Co-Founder of Third Degree Glass Factory Realizes Unique Vision, Continues to Build, Create
SLUH Magazine (Winter 2020-21)
In 1996, Doug Auer '95 began blowing glass as a student at the University of Kansas. The next year he transferred to SIU-Carbondale to study glassblowing while pursuing a degree in Industrial Design. He was hired by Washington University in St. Louis to teach glass blowing in 2000.
In the fall of 2001, he teamed with Jim McKelvey (co-founder of Square, Inc.) to co-found and establish Third Degree Glass Factory (TDGF). He soon transitioned out of his teaching position to build the studio and focus on TDGF’s day-to-day operations. TDGF creates amazing experiences with glass and offers classes, hosts events, creates custom commissions and sells a multitude of unique and stunning work.
In the following Q&A, Auer shares insights and perspectives from his remarkable journey.
What was the most important thing you learned at SLUH?
Men for Others.
What inspired you to start Third Degree Glass Factory?
TDGF is a great example of the complementary relationship that I still have with my co-founder, Jim McKelvey. There's a very frank and simple explanation that Jim and I share when asked this question: Jim didn't have any time and I didn't have any money, while Jim had money and I had time. We both wanted a place to make glass. So I built it, and he paid for it.
What do you love most about your work?
Since 2002, I've had the benefit of a ceaseless flow of problems to solve. More often than not, I love solving these problems.
What has been your greatest professional challenge, and how did you overcome it?
I spend more of my time managing interpersonal relationships than anything else. I joke frequently about how simple things would be if I was just working with robots, or the good 'ol days when there were only three employees versus the forty now spread over the three companies I oversee. As for overcoming this challenge, I won't. I assume it too will be a constantly flowing stream. I plan to just keep paddling.
Can you describe a favorite piece of glass or artwork you created?
Ironically, in light of my last response, my favorite glass works that have come out of TDGF are typically large installations that involve collaboration with other artists on our team. But even simple projects are gratifying, like repairing a broken lampshade for a customer who was convinced that our ability to do so had saved his marriage. People can be a challenge, but the value of a good team far outweighs the perceived conflict and difficulty that can occur when working with others.
What advice can you share for students who wish to become entrepreneurs?
It sounds cliche, but I'd say don't be afraid to dream, stay curious, find your passion and do what you love. For me, the second part of the equation is diligence. People often tell me I am hardworking – there's truth in that, but at the same time I rarely feel like I'm working because I love what I do.
Who was your biggest mentor, and how did he/she impact you?
It’s tough to pick just one, but I'd have to say John Mueller. Mr. Mueller encouraged me to pursue my passion for art during my time at SLUH. His passion was so evident, and his sense of humor, coupled with his ability to engage students of all interest and skill levels, has stuck with me. I wouldn't be where I am today without my time with him at SLUH.
What are your hobbies or passions outside of work?
I love historic renovation. It's now part of my work. I accepted an opportunity, presented to me by Jim McKelvey, to take on a leadership role in the redevelopment of a large section of Delmar surrounding TDGF along with a project to renovate several historic homes in the 5100 block of Enright, just North of TDGF and our relatively new business MADE, a makerspace.
Who is your favorite artist of all time, and why?
M.C. Escher. The use of math, geometry and illusion within his work is inspirational. And that makes sense given that I see glass blowing as the perfect combination of physics meets art. It's a dynamic, fast-paced medium. The relatively short time frame of less than 30 minutes for a typical piece provides the instant gratification that is the perfect answer to my impatience!
If you could create a billboard for the world to see, what would it say?
Be responsible. Create the life of your dreams.
To explore Third Degree Glass Factory, visit www.thirddegreeglassfactory.com.