I first met Jill Davis at a trade show shortly after calling it quits in Seattle and moving back East. Her scarlet-streaked hair was in cultural contrast to her otherwise conventional attire and professionalism. After five years in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s funkiest neighborhood, I associated Crayola-colored hair with young women who wore petticoats on top of dresses, were pierced like a hound dog in a porcupine patch, or claimed membership in Dykes on Bikes. Jill clearly was not one of them. (Only later did I learn her past did include a flirtation with heavy metal fashion, AND a 5-year stint in Seattle.)
She claims, “My car made me do it!” She had earned a BFA with an unlikely double-major in furniture and glass, not because she vacillated between the two but because she intended to make glass furniture! And she was . . .and doing quite well, too. Partial to financial security, however, she also had a ‘real’ job working for another artist, but in the post-9/11 economy neither source was going to fund a replacement for her car. With the odometer pushing 200,000, the Car Project was born.
Her challenge was to create and sell enough small glass gift items at craft fairs to secure a down payment that would keep her monthly expenses low. A year later saw hyper-success when she purchased her new car for cash! Another year-long challenge determined the financial feasibility of a full-time, hand blown glass gift venture, and Henrietta Glass became a reality. So this emerging fine artist who had designed clothing for Boston boutiques when still in high school and was the first glass major (and a girl, too) to graduate from Parsons School of Design, summoned up her considerable confidence and became an entrepreneur.
Her collection of 14 handmade items are sensibly conceived, beautifully designed, well executed, and priced to sell. Over time I’ve observed that she’s mastered the art of business as well as the art of glass. Her explanation is that her rigorous design education, which also includes an MFA from RISD, taught her creativity, analytical thinking, and problem solving — core skills for both art and business. While I’ll agree with the core skills she identified, I’m not sure they’re an outcome of a rigorous art curriculum. I work with a few hundred artists, and I can say with all certainty that the majority of them did not pick up business skills along with that art school diploma. There is something indefinable, a je ne sais quoi, that separates the wheat from the chaff in art and in business. Jill has it for both.
Henrietta Glass is located in Providence RI, and besides Jill, employs 5 people and sells to over 500 retail outlets. Best sellers are Mom’s little vase, ring holders, and bottle stoppers. When not designing the next new-product introduction, doing her own marketing photography, or blowing 100 – 200 test pieces of a new item, Jill likes to track down the remnants, particularly stone (as I guess there wasn’t any glass), of ancient civilizations. Photo: Jill holding a three-toed sloth on a recent trip to Machu Picchu.