Almost Perfect Glass Trailblazes Environmental Activism Through Art

Almost Perfect GlassPhotos courtesy of Almost Perfect Glass.

Vases showcasing the fuzzy white faces of polar bears and the glimmering navy bodies of whales adorn the shelves of Almost Perfect Glass, begging to spark conversation.

“Anyone who comes through the studio, if they see the pieces we have that are about environmental situations, you can say they’re cool and important because they’re a documentation of the habitat destruction,” Susan Shapiro says. “[Glass] is a vehicle for promoting awareness about critically endangered species.”

Andrew Magdanz and Shapiro, the husband-and-wife duo behind the glass studio, have dedicated their lives to supporting the environment by creating meaningful art. 

“At one point, I was like, ‘I’m not going to make glass anymore, I need to go volunteer, I need to go be an activist,’ and somebody said to me, and it also occurred to me, that one way we could do that is to educate by making pieces that speak to that issue,” she adds.

Activism through art has turned out to extend far beyond the art itself for Magdanz and Shapiro. They opened Almost Perfect Glass in 1983 as a community studio for glass artists to work side-by-side, with the goal of improving the sustainability of their craft by sharing it with others. 

“If you live in a big house all by yourself, you’re really heating or lighting or cooling the house, a huge amount of space, for one or two people,” Shapiro says. “The same thing might be true of a glass studio, so one of the things that we have worked really hard to do is to build the glass community and optimize our facility. The environmental cost of running the facility is across many people—the furnace is running, but there’s always someone working.”

Almost Perfect Glass is home to three workstations that accommodate multiple teams of glassmakers at a time, with up to 65 different people working in the space over the course of a week. Magdanz and Shapiro welcome local artists tired of running their own studios, host classes designed for curious beginners, and instruct scientists and engineers looking to learn a hands-on skill. 

In an effort to create a more sustainable glass making process, Magdanz and Shapiro installed 230 solar panels on the roof of their warehouse to cover all of their electrical needs. 

Almost Perfect Glass

“That was a really big financial investment, but it was a really good emotional investment for us,” Magdanz says.

“For me, having the panels really makes me feel like I’m trying to do something to make a difference,” Shapiro adds.

The furnaces, too, were an opportunity to choose sustainability. Traditional glass furnaces require extremely high heat—2400 degrees Fahrenheit, cooled down to 2000 degrees during the glass making process—but Almost Perfect Glass’s furnaces can melt glass without exceeding 2000 degrees, yielding better quality pieces and less gas consumption. Their heavily insulated furnaces can also be used around the clock, unlike traditional glass furnaces. And, when glass workers pull red-hot glass from the hand-built furnaces to mold into vases and bowls, the excess heat from each small furnace is captured and redirected through thin plastic tubes to supply heat to the entire building. 

Glass itself, whether turned into art or put to use in a more practical form, is also a sustainable material compared to plastic, the common alternative. Magdanz and Shapiro want to make the eco-friendly material more popular. 

“Glass is made out of sand, soda ash, and limestone, very common, very unassuming materials, rather than petrochemicals,” Magdanz says. “It basically breaks down into the environment and goes back to being a glassy sand, whereas plastic stays around, goes in our oceans.”

Magdanz and Shapiro also use recycled packaging materials, melt only recycled glass, and drive a pair of electric cars charged by the sun, but it is their dedication to environmental activism that they are most proud of. They hope their environmental efforts through Almost Perfect Glass inspire others to make more eco-conscious decisions, from shopping locally to adopting solar technology in their own homes. 

“People think, ‘What can I do?’” Shapiro says. “And granted, the big consumers are the bulk of the impact, but if every single individual makes a choice, some choice, that would have an impact and that would make a difference. I feel very proud to model those things and to be able to say that we do that. Everything that we do, we try to have awareness of.”

The couple opens the glass making facility to the public for an annual Christmas studio sale and by appointment throughout the year, but they now sell the bulk of their own artwork through a gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. Local shoppers can find Almost Perfect Glass pieces at the Cambridge Artists Cooperative in Harvard Square. 

Magdanz and Shapiro both started working with glass in the 1970s, and opened their first studio, called Avon Place Glass, on Avon Place in Rochester, N.Y. When they moved to Cambridge in 1983, the pair chose to incorporate the same three initials into the name of their new glass studio.

“There’s a tradition in the Amish tradition of making things, they always put a slight mistake in their [artwork] because only God can make something perfect,” Magdanz explains. “You can’t make something perfect, but you can make it almost perfect.”

This story originally appeared in the Environmental Issue issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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