Renowned Nourot Glass Studio marks its 35th year
By Tony Burchyns/ Times-Herald, Vallejo
Years before he and his wife sold glasswork to the White House and Pope John Paul II, Michael Nourot got thrown out of Fairfield High School.
The 60-year-old Benicia resident said he and some other students were briefly expelled for publishing an underground newspaper that challenged school authorities.
Fortunately, he said, one student's family knew a lawyer who helped reinstate them on First Amendment grounds.
And that's when Nourot said he decided to grow his distinctive handlebar mustache. He still sports one today.
"Times were changing," Nourot said of Fairfield in the late 1960s. "And the town didn't like it."
Today Nourot and his wife, Ann Corcoran, are model citizens in the eyes of local government officials.
The couple last month celebrated the 35th anniversary of the renowned Benicia glass studio, earning City Council proclamation.
Over the years, Nourot Glass Studio's notable commissions have included President Ronald Reagan, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, Hewlett-Packard and George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. Those are only a few of the studio's high-profile customers.
In 1987, the Archdiocese of San Francisco commissioned the couple to create 1,200 communion dishes, wine and water pitchers and other items for the pope's Mass at Candlestick Park.
"At one point, President Clinton and the Pope owed us money," Corcoran said. "That was cool."
Despite all the publicity they've gotten through the years for their unique, handmade crafts, Nourot said it was fantastic to receive council recognition in his hometown.
"It's great not only having lived in this town and started the glass studio, but watching the town grow and change," Nourot said. "It's the kind of town where you're either in the parade or at the parade."
After graduating in 1972 from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Nourot traveled to Mexico to study weaving and tapestry. Before that, he studied glass as one of the original 16 students at Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash., where he helped build the first roofing structure over the school's furnace room.
After spending time in Venice, Italy, following graduation, Nourot founded his first glass works, Light Opera, in San Francisco in 1973. Using cullet melting furnaces, the studio produced glass pieces in purples, cobalts and enamels.
Corcoran joined Nourot at Light Opera in Ghiradelli Square as a collaborator. The working relationship grew into a partnership, and into a marriage in 1974.
Plans to move the studio to larger digs materialized in 1974. Nourot secured an industrial space in the old Yuba building. The current location at 675 East H St. was purchased in June 1987 with former partner, Smyers Glass. A new gallery was added along with furnaces and blow rooms.
The studio keepers also built a koi pond behind the furnace room.
Corcoran described the business as a labor of love. She also compared it to running a bakery because of the early morning hours.
"You have to be up before dawn to heat up the glory hole, put water in buckets, clean the tools, sweep the floors ... feed the fish," she said with a laugh.
The studio has four employees, including the couple's 26-year-old son, Nicholas Nourot.
All pieces are hand-blown using in-house materials and formulas. No molds are used.
"I feel like we've been making some of our best work in the last two years," Nourot said. "It's an art, but it's a craft, too. You just get better as you work more."
Despite a recent drop in sales due to the recession, the studio is still going strong, the couple said.
"Basically, we just want to be artists, but we have to be business people too," Nourot said. "It's a little difficult."