How Tim McFadden turned his passion for glass art into a career

By Tina Irgang

Tim McFadden was pursuing a degree in business marketing at Salisbury University when he fell in love with glass blowing. He put his mind to turning his hobby into a career and launched McFadden Art Glass in an old auto garage on Eastern Avenue. Now, McFadden is getting ready for the next step: launching a space where Baltimore’s creative minds can get together to make things, in the heart of Under Armour’s new home in Port Covington.

Tim McFadden

Tim McFadden dips a blowpipe into a furnace of molten glass.

What got you interested in working with glass?

McFadden: I started blowing glass when I was a freshman at Salisbury University. My older brother was a couple of years ahead of me in school. He was actually blowing glass there, so when I got there, I wanted to try that. My degree was business marketing, but I just kept taking glass to fill all my electives, and then it just slowly started to consume all of my time. … When it was time to graduate, I spent the last year of school putting together a business plan, looking at properties, talking to equipment manufacturers, lining up a bank loan and making some of the business moves to take it from a hobby to a living.

What’s it like to watch people blow glass for the first time?

McFadden: We have beginners come in on a daily basis. It’s exciting for me to see. It’s something that I do every day, but it keeps it fresh, seeing people’s faces when they’re seeing it for the first time. It’s energizing for me to see the response that you get when people are fascinated by what you do. … It’s fun for me to be able to expose sometimes a dozen people, sometimes a hundred people every day to a material that they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to experience.

Are you hoping your sons will take up the trade one day?

McFadden: That would be ideal because I love spending time with them. I spend a lot of time in the glass shop, so it would be nice to be able to do both at the same time — spend time with the boys and be able to share my passion with them. Hopefully, they take to it and are enthusiastic about it as much as I am. Already, both of them are like, “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to college, we’re just going to blow glass with Daddy.”

McFadden Art GlassYou’re launching several small brands related to glass and metalwork through your company Zero Gravity Creations. What plans do you have coming up for those brands?

McFadden: We’re building out a new space down at Port Covington, where Under Armour is opening their new campus. We think that’s going to be a pretty good launch pad for those companies. … We’re going to be in a building called City Garage. The point is to really encourage and create this space where makers of all kinds of different materials are all collaborating and kind of pushing their different materials to evolve into the next great idea. So it’s a lot of companies that aren’t necessarily startups, but are still in the growing stages. They’re all making tangible, quality American handmade products.

What kind of work will you be doing in that space?

McFadden: The studio where we are now, we do custom work, but a lot of it is also the educational side, and the interactive field trips and demonstrations. It really functions more as the learning and educational side of glass blowing, in addition to making custom products for clients. But the company that we’re putting down at City Garage is Magma Build Studios. … It’s an offshoot of the Zero Gravity Creations that focuses on custom build-outs, so we build out office spaces, we build out residential and commercial stuff, we work with design firms and architecture firms. … But Magma Build is still going to be open to the public, and we’ll still have people come in and watch glass blowing. …We just signed our lease. It’s probably going to take us about three months to get through permitting and build the space out, but we will be up and running by the summer — in late May, early June.

You’re a lifelong Baltimorean. What kept you in the city?

McFadden: My family is what kept me in Baltimore, and then my wife’s family just kind of solidified it even more, because she has an even bigger family than I do. It’s just nice to have that support system with the business. My parents will come down and help out at the business occasionally. … I also feel like it’s a really good spot for small business because it’s a large enough city that I don’t feel like we’ll ever run out of potential customers. There’s plenty of people here to keep the business busy, but at the same time, it’s small enough that it’s got a small-town feel, which is really helpful with marketing. When you have a business like mine, a lot of marketing that takes place is not necessarily like trade advertising. The majority of it is word-of-mouth reviews. People coming in, having fun, telling somebody, whether it’s a co-worker or a schoolteacher or a friend.

About Human Element:

Human Element is a regular, web-exclusive column that aims to get to know the leaders behind great companies. Rather than talking about business models and growth strategies, CEOs open up about what motivates and guides them in their professional and personal lives. To be considered for The Human Element, email ahurst@smartceo.com.