Tucked away in the midst of Pine Island's famed black dirt region, a series of warehouses are scattered amongst the fields. A mirage of blue skies and green grass provide the ideal backdrop for artists to create. In one of the few warehouses, Whenhouse Glass quietly sits, cut off from the outside world. Life out here is different than the city or nearby suburbs. It’s calming, quiet and provides a focused scenario to work on creative projects. Isolation is key in every artist’s life. There’s poor cell phone reception and Whenhouse doesn’t have a clock; as the hours pass, time slowly slips into an everlasting abyss. There’s not much to do out here besides create, and that’s exactly what Whenhouse Glass does.
The collaborative effort of couple Joe Catanzaro and Chate McCormick, Whenhouse Glass is a young business that creates one-of-a-kind glass art. After taking a few lessons from a friend in September of 2014, the couple decided that glass blowing was definitely for them. Both of them instantly fell in love with the intricate art form and began learning as much as they possibly could. One month later, the couple decided to start taking it seriously and Whenhouse Glass was born. Together, they set goals and met them, slowly but surely turning their dreams into reality. Both of them come from photography backgrounds and are extremely creative individuals. Chate studied and graduated with her Bachelor in Fine Arts in Photography from Purchase College in Purchase, New York. The school is widely known for its various art programs. She is an extremely talented individual and is also skilled in oil painting, drawing and sculpting. Joe studied at FIT in New York City for a semester and quickly realized that it wasn’t for him. He returned home to Warwick, New York with a void of burning passion. He continued to work on creative projects along with working in one of his father’s warehouses. See, Joe’s father owns a few businesses that all specialize in building high-end pottery equipment. Over the years, Joe has developed an understanding in the technical aspect of kilns and how they operate. His knowledge of pottery equipment quickly transcribed to glass blowing. Instead of buying a brand new kiln, Joe actually got one from his father that he then modified and re-built. Between that and using the warehouse as their shop, the couple saved a ton of money in start-up costs. “It definitely helps that there’s two of us so we can both put funds in, we wouldn’t have been able to get up and running as quick as we did if it was only one of us”, Chate said. Now that the company is up and running; their chemistry, intellect and creativity continue to push it forward.
Whenhouse Glass will hit their one-year anniversary in October this year. Over the past year a lot has stayed the same but many things have also changed. The two-person team of Joe and Chate has remained tight and is now stronger than ever. They share a deep bond that stretches far past business and art. They work selflessly, balancing each other out with tremendous grace. Each one with an individual set of talents and skills that is essential to the other. Watching them work is refreshing; they have an unspoken dynamic that provides the backbone to their great teamwork. Both of them are artists at the core of their souls. They were put on this earth to create and this fact remained evident as I observed them. I can tell that blowing glass is a passion that has engraved itself in both of them. They are in this for the long haul; this isn’t just a phase for them. Joe even said to me “The more I blow glass, the more it makes me want to get in deeper with the community, It makes me care about being a part of it. Above all, it makes me want to get better.” That statement really resonated with me, it was unmistakably genuine. I asked Chate when it was that she developed an interest in glass blowing and she told me “I always wanted to blow glass but I never thought it was attainable, it’s such a serious set-up and lessons are insanely expensive, then we ran into our friend Devon who started to teach us – the pieces just fell into place”. Those words couldn’t be truer. Both of their skills have progressed with passion and persistence, as they constantly impress each other every day.
As their customer base steadily grows, they become more inspired, feeding off the energy of each other. The two of them spend a ton of time together; they’re usually in the shop twenty to forty hours a week. Whenhouse Glass initially began producing mostly pipes and pendants but their capabilities have been expanding every day. They have started to create very unique pieces of glass art. Their pendants are absolutely incredible and come in all shapes and sizes; they make great gifts for anyone, guy or girl, young or old. I was especially impressed with their pipes, which are both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional. The average cost of their items is $30 to $60. Some are cheaper while others are more expensive; every price is fair and every product boasts great quality. Besides keeping a solid stock of items for purchase, they also pride themselves on taking all types of custom orders. Recently, their sales have picked up as they have been selling to both local and out-of-state customers. Using social media applications such as Instagram and Facebook, their customer base continues to grow organically. You can also find everything you need to know about Whenhouse Glass on their website, which is very well made.
When I asked them what the major difference was between careers in photography and glass blowing, Joe said, “Blowing glass is more practical as a career, the objects I make have a function. People use pipes to smoke, people wear pendants as jewelry. I hated having to explain myself when I was trying to be a professional photographer; it’s not an easy way to make a living. I wasn’t making money off my passion. When I’m blowing something that somebody is going to buy, I’m making a living with my passion and I feel that in my heart. I want to be the guy that people come to, to get funky stuff made; whether it’s glass, metal or pottery. This is what I want to do. I want to be able to do it all – specialization is for ants.” Chate added, “We were both into fine art photo, the only way to make money as a photographer is to shoot weddings and events and we weren’t into that. We were making our own projects with friends and doing conceptual work and it’s not a practical way to make a living.” As a writer, I unfortunately understand these sentiments all too well. Joe added, “I’m still actively participating in photography all the time. The way I feel towards it, photography is something that I do, just for me. That was my issue with photo; I was always doing it for a class or for a person other than myself. I would do it and people would be like ‘what’d you do this for? Who paid you to do this? Why are you taking a picture of this?’ because I fucking wanted to!” I can obviously see where both Joe and Chate are coming from and it makes sense, it’s not like they gave up photography and got accounting jobs; they are still using their creative abilities on a daily basis, except now they’re getting paid to do so.
It’s nice to see artistic individuals not quit when something doesn’t go their way. A lot of creative people often give up after not seeing instant success. In my opinion, those people aren’t true artists. Both Chate and Joe found an art form that is practical and extremely interesting, they didn’t plan for this to happen, it just did. “Five years ago, I was graduating high school and I thought I was going to be a war photographer. All I ever wanted to be was a badass photojournalist. Then I went to photography school for a month and a half and I was like ‘Fuck that noise’ so I started doing photography for myself then became a professional hippie and started tie-dying and doing pottery”, Joe said. All three of us had a good laugh when he said that. We spoke about the future; gazing out upon the black dirt fields of Pine Island, rolling hills of green aligned the horizon as clouds of cotton floated by above. He added, “In a year, I’d like to be out of this warehouse and out of Warwick. I’d love to have a few regular students, have an actual functioning studio. I’d love to see our work progress to the point where we can support ourselves with it. I’d like to find a market for us, I’d like to find people that truly like our work.” That’s the goal for creative people like Joe and Chate, creative people like myself. It’s not necessarily about getting rich; it’s about being able to support yourself by doing something that you love. It isn’t always easy but as Joe and Chate have proved, it is possible. Sometimes our intended paths change for reasons we don’t know, it’s up to us to adjust our course and go with the flow of life or get lost trying to fight against it. In this fraudulent world of uncertainty, making an honest living with your passion is the only good fight there is.