Joe Rice, owner of The House of Glass in Elwood, says he has thoroughly enjoyed working at his family business for as long as he can remember.
Rice started working at the family glass factory when he was 12, and worked for his uncles (Paul, Joe, Ed, and Bob StClair). He says he and his skilled craftsmen have been creating designer glass art for more than 30 years.
Rice operates the business, which was originally founded in Elwood in 1938 by his grandfather, John “Pop” St. Clair.
Rice purchased The House of Glass in October 1987 after his uncle Bob passed away.
“We purchased all the equipment, glass, tools and supplies, as well as the property, from the estate of my uncle Bob St. Clair,” Rice says. “I had projected a loss for the first year when I applied for a small-business loan from all the banks in Elwood, Indiana.”
All the banks turned him down.
“I assume it was because I expected a loss,” Rice says. “I approached the bank in Tipton that handled my uncle Bob’s account. The president of the bank never asked a question. He approved the loan. As it happened, we made a five-figure profit that very first year.”
Rice still loves creating glass art, something he learned to do when he was a child. He uses annealing ovens, which are used to eliminate stresses caused in glassware during the art glass manufacturing process.
“I have never lost that wild-eyed child’s love for creating something out of nothing,” Rice says. “Of course, the ‘nothing’ is 2,100-Fahrenheit molten glass. To this very day I can’t wait to open the annealing oven, just to sneak a peek at what I made a couple days before. I estimate I have made as many as a quarter of a million pieces of glass in my lifetime.”
In his opinion, Rice has never made the perfect piece.
“All I do is practice, and still try to get the next one better than the previous one,” he says.
Rice has kept the family tradition of the glass factory, formerly known as St. Clair Glass, while taking on new ideas and new technology.
“I have continued to produce many of the items my grandfather first developed, as well as those developed by my uncles,” Rice says. “The blessings have come from the many years of their tutoring, and suggestions from loyal customers to develop new and creative items that complement our traditional artwork.”
Rice notes that loyal customers have kept the business going through the years.
“We have been so blessed to share with three and four generations of loyal customers, and we call them friends,” Rice says. “There are not many weeks that pass that someone doesn’t call or visit, to tell the story of their first trip here or to St. Clair Glass with their grandparents or school class some 30 to 40 years ago. It has been 10 to 15 years since the last school visited our plant. Sadly, after 34 years, many of our friends have stopped collecting and begun to downsize, as we are too.”
Rice has seen many transitions through the years.
“It is not easy to describe the changes over the years,” Rice says. “Perhaps the most difficult part has been losing so many loved ones. All my aunts and uncles have passed away. I have lost several cousins, and the most difficult was the passing of Merrilee, my first wife.”
The greatest improvements for Rice have come in the form of better science and chemicals used in the making glass, as well as the introduction of more efficient electric glass furnaces and modern annealing ovens.
“The very best change has been seeing my daughter Amanda graduate from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, as one of the first classes of female engineers from Rose,” he says. “After that, was her marriage to Harold, also a Rose-Hulman graduate, and their three beautiful, intelligent and fun-loving children. They have all made paperweights with old grandpa Joe.”
Rice believes that perhaps one of the best, least-expected bonuses of his career is meeting so many wonderful, talented, and dedicated glass artists from all over the United States.
“We have shared many ideas, suggestions and secrets, all with the express purpose of helping one another become better glass artists, but most importantly to become better mentors and friends,” he says. “A gift is made better when shared with others.”
To find out more about The House of Glass, located at 7900 East State Road 28 in Elwood, call 765-552-6841 or visit thehouseofglassinc.com.