While in Minneapolis visiting with Room & Board, I stopped by the glassblowing studio of Hennepin Made for a tour. I was pretty blown away (haha, get it?) by their setup – they do everything in their Northeast Minneapolis space from storing the glass (it comes in bags of powder!) to blowing to packing and shipping.
I was introduced to Hennepin Made through a recent tour of the Culver City Room & Board showroom, and then I spotted them again at ICFF and Dwell on Design, thinking to myself “I’ve gotta keep en eye on these guys…” I’m glad I did because they’re work is a true example of modern craft. Using traditional glass-blowing methods, they’ve incorporated modern silhouettes, colors and even silver leaf into their designs.
Jackson Schwartz was initially drawn to glassblowing because of its wonder and the theatrics of the process. He met Joe Limpert at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where Schwartz was an instructor and Limpert was a student studying ceramics. Jackson explains, “For the first few years, we produced unique works that were slow to make and labor intensive. We began thinking ‘what about designing pieces that can be reproduced while still maintaining a uniqueness and individuality?’ Since we were committed to be both the designer and producer of each piece, this seemed like a good starting point so we rolled with it.”
The pair sold pieces at art shows and after a while, tired of the show circuit and decided to work on production. This story feels like it echoes the local culture: Minneapolis has a long tradition of manufacturing and production and it has seen a rise in artisan and craft goods in the past 10 years. “The area in which our studio is located has a diverse range of businesses producing small scale goods including breweries, leather goods, chocolatiers, artisan meats producers, distilleries, bike builders, etc. We have begun hosting events to meet and connect with business people and artisans that seem to have a common theme: having respect for their craft by producing exceptionally high quality goods. The local culture is influenced and created by these values,” Jackson explains. These connections are extremely important to small brands like Hennepin Made, and one of these connections was the bridge to their relationship with Room & Board.
Through a mutual friend, Jackson and Joe met Jim Bell, one of the co-owners of Bell Manufacturing, which produces the natural steel furnishings for Room & Board. Bell donated a large amount of steel for equipment when the team was building their glassblowing studio. Jackson says, “He refused to let us pay him so eventually we convinced him that we needed to give him something in return. We ended up making a couple dozen sets of drinking glasses for him and he gave those to the Room & Board team members he works with as an introduction to our company. This launched our partnership with Room & Board. Not quite sure how we repay him for that…still working on it.”
The relationship with Room & Board along with the work they were already doing, allowed Hennepin Made to grow to a secure and steady team with room for growth and the opportunity to explore more artistic and unique glass products. Jackson told me how great it’s been to work with a company that’s flexible and realistic, as well as supportive: “We have a long term partnership, which means everything doesn’t have to happen at once. Each year we have ongoing conversations about what is working, what is not, and opportunities for new offerings. For a small producer it is vital to be able to communicate when a design is challenging to make. Even if a design sells well, if it is overly difficult to produce it may not be a viable product and we sometimes don’t fully realize this during the prototyping phase. We are able to discuss these types of issues and explore possibilities of changing the design to make production easier or replacing it with a different design.”
The studio is located in the basement of a fairly nondescript building on Hennepin Ave, their company’s namesake. The space is big for a small company, but they do everything on-site from the glass blowing to inventory storage; those ovens and kilns take up a lot of space! It’s homey, though, with a kitchen, eating and lounge space that doubles as an office and meeting room, with a few dog beds strewn about—Jackson’s dog Stella has free reign of the space.
The ovens might be a bit intimidating to someone who knows nothing of glassblowing (me!), and I was excited to have a demonstration of one of their molded pieces. The interesting thing to me is that glassblowing hasn’t really changed much… the tools are the same as they were 100 years ago or more, and the method is pretty much identical. I have to admit, it looks like a lot of fun but on the flipside a ton of (very sweaty) work! Each piece must be made from start to finish with no breaks—glass is fickle and will cool quickly, so you can’t stop and start working on the same piece; you’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot, so to speak.
Most of the time, the glass is blown into their wooden molds to get a consistent shape, but there are times when pieces are blown freely, too. Check out a little video I made of a piece being blown (below). You can see the same piece in various stages in the image above.
Their current studio will soon be a nostalgic place to them, as they’re moving into a bigger space this year. Best of luck to them!
Their best seller is the Glow Globe pendant for Room & Board (pictured above). Jackson says, “Even though this design is very simple, it has a few elements that capture your attention. It uses the properties of the glass in a way that bend and move light in a room or space. The process in which we make it also puts a soft texture into the glass, this makes each light have a slightly different pattern so when they are used in multiples it creates a wonderful effect.”
Orange County and LA-area design enthusiasts: please join us for an evening with Design Milk and Hennepin Made October 1 at the Room & Board in Culver City and October 2, at the Room & Board Santa Ana at South Coast Plaza Village. Details and RSVP information coming soon!
This post was created in collaboration with Room & Board. Our partners are hand picked by the Design Milk team because they represent the best in design.