Simon Pearce: Artisan Extraordinaire
By Alison Hendrie
There is a vase, a simple, clear glass creation that evokes both artistry and practicality—a Simon Pearce vase that sums up the artisan and the man. “I design with two things in mind,” says the famed Irish glassblower and craftsman, “beauty and function.” In his lifelong pursuit of both, he has become one of only two producers of high quality clear glass in the U.S. today—the other is Steuben. Since he moved his business from Kilkenny, Ireland to Quechee, Vermont in 1981, Pearce’s company has grown to include four workshops, a number of branded retail stores, a famed restaurant and hundreds of independent retailers carrying his pieces. Not bad for a boy who was told he’d amount to nothing.
A Struggling Student
Growing up in rural Ireland, young Pearce dismayed and frustrated his teacher in the two-room schoolhouse he attended. “The teacher told my parents that I’d never be able to do anything but light the fire and plant trees, both of which I enjoyed immensely,” recalls Pearce with a laugh.
It was a difficult time and place to be struggling with learning disabilities—a then unheard-of concept—and his undiagnosed dyslexia kept Pearce at the bottom of the class.
“I used to hide from school, and not go sometimes. We’d have spelling tests and if you didn’t get 15 out of 20 you got beaten with a stick.”
A boarding school proved no better for Pearce, who wryly remembers: “If I hadn’t been dyslexic, it probably would have been a good experience. But nobody knew anything about dyslexia; it was never diagnosed.”
Support and Confidence
But while the school was saying he was lazy and hopeless, Pearce’s parents were tremendously supportive. Indeed, when Pearce made the decision to quit school at age 15, his parents consented. Or so he thought. It wasn’t until eight years later that he discovered he’d actually been expelled from Newtown school. But while it may not have been his ultimate decision, his parents allowed him to make a choice and feel confident with his judgment.
The family patriarch, Philip Pearce, a sensitive, artistic man credited with helping to revive pottery and ceramics in Ireland, introduced the craft to Simon and his brother Stephen. For Simon, who loved to work with his hands, it was a natural step. Shortly after leaving school Pearce went to New Zealand and studied with a potter there for a couple of years.
When he came back he set up his own pottery shop in Ireland.
Finding His Passion
An interest in antique glass soon steered Pearce in a new direction. “No one was making glass with any character and individuality,” he said. “And so I started a small glass company in Ireland in 1970 and ran it there for 10 years before moving to this country.”
Pearce steadily built his business and honed his skills and those of many apprentice blowers, proving to the world—and perhaps himself—that he wasn’t a failure. But throughout it all, his learning disability remained undiagnosed.
When his first son, Andrew, began having trouble at school, father and son were diagnosed simultaneously. Pearce was 42. “It all started to make sense,” says Pearce. “It was interesting finally to understand what had been going on. Basically, by society’s standards, I was a complete failure; and yet I left school at 15 feeling that I could do whatever I wanted to do in the world.”
Today, Pearce covets success, which he defines differently than many. “What success is for me is my own happiness in the world, not the money, not the success in the eyes of society,” he explains. “It isn’t about the things we can get from outside—I’m not dismissing that, they are important—but when you think all that will bring you happiness, that’s the mistake.”