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Producers of glass carvings tackle the U.S. market.

The work of a pair of Northern Ontario artists could be available across Canada and the United States by the end of the year if a deal with a U.S. distributor comes to fruition.

Thunder Bay graphic artist Vesa Peltonen and Elliot Lake glass craftsman Robert Jackson met at last spring's FedNor (Federal Economic Development Initiative in Northern Ontario) Opportunities North trade show in Toronto.

"I'd been searching for an artist for a number of years. Vesa was the only one who gave the idea any serious thought," recalls Jackson, who was the Federal Business Development Bank's (FBDB) 1990 Young Entrepreneur of the Year. "It (glass) is just another medium for him, but he was excited about my work."

Peltonen recalls that Jackson's company, Creative Glass Enterprises Ltd., had a display booth close to his own booth at the trade show.

"He (Jackson) came by, looked at the limited-edition prints I had on display and asked me if I was interested in collaborating on glass sculptures," Peltonen recalls. "He had not found anyone who would commit to a collaboration."

Jackson has created such diverse items as church pulpits, corporate logos and corporate awards. His clients have included Mr. Christie, Neilson-Cadbury, National Grocers and Pelmorex Broadcasting. He has also created glass trophies for the Budweiser and Firestone racing teams.

Peltonen's work is also widely known.

During the past 11 years his limited-edition prints have been used to raise funds for such organizations as the National Ballet of Canada, the Aquatic Museum of Canada and Zoocheck Canada, as well as for the 1981 Canada Summer Games.

The eight-piece, limited-edition collection of glass carvings produced by Peltonen and Jackson includes a humpback whale, two loons, an eagle, an osprey, a wolf and migrating ducks. The most recent addition to the collection is a smoked-glass sculpture of a killer whale.

The handmade carvings take between 15 to 20 minutes each to produce. The images are sandblasted onto sculpted glass which is mounted on a wooden base.

The individual carvings average seven inches in height and sell for between $60 and $120 each, depending on the detail of the image. Each carving is limited to 2,000 copies.

The fact that some of the animals in the series are endangered is no coincidence, according to Peltonen.

"Each of the animals is endangered to some degree. And, hopefully, this will raise concerns and bring about awareness of the problem," he says.

"The images are ghostly, and the medium is symbolic of their endangerment."

Through contact with a Minneapolis-based trading group, Peltonen, who operates Peltonen Design Enterprises Ltd., has been negotiating with a U.S. distributor to include the glass carvings in a catalogue with a distribution of approximately 500,000 copies.

Peltonen is also negotiating to take part in a giftware industry trade show to be held in Minneapolis in June.

"It's all quite exciting," he says. "It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Meeting Rob was good timing, and making contact with the trading group was good timing as well as a matter of perseverance and confidence in our product."

If the foray into the U.S. market is as successful as the two entrepreneurs predict, it could result in a major expansion of Jackson's Elliot Lake operation.

"We'll definitely have to double our workforce," Jackson says, noting that his production facilities recently underwent a $100,000 expansion.

Peltonen says the duo will concentrate on the European market if their U.S. experience proves fruitful.

"We're already established in Canada, and once we get established in the U.S., that will give us the opportunity to work on the European market," he says. "We've set goals that are fairly realistic."

Despite the success of their working relationship, Peltonen and Jackson say it is unlikely that they will close the 400-kilometre gap between their offices.

"Distance has never posed a problem for us," says Peltonen. "The distance makes me focus on the work more. Because of the cost and time of mailing ideas back and forth, I make sure what I send him is a good product."

"If we were in the same office, we'd probably bounce ideas between us all the time and not get as much done."

It takes approximately one month for Jackson to transform one of Peltonen's sketches into a finished product. However, the work now accounts for about 35 per cent of the business at Creative Class Enterprises.

Jackson estimates that the percentage could double if the carvings take hold in the U.S., and he admits that the timing would be good.

"Commercial work in Elliot Lake is stabilizing, and it's not going to be enough to support the business," he says.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Creative Glass Enterprises Ltd.'s Vesa Peltonen and Robert Jackson
Author:Krejlgaard, Chris
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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