When Dan Lillie pioneered his own glassblowing business in 1955, he had no idea it would become a family business that would occupy him into his 85th year of life.
“It’s an accomplishment and you can work with your hands and end up with something that is aesthetic, pleasing; it’s a reward,” said Lillie, who founded Lillie Glassblowers. “A computer can’t give you that same satisfaction.”
Lillie, a Minnesota native, moved to Atlanta in 1955 to continue his college education at Georgia Tech and to take a job as Georgia Tech’s first glassblower. As a glassblower at Georgia Tech, Lillie made and repaired lab equipment.
“It took forever,” Lillie recalled of learning how to blow glass. “You have to have good depth perception and sometimes a good artistic ability, and a scientific knowledge doesn’t hurt either.”
Lillie graduated from Georgia Tech in 1959 with a degree in physics and then moved to Smyrna.
“When I graduated and Tech offered me a research scientist position, all of my friends were moving to the Emory area,” Lillie remembered. “I came out here when this was still a quiet town and I thought, ‘This is a good place to settle down.’ I didn’t realize it was going to grow around me like weeds.”
Lillie worked at Georgia Tech as a glassblower and research scientist for 30 years before he decided to dive into his glassblowing business full time.
Now, Lillie and his son, Thom, operate the only glassblowing company in the world that makes both artistic sculptures and scientific equipment, Lillie said.
Lillie Glassblowers operates out of a small warehouse that sits on Lake Drive near South Cobb Drive in Smyrna.
Today, Lillie Glassblowers’ clients range from large companies like Glock, which often orders glass trophies, to individuals who sometimes order custom art pieces or custom trophies.
The company also sells their products at a kiosk at the Cobb Galleria Center.
Thom, a Smyrna native, began working at his father’s business for two hours each day during the summer of 1967, when he was just 8 years old.
“At first, I was just putting in my time but then I realized, ‘Hey, I can do this, and I can do it even better than them,’” Thom recalled.
Thom attended Georgia Tech for a few years before deciding to pursue glassblowing.
He then attended Salem Technical Institute in Salem, N.J., where he studied glass technology before moving back to Smyrna to work with his father as a glassblower in 1986.
Lillie said his son picked up glassblowing quickly and has since become highly skilled at the trade.
“He picked it right up,” Lillie said. “He’s amazing, and he can do anything.”
At 85 years old, Lillie says he has no plans to retire from glassblowing anytime soon.
“Why make going to the mailbox to get the paper the highlight of your day when you can do this,” Lillie said.
Lillie will speak about starting his business and how he mastered the trade of blowing glass at the Marietta Museum of History today from 7 to 8 p.m.
Admission is free for museum members and $5 for nonmembers.