Like his father back in Shanagarry, Ireland, Pearce, now 50, trained as a potter. Then he began collecting old pub glasses. "I was buying them in junk shops for 50 cents," he recalls. "Suddenly I wondered why no one was making glass like that anymore, glass with individuality and character. Thirty years ago, you could buy well-designed glass, but it was all too perfect. It lacked vitality. Everyone told me, 'That's how it is nowadays. You can't do it the old way.' But I was young and stupid, and I kept going."
After a stint at the Royal College of Art in London ("College is no place to learn a skill"), he apprenticed in Europe; then in 1970 he set up a workshop back home where, he says, "I basically made seconds for a couple of years."
In 1980 he and his American wife, Pia, decided to move to the States. "I was looking for three things," he explains. "Somewhere beautiful to live and work, somewhere with hydroelectric power and somewhere we could do a good retail business. I came over for a month and drove around upstate New York, but I found the mill by pure chance--a friend in Ireland knew someone in Woodstock, Vermont, who knew a real estate agent who had a brochure. So all my driving around was for nothing."