Volume 36, Issue 11, November 2001
If, just for a day, you could walk around in the shoes of a man who has spent a lifetime ensconced in the worlds of art and glass, what do you think you’d find? Perhaps a studio filled with art, design tools, artists and designers, and maybe even a home filled with intricate works of art glass. But step into the world of Tim Moragne, artist and owner of Philadelphia Art Glass, and yes, you’ll a glass studio with nine hard-working artists, but you’ll only find five pieces of art glass in his home. “My wife really makes the final decisions on how our home is decorated,” Maragne said.
Philadelphia Art Glass has been in continuous operation since 1946. Moragne purchased the studio from its original owner in 1968. He had always wanted to be an artist, but working for the studio was his first experience with art glass.
“The original owner of the studio had a heart attack in 1956. At the time I was [in the Air Force] stationed in Washington, D.C., waiting for my discharge. My brother called to tell me about the studio, and when I went home that weekend I went to the studio and just fell in love with it,” he said. “I went to work there the Monday after my discharge. I purchased the studio in 1968.” While working, Moragne attended Philadelphia College of Art at night and earned a degree in illustration and design.
Moragne has done work for places that include the Philadelphia Convention Center and the McDonald’s Corp. He has even designed federal seals for organizations such as the FBI and the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City. “I can recognize our work most anywhere,” he said.
Sculpted clear mirror was used to create this design for a restaurant.
Contract Glazier Collaborative
Much of the projects Moragne and his team take on involve working with contract glaziers. “About 90 percent of our work comes from the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey,” he said. “We’ll have a contract glazier call us for a quote on a job for a simple horizontal or vertical sandblasted pattern. The glass is brought to us and we fabricate it and do all of the work on it in house.”
Moragne says when contract glaziers approach him with a job, he is usually given a basic sketch of what needs to be done, so a lot of artistic endeavor is not involved. He adds, though, that working with contract glaziers can be demanding at times due to the close turnaround time often required. His company faces schedule demands, he says, because glass is the last part of the building to be added.
“Sometimes we get the glass and they need the work completed in two or three weeks, sometimes less than that,” said Moragne. “If necessary, we have the capacity to turn the project out in two or three days; you never know how quickly something will be needed. Other than that [the demands] we’ve never really had any problems in dealing with the contract glaziers. They just want to know they will get a quality project from us.”
Moragne says the contract glaziers he deals with are looking most for quality service. “Sometimes we don’t even get a chance to quote the job. They just bring us the glass and trust we will be fair in our pricing.”
John Murphy Jr., president of McKeon Incorporated Glass and Metal in Philadelphia, is one glazier who says he has been working with Moragne for about 30 years. Murphy says his company does contract glazing projects of all sizes and Moragne has been able to accommodate any need they have ever had. “Typically, we will call him, tell him what we need, show him a design and go over it. He then gives us a price and if we get the job we call to let him know and proceed with the order,” said Murphy. “He’s a great guy to work with and very pleasant. I’ve never had an argument or disagreement with him.” Murphy adds, that having worked with a couple of other sandblasters in the past, he has found that the quality of Moragne’s work is something he doesn’t get elsewhere.
Terry Webb, president of Eureka Metal & Glass, is another contract glazier who has worked with Moragne for more than 30 years. “What separates Tim from others in his field, is [that] he is an artist who sandblasts glass,” said Webb. “He’s the kind of supplier you can bring to a meeting with an architect and an owner, and he handles himself so professionally that he makes it all seem easy.”
Another quality of Moragne that Webb praises is his ability to remain a gentleman, regardless of the situation. “Construction can be such a troublesome profession ... and most people tend to lose sight of their ability to be a good person. Tim doesn’t. Win or loose, he’s a gentleman, and staying calm in the storm is a unique trait,” Webb said.
Working With Architects
Aside from doing an extensive amount of work with contract glaziers, Moragne says his company also does projects for both architects and interior decorators. He adds that he is very selective about the architects and decorators with whom he collaborates. “There are about half a dozen architects we work with. They usually call us for advice or assistance,” he said. If homeowners are looking to add sandblasted glass to their homes, those jobs are done through interior decorators, and Moragne says there are about four companies with which he works. But, he says working with contract glaziers is much easier than working with architects and decorators. When it comes to working with architects and interior decorators, Moragne admits he has much more artistic and creative leeway. “When we get into the design concepts, such as with the fast food chains, we are able to be more creative than we are in working with the contract glaziers,” he said. “When we get involved with the high-end interior decorator projects, such as some of the banks that have large foyers and entranceways featuring lots of heavy glass, we really like that. We have a lot of latitude in those projects with the decorators coming to us for advice on the glass and patterns and so forth.”
Philadelphia’s Graham Building features a double-textured sandblasted design.
Better and Better
Like in any business or industry, those involved (in this case, contract glaziers and architects) continually are looking for ways to not only improve upon their own work, but also are striving to produce works that offer modern, attractive aesthetics. Moragne says he receives lots of calls from architects wanting to know if they have anything new—new designs, techniques, styles and so forth. To meet these needs, Moragne said he will select a couple of his artists to conduct research for the company. “We are going to try and become more creative on our designs and develop new techniques for sandblasting,” he said.
And with more than 30 years in the industry, Moragne says he sees the industry as constantly changing. “Decorative glass has changed in that a lot of glass we are getting is larger,” he said. “When I first started out, tempering was just beginning. Now we receive glass that’s 175 inches long.”
To Moragne, another way the industry has changed is that people are not as honest as they used to be. The dishonesty he faces is similar to a struggle contract glaziers face—getting paid. There was a time, Moragne says, when he never had to send out a billing statement, just an invoice, and the money came in. “Today I have to check references and the bankruptcy line. I did a job a year ago for a hospital in New York and I’m still waiting for the money,” he said.
Despite other trends and techniques taking hold throughout the art glass industry, you can still expect Philadelphia Art Glass to continue turning out sandblasted designs and works for many years to come. “Sandblasting [and art glass] will continue to evolve over the next few years, but will remain a relatively safe way of decorating at a reasonable cost … unlike slumping or fusing which can really add on the costs,” said Moragne. “Sandblasting will always be around.”
Ellen Giard is the managing editor of USGlass magazine.
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