbel was Asahi Glass Company in Japan, the largest glass producer in the world.

Again, a gorgeous play of light that changes as the sunlight moves across a building.

They had been part of the massive Mitsubishi conglomerate that had, theoretically, been broken up into separate pieces after World War II, but there still remained some close interlocking relationship between the companies. As a result of my dealings with Asahi, through their subsidiary in the U.S., AMA Glass (one Asahi representative, one from Mitsubishi and one American), I was introduced to their lady rep. who had been marketing Asahi glass throughout the East Coast, South and Mid-West for some ten years. They had been selling mostly wire-glass for safety installations, but she showed me their catalog of amazing interior glass unlike anything anyone could possibly imagine in this country and Iwas totally ‘hooked’. She also showed me some samples of their line of ‘Shoji glass’ laminated patterns.

To a person with creative inclinations, this was exciting stuff and I could see the potential for diversifying my marketing efforts to all the Interior Designers as well as architects in town. I contacted the AMA Glass manager at their office in Los Angeles and he agreed to come to Portland and, over a cup of tea, we agreed to import and market their interior glass products. This had never been done before, since Asahi had not the slightest interest in marketing these products in this country because they could sell their entire interior glass production at home. I happened to show some of the Shoji patterns to the Interior Designer working on the new NIKE International Headquarters in Beaverton and they were interested.

The beautiful tower in Orlando Florida.

Culturally, the Japanese are interested in privacy, while the Americans are interested in transparency. One of the patterns was selected, but was too opaque, so a NIKE team flew over to Tokyo and had a meeting with Asahi. In two weeks, Asahi came back with two more transparent versions, ‘Cloud Dragon 6 and 8’, the higher number being the most transparent, and ‘Cloud Dragon 8’ was approved. The Pella International Glass business was off and running (pun intended). We imported and furnished all of the glass in the doors, relites, signage, work cubicles and name plates on the desks throughout all the buildings in the complex, the airplane hanger in Hillsboro and later, the additional Sequent Computer buildings that were leased in an expansion off the main campus.

Our little Pella franchise had also expanded into doors, wood trim and mill work for the residential market as a diversification move. Unfortunately, this did not meet with resounding approval at the Mother Pella headquarters in Pella, Iowa. They surmised that we were getting too far from the primary business of windows and doors as well as the other Pella products and we needed to promptly exit all this glass foolishness and other extraneous distractions.

Both transmitted and reflected light affect the look of glass structures.

This was the beginning of the financial demise of our franchise in Oregon for a number of other non-related reasons. Eventually, the franchise was sold to the one in California and later to Washington, effectively ignoring Oregon. The owner decided to shut down the commercial unit along with the Asahi glass distribution and so, this link in the chain came to a necessary end.

An ever changing light colors and patterns……
A different hour and a different look.