Terra Studios Stops Production of Glass Figurines to Conserve Energy

Glassblower Micah Welsh, who has been working at Terra Studios for 3 years, shapes a Bluebird of Happiness Jan. 19 on the last day of their production.

The owners of a nonprofit arts organization stopped running their two glass blowing furnaces Jan. 19 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Terra Studios’ glass blowers made the last 250 Bluebirds of Happiness – small glass figurines made exclusively at Terra Studios – and shut off the furnaces at a commemoration Jan. 19. The event had live music and tours of the glassblowing facility.

Terra Studios transitioned into a nonprofit arts organization called Using Art to Create a Better World in 2014, though the studio still uses both names.

James Ulick, Using Art to Create a Better World president, said he considered changing the glassblowing system when he realized the two furnaces at Terra Studios use about 1 million cubic feet of gas, or 1,000 million British thermal units (Btu) per year.

The total U.S. primary energy consumption in 2018 was about 309 million Btu per person, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“When we converted it to the nonprofit, the idea was to make it all about community, all about art, to make it all about what can we really do to create a better world,” Ulick said. “We realized that we were being a little hypocritical. We had this huge carbon footprint that we were sitting on.”

Ulick researched if there was any available technology that could replace the furnaces to lower Terra Studio’s carbon footprint but was not able to find anything attainable.

Deborah Wilson, who attended the commemoration, purchased several Bluebirds of Happiness for her friends and family.

Wilson said she thinks it is good that Terra Studios will no longer produce the Bluebirds of Happiness for environmental reasons but it is sad that “we need to make those choices.”

The glassblowing space will be transformed into art studios.

Both of the studio’s full-time glassblowers were allowed to continue working at Terra Studios in other positions, but one chose not to continue because he wanted to continue working with glass, Ulick said.

Micah Welsh, 32, began working at Terra Studios eight years ago and has worked as a glassblower for the past seven months. After the furnaces are shut off, Welsh will work in the gallery.

Welsh said he was disappointed by the decision but thinks it is for a good cause.

“There’s not very many people that get the opportunity to blow glass like this anymore,” Welsh said. “There’s just not that many operations going. So I feel very fortunate to have gotten to do it for the amount of time I’ve done it for.”

There were an estimated 47,000 professional glassblowers in the U.S. in 2018 – 390 in Arkansas – with a slower-than-average projected growth of 2-3% by 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ulick said that Terra Studios will begin fundraising efforts in March for an energy-efficient roof for their next project focused on sustainability.

“We need to look at it as the biggest opportunity in the history of humanity and be optimistic about the change,” Ulick said.

Miranda Stith is a news editor for the Arkansas Traveler, where she previously worked as a reporter from 2018-2019.

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