By Joshua Oliver
Michael Schunke and Josie Gluck have made their life out of glass. The pair combined their glassmaking practices in 2011 to found Vetro Vero and soon fell for each other. They got married in New York last year.
From their home workshop in rural Pennsylvania, the couple craft small batches of hand-blown glass objects, ranging from functional stemware to decorative vases and striking art pieces.
They begin by heating sand to more than 1,000C. Hand-turning, blowing and shaping the glass can take from 10 minutes for a simple drinking glass to days of preparation and assembly for complex pieces.
The pair sell their own products online and work with designers and private clients on bespoke commissions.
What is it like living and working together?
JG: I find it incredibly natural. I can’t imagine not working together. We have a really nice mediator in our relationship and that’s the glass. The glass doesn’t lie. If it’s not right in the end, we both usually see it and we move on to something else.
MS: We disagree on things occasionally, but we’re never disagreeable about it. We’ve been doing this a long time both collectively and individually, and we know when something is working and when it’s not. Very rarely does it happen that Josie thinks something is amazing and I think it’s terrible.
What are your inspirations and design influences, and do they differ?
JG: We’re both inspired by glass; we’re both inspired by form. Michael has a strong background in drawing on paper, so I think the proportions of human bodies have a lot of influence.
I am inspired by contemporary art as much as I am by other glassmakers. Michael is inspired by contemporary chefs.
What does cooking have to do with glassmaking?
MG: With cooking, I’m inspired by another practice that involves time and temperature. While I don’t like eating fancy food, I do admire the way that chefs like Thomas Keller achieve this high degree of creativity through a practice of discipline and repetition.
For us, it’s trying to keep the studio a certain way, to have a certain quality of glass and to have every step along the way be considered as much as the next.
There is no such thing as steps that are seemingly just “get through” moments. Every step matters.
How does your technique differ from those of other glassmakers?
JG: We don’t use moulds for the most part. It’s all completely formed by hand and tools. A lot of independent designers rely on moulds for consistency. We’re in a position where we don’t have to do that, because Michael has the skills to finish and refine an object by hand.
Which is the one piece you have created that stands out?
MG: Josie and I don’t put anything out into the world that we’re not proud of. We’ve got a basement full of pieces that didn’t make the cut.
JG: The Oro decanters are among the first things Michael and I designed together. I think they’re great to look at: they’re very cool with the volume of liquid they hold despite their sleek shape.
They are intended to be functional, while many of our designs are more designed to be visual interactions in your home. I like that the decanters serve their function very well while also having that unique design of the gold ball in the bottom.
Is the process for creating functional pieces different from that for art pieces?
MG: Not really. With our scribble bowls and the one-of-a-kind things that we create, we agree on a scale and a profile. One of us might say: “Let’s make something that looks like you blindfolded yourself, took a Sharpie [marker pen] and scribbled all over a page. That’s the effect.”
Very rarely does one of us suggest something and the other says, “No, we’re not going to try that.” But we have to be practical about it too. We try not to drown in the possibilities.
We complement each other. Josie looks for possibilities and I look for refinement.
How do you consider sustainability in your work?
MG: We recycle everything we can in the studio, including the heat. The exhaust from the furnace is used to preheat the air going into it, so it doesn’t take as much energy to heat. It’s really simple, but very effective.
JG: Sustainability is another reason why we limit the scale of our production. We want everything we create to have a meaning.
What is a current trend that you are excited about, or one you cannot stand?
MS: I think 3D printing should be approached with a great deal of caution. It’s unarguable that it erodes the craft of making things. I have used 3D printers, but I think young creators are looking to it as a first solution.
You learn a lot from the hands-on process. How do you 3D print something? Step one: reconsider.