A small 'underdog' artisan recycling company in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories has just won an international competition that culminated in Long Beach California. It was an out-of-the-ordinary competition and it has landed the Yellowknifers a brand new piece of pretty high-tech equipment.
Old TownGlassworks produces beautiful artisan glassware from recycled bottles and jars on the shores of Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife's Old Town - surrounded by the buzz of float planes, the vibrant energy of the midnight sun and the shimmer of northern lights. Each piece features original northern designs and is individually polished, stenciled - and sand blasted by hand.
The work is done in a small log cabin workshop (the former Hudson’s Bay female staff house built in 1938) nestled into a rock outcropping of the Canadian shield.
At the heart of their operation - huffing, puffing and blasting away - has been a somewhat trusty, ancient, metallic green "Up-cycling Franken-blaster" (a sandblaster used to hand stencil designs onto the glass) purchased second-hand in 1994 from an elderly Uruguayan auto mechanic, who had previously bought it from a farmer down in Alberta. The farmer built the machine himself with schematics from the pages of Popular Mechanics.
The resident mad-scientist mechanic at Old Town Glassworks held this machine together and functioning using an old Rainbow vacuum cleaner as the vacuum source, a 4-liter pickle jar to collect the aluminum-oxide, hundred-mile-an-hour-tape patch work and often-replaced saran wrap windshield protector. It is primarily this TLC that helped the relic survive.
However, the years took their toll on this machine - and that's where the international competition comes in.
IKONICS Imaging (a world leader in imaging technology based out of Duluth, Minnesota) set up the contest after they noticed all the creative and inventive sandblasting machines used in the field they serve. (Sand blasters can be used to 'etch' imagines on various surfaces). They decided an "Ugly Blaster" contest would be an excellent way to highlight all the sandblasting machines and to provide one deserving recipient a machine of their dreams - the company's top-of-the line sandblaster, the CrystalBlastTM Elite. All of the entries would be put on display on the internet, with initial judging taking place there and final judging to taking place at the NBM Trade Show in Long Beach, California - a major trade show for the imaging industry.
In distant, semi-arctic Yellowknife, Old Town Glassworks President Matthew Grogono got wind of the international contest and got on the case.
"We've got one of the whackiest, funkiest sandblasters on the planet," Grogono said, "and I figured we might have a long shot at actually winning the contest."
Grogono pulled his team together, documented the Old Town Glassworks story, gathered up pictures and sent off the information to the United States. As it turned out, the competition was stiff . . . but Yellowknife prevailed!
"We had over seventy entries from across North America and they were all great," said Jessica Wetzel of IKONICS Imaging, "but the entry from Yellowknife captivated the largest number of people who voted. The Old Town Glassworks' story is absolutely unique."
"We couldn't be more pleased," said Matthew Grogono. "We entered an international competition and ended up with an excellent machine. It's a bit of a Cinderella tale for us. We'll be using this piece of equipment for years to come, it'll allow us increased production, finer detail and even better quality."
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