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Blown Away

Celebrating 40 years of Annieglass’s award-winning art with a special anniversary collection—and Valentine's offerings, too.
PUBLISHED ON
January 30, 2024

Words by Melanie Haiken
Photos by Kelsey Wisdom

It was 40 years ago last June when 25-year-old Annie Morhauser walked into the Santa Cruz County business registry to file the paperwork for Annieglass, armed with nothing more than $200 cash and a credit card she was prepared to max out.

She quit her day job the next day, and never looked back. “I still can’t quite believe I did that—what was I thinking?” she laughs. “I was stubborn, and I had big ideas.”

Looking back now, the company’s success story glows like the jewel-hued glassware that lines the shelves of its Watsonville factory, which produces up to 200 pieces a day for 24 different collections. The weighty, gold- and platinum-fused pieces adorn tables in the Vatican and numerous luxury hotels, including Post Ranch Inn and select Ritz-Carltons, and enliven the homes of A-list celebrities like Oprah, Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Khloé Kardashian.

Annieglass's pieces adorn tables in the Vatican and enliven the homes of A-list celebrities from Oprah to Jennifer Aniston.

While Watsonville may seem a bit off the beaten path, Annieglass is very much in the public eye. Morhauser has two pieces in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection as part of the Luce Foundation Center for American Art, which features American folk artists and contemporary craft—a feat that almost didn’t happen when she threw the invitation away, thinking it was a joke. She almost repeated the mistake with the follow-up invitation to dine at the White House with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. (Her manager fished both invites out of the trash.) 

Local tributes have been just as storied, with numerous awards over the years including Morhauser being named Santa Cruz County Artist of the Year in 2022. 

While she was born in Camden, New Jersey, Morhauser considers herself very much a Californian, having lived here since she arrived to study at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in Oakland in the mid-1970s. Graduating in 1979, she followed a surfer beau to Santa Cruz, first working on a farm and then in a glass studio in Capitola.

The slower pace of life took some getting used to, Morhauser says. “Back in Oakland and San Francisco there were gallery openings every week, there were so many studios to visit, there was just so much to do. And when I got here at first I thought, there’s nothing going on here. But that turned out to be a good thing, because I wasn't distracted. I could just hole up in my studio and really work on my art. I’d come out for air and be like, “Oh, what time is it?’”

Annie Morhauser and daughter Ava Reinhold at their Watsonville studio.

Morhauser threw her invitation to the Smithsonian away, thinking it was a joke.

Morhauser’s process, which she calls slumped glass, is endlessly complex in its variations.

In 1996, after more than a decade of rapid expansion, Morhauser purchased an old warehouse in Watsonville, which she transformed into a light-filled 16,000-square-foot facility that houses all aspects of Annieglass’s production, from making the glassware to storing and shipping.

Morhauser’s process, which she calls slumped glass, sounds relatively simple but is endlessly complex in its variations and ability to surprise. Starting with everyday window glass cut into shapes such as circles and ovals, Morhauser and her team hand paint the glass in 24-karat gold or platinum, then kiln-fire it in ceramic molds at very high heat. The combination of heat and gravity causes the glass to drape over the mold and fuses the precious metals in place. Over the years, Morhauser’s designs have evolved to include numerous other techniques; for the Edgey line, the glass is hand-chipped around the edges before firing, giving it an organic appearance, like crystal carved from nature. 

“I take a lot of pride in being an American artisan working on this ancient craft of glassmaking.” 

<div class="quote-attribute">Annie Morhauser</div>

The beauty of the region is a source of endless inspiration, she says. “I look out my window and I'm looking at acres and acres of strawberry fields, and then I see the fog starting to roll in, and it’s so magical. I’m just hypnotized,” she says. “And then there’s the beautiful texture of the ocean with the wind against the water and how it’s always changing; I try to get texture into the glass by showing the brush strokes on every piece.”

She makes it a point to evolve with the times, describing a point a few years ago when she had heard enough comments from younger buyers about how their mothers loved her work. That prompted her to launch new lines that appealed to younger buyers with less formal taste. Like the Elements collection, made entirely from glass recycled from factory scrap, with undulating lines and an aquamarine hue reminiscent of Pacific surf. 

And she’s not stopping; fall saw the introduction of a new line, Mosaic, featuring octagonal plates rimmed with an intricate pattern of 24K gold reminiscent of the tilework of Florence, her Italian mother’s birthplace. She’s even gone back to school part time to study new techniques and is developing a new process for recycling glass so innovative she recently applied for a patent.

Behind the scenes at Annieglass's 16,000-square-foot facility in Watsonville.

Taking a tour of Annieglass is to be wowed by the sheer scale of the operation, which can produce up to 600 pieces a day, as well as the precision and skill required for the process, which begins with cutting the glass into precise shapes using a computer-controlled waterjet. The journey continues through every step, which includes cleaning, slumping, firing, sandblasting, and engraving. Many visitors come simply for the gift shop, which displays an extensive collection of Annieglass including “seconds”—flawed pieces sold at up to 40 percent discount. 

Along the way Morhauser had two children, Taylor and Ava Reinhold, both of whom followed their mother into the arts. A noted painter and muralist, Taylor is known for directing the Sea Walls project in Santa Cruz, leading a team of artists to create the 20 neon-hued paintings of sharks, whales, octopi, and undersea life that enliven walls around town. Ava is gradually taking over Annieglass, allowing her mother to step back from day-to-day operations and focus on special projects. “It was Ava’s idea to expand the tours and make Annieglass more of a destination for visitors,” Morhauser says. “At first we're like, what, are we crazy? Nobody's going to come here, it's in the middle of nowhere.” But come they do, both to the store and the tours, which are free and take place every Friday and Saturday at 1:30 p.m. 

Taking a tour of Annieglass is to be wowed by the sheer scale of the operation, which can produce up to 600 pieces a day.

In 2019, following Ava’s inspiration, they added the Craftbar, a maker space where they hold day-long workshops in glass decorating, watercolor painting, and more. Morhauser herself teaches the Make-a-Plate workshop, in which would-be glassmakers learn to draw designs on sandblasted glass plates using specialized wax crayons and stencils. Once decorated, the plates are fired in the kiln and shipped to each attendee.

With success comes social responsibility in Morhauser’s ethos, and Annieglass donates to 365 different nonprofits, raising more than $100,000 for children’s cancer service provider Jacob’s Heart and providing scholarships to local high school students. Morhauser twice served as co-chair of the Second Harvest Food Bank's annual holiday drives, which raised more than one million dollars for the organization.

While four decades of success is undeniably sweet, Morhauser tends to focus on other things. She’s proud of her close-knit staff, many of whom have been with Annieglass for decades, the sustainability of her products, and of the fact that she’s never succumbed to the temptation to outsource any portion of production. “Annieglass has always been handmade entirely in California,” she says. “I take a lot of pride in being an American artisan working on this ancient craft of glassmaking.” 

Visit annieglass.com for upcoming workshops at the Craftbar, plus tours, and events.<img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/6457f19f1c1e1601e2c9c3f6/6487a9355b63a6818c705cea_CC-Icon--20.svg"alt="CC"height="20" width="20">

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San Francisco-based journalist Melanie Haiken writes about travel, science, health and the environment for dozens of publications including National Geographic, BBC, Condé Nast Traveler, CNN, AFAR, and AARP. She shares her adventures and travel tips at Health-Conscious.Travel.com.

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