Amber Marshall, Glassblower
Glassblower Amber Marshall moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Appalachia to be part the Energy Xchange. Before arriving in North Carolina, Marshall spent much of her time on the road at arts festivals, selling her work. “It’s very expensive and time-consuming to travel to the festivals,” noted Marshall.
Festivals also have proven less profitable than they had once been. The recession hit decorative glass particularly hard. Although Marshall’s shapely vessels and pitchers can be used, they are designed with form over function.
“Right now, people are looking for more inexpensive, utilitarian things rather than art pieces they can add to their collections,” she explained. “Glass is one of the most expensive forms out there, so glassblowers like me have really felt the effects of the economic slowdown.”
Marshall’s signature pieces include voluptuous clear glass vases with shapely lunaresque lumps in hues like mustard, teal, and slate grey that erupt from the bottom. Equally distinctive are her cockeyed frosted-glass pitchers in sherbet colors that are so anthropomorphic you almost believe the tiny swirl appliqués are winking at you.
For Marshall, the Energy Xchange has been a lifeline. She now has studio space with a 400-pound tank furnace that otherwise would be cost-prohibitive for an individual artist.
“It is incredibly expensive to blow glass because the energy bills are so high,” stated Marshall. Having a studio here, with no overhead and no energy costs, has enabled her to work longer hours, try new designs, and even create more utilitarian pieces like stemless glassware, which help sustain her business.
Sustainable Studios for Artisans
Located in the remote Black Mountains of North Carolina, the Energy Xchange is the first in the world to capture and combust landfill gas to power energy-intensive artisan studios.
Currently, there are seven artisans – potters and glassblowers – working at the six-acre site. Clay kilns and glass furnaces run exclusively on the landfill gasses. Additionally, the radiant heat in the studio floors is powered entirely by gas created from the decomposing refuse.
The energy savings is significant, estimated to be about $1 million over the project’s 20-year lifespan. (Methane gas harvested from the landfill has a shelf life, based on decomposition rates and burn method). The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that the impact of this project is equivalent to planting 14,000 acres of trees or taking 21,000 cars off the road.
The state of North Carolina worked with the department of Agriculture and with nonprofits to create the Energy Xchange. The idea of reducing greenhouse gasses, reusing existing resources, and supporting the work of artisans like Marshall was all part of the plan.
The Energy Xchange, which also has a gallery on site, has a competitive application program for artisan residencies, which typically last about three years.