In Living Color
Fire & Light began in 1995 as a grassroots partnership between the Arcata Community Recycling Center and a group of locals who wanted to turn recycled glass into beautiful, functional products. When the McClurgs rescued Fire & Light from closure in 1999, they had plenty of vision in mind for the struggling company.
Their passion for recycling is obvious in the kaleidoscope of hand-made glass that makes their company unique, but it’s what goes on behind the scenes that shows the McClurgs’ true colors.
Examples of their environmental mindfulness can be found throughout their studio: repurposed local microbrewery kegs act as cooling buckets for ladles, and 1,000 pounds per week of recycled cardboard is reused for packing materials. Even the flooring that supports day-to-day activities is reclaimed metal from an out-of-business local sawmill.
Though today’s economic climate has been tough for Humboldt businesses, the McClurgs strive to build a legacy not only for themselves, but for the small coastal community of
Arcata and Fire & Light employees. “Our employees are just the greatest group of people,” says John. “Through the recession, we’ve all hung in there together.”
During one particularly trying time when the McClurgs were forced to implement layoffs to find their financial footing, employees continued to show their appreciation. “There was a guy who I had moved from day shift to night shift to day shift again, and I had him doing multiple jobs. I walked out to the studio one night to thank him for hanging in there with us, and he looked at me and said, ‘No, thank you for the job,’” says John.
It’s this reciprocity and gratitude that keeps the McClurgs optimistic about the future. “The fact that we’re able to keep jobs local and keep people employed is one of the things that keeps us going,” Natali says.
It’s not just employees who appreciate the McClurgs’ good work; it’s the citizens of Humboldt. “We’ve received postcards from locals who are on vacation and find Fire & Light in a store,” John says. “They’re so proud of the fact that the glass is made here that they send notes to tell us about it. That’s pretty cool.”
The McClurgs have recycled nearly 7 million bottles and jars and have expanded distribution to 600 retail outlets nationwide that offer tableware, art glass and giftware in spectrum of rich colors: celery, olive, plum, twilight, aqua, cobalt, copper, lavender and citrus. “Of the nine colors, seven are produced using more than 91 percent recycled glass,” says Natali.
With art, function, environment and style in mind, artisans blend the age-old tradition of hand-pressed glass with innovative manufacturing practices to turn once-wasted resources into one-of-a kind works of art. And there’s no rushing something so special. Each handcrafted piece takes three days to complete.
Fire & Light enthusiast Angie Lidster has been collecting the art glass for nearly 10 years. A business owner herself, she appreciates the McClurgs’ dedication to community. “What they’re doing is admirable,” she says. “Keeping it local is the only way our economy is going to stay stable.” And as a foodie, she loves the beauty and simplicity the glassware brings to meals, whether casual or formal. “It’s so pretty and so festive. With Fire & Light it’s like a party every day,” she says.
Pieces that don’t make the first cut are sold at Fire & Light’s Annual Seconds Sale in October. The sale draws recycled glass fans from far and wide, with some camping close by the night before the two-day event.
The seconds are popular with those who don’t mind flaws. Though she collects both firsts and seconds, Lidster admits that she prefers her glass with a little character. “I like the uniqueness of each piece,” she says. “I don’t see a bubble as an imperfection. It’s a natural feature, like a freckle.”
Perfect or not, Fire & Light glass has a way of drawing the eye — and the heart — to its luminous glow. Its beauty enchants, but perhaps what makes Fire & Light so special are the stories behind each colorful piece and the artisans who handcraft them, or the McClurgs’ commitment to sustainability and the eco-conscious community of Arcata that supports their vision.
Maybe, it’s all of the above that makes Fire & Light unlike any other glassware on the planet. •