Terra Studios promises life after difficult decision

Terra Studios promises life after difficult decision



The first thing Terra Studios executive director Val Gonzalez wants you to know is this: Even though the manufacturing of the famous Terra Studios’ ‘Bluebirds of Happiness’ is coming to an end, Terra Studios is not closing and is, in fact, as vibrant and productive as it has always been — and will remain that way.

“The first news story about this said, ‘No more bluebirds’ — and people took it as ‘No more Terra Studios,’” she says. “So that’s been an uphill battle. Terra Studios is a cool place, even without the bluebirds. What’s even better is that there are real bluebirds out here, and let’s hope we can keep them alive. I’m hoping to remind people that we have this great, creative, little freaky, funky whimsical art park.”

The iconic glass birds were first created by Leo Ward in the early 1980s. Ward, his wife, Rita and son, John, moved to Winslow in the mid-1970s and had gained a reputation as talented artists on the craft circuit when Leo created his first bird.

“They were these little brown birds, and Rita saw them, and there are tons of blue birds on this property — real, live bluebirds — and she said, ‘Can’t you make them blue?’” recounts Gonzalez. They were a hit, almost from the beginning. Terra Studios estimates that around 8 million of the birds have been sold since the first one Leo Ward pulled out of the furnace.

In 1986, the Wards hired James Ulick to manage the property and, around 2007, they retired and sold Terra Studios to Ulick.

“I came to the scene in late 2010,” says Gonzalez. “I think it was at the 2010 music festival when [James] turned to me and said, ‘You know what? We need to turn this place into a nonprofit.’ I said, ‘I’ve been in nonprofits my whole life. No way. We don’t need that. You don’t know what you’re asking for.’”

Despite that, the duo created the nonprofit Using Art to Create a Better World, and Ulick officially signed Terra Studios over to the organization in 2015.

It was that same kind of community eye towards the greater good that led Ulick and Gonzalez to silencing the furnaces permanently, a decision that Gonzalez says took the better part of two years for them to make. The organization runs two furnaces at 2,000 degrees for 24 hours a day for 10 months of the year in order to create the bluebirds, burning about 1 million cubic feet of natural gas each year. The nonprofit has grown increasingly concerned about the resulting environmental impact.

“You can’t turn them off,” explains Gonzalez. “You can’t cool gas; it becomes unstable. Glass has to be molten all the time. And you would ruin your equipment, too.”

When Terra Studios commissioned a mural called “A Better World” based on the United Nations sustainable development goals, says Gonzalez, they were forced to take a hard look at their own, personal carbon footprint, including the damage the furnaces were doing to the environment. After receiving positive support from the nonprofit’s board and Duane Dunn, the man who had been running the glass furnaces since 1987 (he passed away this summer), they came to a decision to cease production. There have been a lot of comments on their decision on social media, says Gonzalez, and not all have been positive.

“We’re ‘political, virtue signaling, ridiculous, crazy, stupid,’” says Gonzalez, ticking off the comments she’s seen. “If you don’t believe in global warming, I guess we’re ridiculous. If you do believe in global warming and think ‘Stopping production is just a drop in the bucket and, therefore, ridiculous,’ I say, ‘If not now, when? If not us, who?’ Stop acting as if the house is on fire, and you just need to jump in the shower, and you’ll be fine. No, the house is on the fire. Do something, even if it’s a drop in the bucket. At least the water is going in the right direction.”

Gonzalez is hopeful that, within a couple of years, technology will have advanced to the point that the birds can go back into production without harming the environment.

INFO — terrastudios.com

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