Michael Ruh completed the Crafts Council's Injection programme in 2013. Here we find out more about his work and surviving as a small business
‘I’m happy to be working, I love the material and I love working with my hands. Nobody has to say to me, I’ll pay you for that if you make it. I’ll make it because I want to make it,’ says Michael Ruh as we talk about the glassblowing studio he’s been running since 1999. While Michael does the making, his partner Natasha can be found behind the scenes, working on anything from the website to the bookkeeping.
Michael and Natasha shared their place on the Injection programme with the aim of becoming more deliberate in their business planning. Michael, specifically, was hunting for communication tools, ways to brand and market their studio. ‘It’s about clarifying the message. What values are we selling? It’s more than glass,’ he says, ‘I’m on a journey to find out.’
The studio has come through a difficult period at the start of the financial crisis surviving, rather ingeniously, with Michael taking a job demonstrating glassblowing on a cruise ship (run by the Corning Museum of Glass) while the studio space was leased out to the television programme Mastercrafts. Thankfully work began to pick up and while neither Michael nor Natasha are naive enough to think they can futureproof their business, through Injection they are now prioritising the work that can garner them more profit. The immediate future brings two such projects, the first is getting an online shop setup so the studio can sell the work it produces straight to its clients and the second is product development for larger brands. These are changes that Michael and Natasha have wanted to make for a long time, however, the couple confess, ‘we’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted from holding business meetings, now we’re focusing’.
Success, growth and longevity may be the future for the studio but, one thing’s for sure, Michael and his products are so inextricably linked, that his workmanship is at the centre of the business: ‘The gesture of my movement is what my work is about. It’s made by hand, by me. It’s not just a glass’ he says picking up one of his cups from the table in front of us, ‘Each one of these is different and I’ve been trying for years to make them the same, but they’re not. That’s what’s special about them.’ Looks like that elusive message is beginning to reveal itself.