At Tandem Glass, Charlie Jenkins and Terrill Waldman work with fire, color, and molten glass to created one-of-a-kind light fixtures and inspired housewares.
The windows at Tandem Glass in Dresden shimmer with color—crimson and mango stripes twist up some vessels, while leek green and lavender shimmy down others. The stationary vases, pitchers, glasses, and lampshades seem to move as I move around them, but it’s only the effect of summer light on so many vivid colors. This illusion points to their creation, a process that plays out similar to choreography, explains Charlie Jenkins. “Each piece requires a formula of moves with two or more people working on one thing,” he says. “Just like dancing.”
Jenkins and his partner, Terrill Waldman, have been blowing glass together for decades. The couple met in a glassblowing studio in California 20 years ago, and for a while they worked together in Berkeley. They made the move to Maine 11 years ago, where they started Tandem, a name that nods to their collaborative style. While they work on every piece together, they keep their artistic visions separate. Sometimes one partner leads the dance, sometimes the other. “We rely on each other’s skill set and knowledge,” says Waldman. “When we get a new commission, or begin working on a piece, we’ll sit down and figure out who is best suited to make it.” Waldman is particularly adept at color mixing and studies color theory, while Jenkins is self-admittedly “more of a technician in the hot shop.”
“We both run every aspect of the business and wear every hat,” Jenkins says. “That’s why it works,” adds Waldman.
For readers who have never seen a glassblowing demonstration, it goes a little something like this: One artist is “on the pipe,” holding a long metal rod. At the end of the metal pipe is a ball of molten glass that flows and moves “like honey,” says Waldman. (“It feels like you are sculpting light,” says Jenkins.) While the blower pushes air through the rod and into the glass ball, inflating it like a balloon, the other person serves as their assistant. They provide metal tools to the blower for shaping the ball of hot glass. The blower pinches it with big metal tweezers or rolls it between metal paddles. The glass changes form, shifting from molten goo to a recognizable shape (cup, pitcher, lampshade, and so forth) in a matter of minutes.
In the decades that Jenkins and Waldman have worked together, they have created glass pieces for a wide variety of clients. They spent ten years doing commissioned work in California for clients like Disney, P.F. Chang’s, and the Cheesecake Factory. “We’ve had the full spectrum,” says Waldman. “We’ve worked with big corporations and small architectural firms, and we’ve worked directly with clients.” Since moving to Maine, they’ve shifted their focus to smaller clients and personal projects.
They blew a series of light fixtures for Henry and Marty Restaurant and Catering in Brunswick, pieces that Waldman describes as “sexy peanuts,” and they’ve worked with the television show Maine Cabin Masters to design custom fixtures for rustic Maine cottages. They also create their own pieces, which they sell out of their spacious cedar-sided barn studio and at galleries throughout Maine. On the wood shelves, they have animal-shaped pitchers (made by Jenkins) and bulbous gray-green vases (made by Waldman). But, while some pieces are clearly the work of either Jenkins or Waldman, other items are harder to categorize. “There’s a lot of cross-pollination that goes on,” admits Waldman. Jenkins chimes in to add, “Our aesthetic is similar and compatible, but often our approach is very different.”
For me, someone who works best alone, the fluidity with which they trade roles is baffling. They make it seem so easy. They don’t finish each other’s sentences, exactly, nor do they speak in tandem. Instead, they switch off seamlessly throughout our conversation. One artist makes a statement, the other clarifies and expands on the thought. One artist provides an allegory, the other builds upon it. It’s inspiring to be around people like this—the work is clearly paramount, more important than egos. I wonder aloud how long it took them to reach this point, or if they ever trip up. “Some days it’s impossible not to step on each other’s toes,” Jenkins says. “But we have to feel totally equal in order for us each to feel comfortable enough to express ourselves. As soon as there is a tie-up, as soon as I attach myself to her aesthetic or vice versa, it bogs us down.”
Their years of practice working together have also primed the couple for other types of cooperative work. Currently, they’re excited about a line of lighting that they’re producing with Christian Becksvoort, a master furniture maker from New Gloucester. Becksvoort, who has a long history of working with the last Shaker community on earth (located on the shores of nearby Sabbathday Lake), has designed a set of deceivingly simple wooden wall-mounting arms to pair with a series of Tandem-made glass lampshades. “He’s known for these dovetails,” explains Jenkins as he runs his hands down the softly gleaming wood, fingertips stopping briefly to rest where a piece of cherry meets its maple counterpart. When paired with the glass lampshade, which is made of white frosted glass and resembles an urchin’s shell, the result is otherworldly and elegant, like something you might find in a Kay Nielsen illustration.
The piece I saw was a work in progress, so it’s possible the design will change before Jenkins, Waldman, and Becksvoort feel fully satisfied with their glass-and-wood lighting fixture. “There are technical challenges in this line that feel really exciting,” Waldman says as she turns over the urchin in her hands. It appears so fragile, but one touch shows that it’s not. The cold glass feels solid and stable—a far cry from its fiery protean state. I imagine I’ll be seeing these lamps making their way into Maine Home+Design features in the near future, but in the meantime, I’m left thinking about the natural properties of glass. It’s a material we encounter every day, and yet, seen in the right light, it reveals its true dualistic nature. It’s fluid and rigid, clear and colorful, organic and manmade. Perhaps Jenkins said it best: “It’s the most magical material to work with. It’s as close to working directly with light as you can ever get.”