For this month’s ‘MTM’, we met with Blair Hansen, one half of the brilliant duo behind the glass design and production house, Asp & Hand. We commissioned the pair to create a special selection for our flagships in London and Tokyo, for all to enjoy.
Image: Asp & Hand
Founded in November 2017 along with her husband Eli, they create handmade vessels, objects and custom forms, and are based in the Pacific Northwest, in view of the Rocky Mountains.
Here, they give us a glimpse into their incredible story, the personal battles which lead them to launch Asp & Hand, where they find inspiration and how their children are already getting in on the action!
JMD: Tell us a little about Asp & Hand, and how it came to be?
A&H: Asp & Hand is a glass design and production house, founded by Eli andI (Blair) in November 2017. We began with glassware for everyday use, because we believe strongly in the elevated experience of nourishing our bodies with handblown glass. It feels incredible in the hand and, especially with our forms that have added "bits" on the sides, the glass can feel as though it is reaching out and touching you back when you use it. Eli and I (and countless others) have been treated for cancer in our 30s (Eli at 31, myself at 37), so we got a bit of a head start in our awareness of ephemerality and the importance of appreciating every minute we have on this sublime planet.
Both of us worked for years in the art world: Eli is an artist, and I was a gallery director and studio manager. We love to work, we love to hand-make beautiful objects with human bodies in mind. At the end of the day, our greatest wish is to make meaningful connections with our living creatures - humans, primarily, though as you can tell from our company name and the logo, we like to undo the distinction between human and non-human animals.
We love thinking about all of our glassware as one giant, growing sculpture/endurance performance (Eli has blown ten thousand drinking vessels in two years) that has a kind of grassroots cooperative ownership amongst the users of the glass. This impulse also speaks to the Pacific Northwest's pioneer culture of ‘DIY’, craft cooperatives, communal living, alternative everything, spooky hideouts - you name it.
Image: Full Bleed
JMD: Describe your workspace. What does it look like? Where is it? What's in there? And how often are your there?
A&H: Our hot shop and studio space is in the outskirts of Bellingham, Washington, a seaside town about 20 minutes south of the US border with Canada. We blow glass in a small space inside a beautiful converted barn behind our awesome landlord's house. Above the hot shop there's a big open space with a view of the Canadian Rockies. I sketch up there, and polish glass and pack it for shipping. I always try to make it to the Post Office before I pick my older daughter up from the bus at 3pm. I don't usually make it, so we wind up driving back to the farm where the shop is.
The owner of the farm has chickens and peacocks and orchards. We are individually securing some of the exquisite peacock tail feathers into glass lampshades we're working on.
The farm property is right in between the Salish sea and the Cascade Mountain Range - at the foot of Koma Kulshan (Mt. Baker), an active, glaciated volcano. Our workspace is on Nooksack tribal land. We are here almost everyday. We try to take time with our little girls, Frances, 7, and Smokey Rose, 5, on the weekends. But when it's busy at the glass shop, they come along for the ride. We keep them busy drawing, munching snacks, stamping coasters and shucking pipes in the hot shop (they earn a dollar per hour!).
Image: Asp & Hand
"Hot glass behaves like honey on fire, or, like a snake - hence the Asp!"
Image: Jasmine Teagarden
JMD: How do you begin a new piece of work?
A&H: Everything starts with brainstorms, then loose sketches back and forth that a slowly tighten into a technical drawing to-scale. Eli has been blowing glass for over twenty years now, and please believe us when we say that learning to master glass art takes at least this long! As I am lacking this background, the beginning of the design phase usually involves my wild suggestions and Eli's immediate edits given his depth of knowledge about what is optimal for production.
Hand-blown glass is costly to produce. We have to keep our molten glass furnace and "glory holes" (don't ask... this is what the heating chambers are called, which we use to reheat a hot glass form while we work on it) at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. We have to keep our electric annealing ovens all at 1000 degrees. Before holiday, we had everything hot more or less around the clock. And, in addition, we typically have a team of three skilled artisans on any given object, even when it's a small drinking glass.
These overhead costs mean we need to meticulously plan every detail of an object, and the techniques and supplies to enact it, ahead of time, so that we are not wasting money on the hot shop floor. That said, experimenting with a new colour or form idea, when it's allowed to be looser, is such an exhilarating feeling to share with my husband and the rest of the team.
Image: Susannah Liguori
JMD: What or who has the biggest impact on your career?
A&H: Aforementioned family - and community members have fundamentally shaped Eli's journey. Meeting Eli, joining our families, moving here, and our whole experience every day together has been outrageously formative in every way. I would site my family and friends - especially the late-great artist, Dash Snow, as a very big influence on my approach to life (and career). Dash was an eclectic human being who loved hard and believed in nothing more than his family or friends. His artwork is a monument to underdogs and empathy, and I think these are the drums I bang the loudest as well. Since we've begun Asp & Hand, I think the biggest impact has come from Instagram, which featured us in November 2019 as one of the six small business founders across the world.
Image: Jasmine Teagarden