Martha's memories ~ Big changes in the business

Posted by Copper . on

And then one day I said "Enough"!!......... and nothing happened. #3

I made a bold step in 1996 and I thought my world would come to an end ...but it didn't. In fact it was the best decision I ever made. When I told colleagues and staff what I was going to do, I was greeted with disbelief and cautiously advised to avoid taking this step at all costs.

 Here's the story. Back in 1965 I had started a small business in the basement of my parent’s house. I had collected reverse glass paintings since childhood, and was crazy about eglomise work, - that is the 18th and 19th century art of applying paint directly to the underside of glass. I would commonly find and buy pieces in antique shops around Boston for practically nothing. No one wanted reverse glass paintings. It was a dated art, unknown and under-appreciated at that time. But I bought pieces whenever I found them.

In a moment of inspiration and perspiration, I decided to create my own glass paintings and sell them. I was single, living with my parents, and I didn't have a job, so why not? I felt like I couldn't paint or create artwork, but I plunged in and began to produce little “primitive paintings,” such as could be found in 19th century America. They were charming and I sold a few at local retailers. Due to a strange sales call, where a retailer told me exactly what would sell in his shop, my little paintings of flowers and birds soon evolved into paintings of colleges, and their main architectural landmarks. I, and eventually my staff artists, painted pieces of hundreds of different colleges all across the country and a new business was established. Early on, I though it made sense to call my business “Eglomise Designs.” After all that's what the company was all about. I knew all about eglomise work and that painting on the reverse side of glass gives a certain three-dimensional look to the finished piece. I had majored in French in college so the pronunciation came easily to me. Eglomise Designs was the perfect company name, I was making “art” of sorts, and the name had a little panache - from my perspective. Why didn't somebody tell me that eglomise designs was a very, very poor choice. Just try to open a credit card account with a major firm and mention your name! Everywhere I went, I had to spell the name and share pronunciation strategies. But I couldn't change the title. Glass painting had become the focal point and reason for the actual existence of my company.

Sales were great. I employed more and more staff, and eventually bought a factory to house the ever-increasing supplies of glass, frames, shipping cartons, etc. Yes, sales were great but it became obviously clear that profits were not! Paying an increasing number of artists to paint individual landmark scenes of an exponentially growing number of colleges was clearly a giant money pit. Every painting completed was plunging the company into further debt. It wasn't possible to short-cut the paintings. It wasn't possible to ask the staff to paint faster or with less detail. And then the epiphany came - as a question: Why not photograph the artwork?

I decided to reproduce the very best example of each painting I owned, in a state-of-the-art photographic printer. I began with some research to find the best printer in America, and at that time it was made by Kodak, and was an enormous machine. We had to remove the front of the building to get it into our office, work done by giant cranes, but it was well worth it. When I took one of our best paintings and made a "copy," it was impossible to tell which was the original and which was the copy. We tested painting after painting, and the results were all the same. No one could tell which was which - what was original and what was the copy. In fact, the colors in the reproduction were so beautiful and so true, that the reproduced picture became the favorite among myself and the staffers.

That was the easy part, but I dreaded the next step - telling our loyal customers that we were no longer actually painting on glass. And then came the shock! Over and over the same comment repeated itself: "what do you mean by glass painting?" "I didn't know you painted these college scenes on glass." Or, "I like whatever you're doing now so I hope you won't go back to glass painting,” or “Don’t change a thing - we like what you are doing right now!”

It was a revelation that I'll never get over. People didn't care about glass painting. What they wanted was a nostalgic landmark scene of a particular college or alma mater that was in good taste. Further, they wanted the scene to be housed in a product that would be traditional, and of heirloom-quality, finely-detailed, beautiful workmanship. In a frenzied few months, we chose the best of each college painting and stored it as a digital, permanent record. I’ll never regret starting to make the reverse glass paintings. There is a certain "look" to glass painting that cannot be compared to other techniques, and we will always seek that "look" in our art work going forward. It clearly says "Eglomise Designs.” We love that eglomise look and will never change it.

Copper's note:  Ironically we have returned to painting on the glass.  A portion of every design goes onto the glass and for those of you who have had a sneak preview of our new minimalist line it is all painted on the glass.

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