I was sitting in ceramics class at school attempting to blow into a hand built vessel when the spark for glass blowing reignited within me. I guess to say reignite would be false as the flame never went out, I merely suffocated it with my need to connect deeply with my children and be a mother in the early years of their lives. Glass to me is like an addiction, an obsession. Something I needed to cut off cold turkey to make space for my new family. I knew I couldn’t find balance at this point in my life with two very separate things I loved so much. And it was strangely easy, in the most natural way of being human, to fall deeply in love and care for my children while I pretended I would never glass blow again. Pretending was the only way I could cope and this allowed space into my family life without my career competing with those tiny snuggles I could never take back.
You could say the timing was perfect when I came across glass blowing again at a quaint little studio in the back end of Campbell River. My kids were well old enough to drive me to the point of yearning for a little solitude and re-claiming of myself, as I had begun to feel like some vague interpretation of who I used to be. I had forgotten what silence was, so the forty minute car ride to and from the neighbouring town become a time of reflection and inspiration. I am a big believer in timing and I knew when all things fell into place that this new adventure in glass was meant to be. And I cannot tell you how good it feels to have found my way back here.
Glass, like all other art forms and professions has community and while this community is amazing and special it can also at times be so well established that a pattern cannot be broken. Leaving one as a mere spectator on the side lines to observe something but not partake. I was so fortunate to be warmly welcomed into an amazing little studio run by glass artist Bob McLeod and his multi-talented wife Shannon Proctor McLeod. Their studio was one that moved over from Quadra Island to Campbell River and was previously named the "I blew it” studio, run by glass artist Cherie Hemmingsen. Interestingly enough when I was first trying to find a place to learn to blow glass in 2009/2010 during my first visit to Canada I had contacted Cherie but it didn’t work out back then and I went on to study glass at the Wanganui Glass School in New Zealand. So how serendipitous it is that I am working with two of her prized assistants, in a studio she helped establish.
This studio not only made me feel welcome but it has something magical about it that is simple and offers me to find my glass blowing groove within its premises. Something that doesn’t happen with every studio you enter. The energy is light and free with just the right amount of intensity to keep the blowing fun, challenging and the skill level developing. Boundaries with the glass are able to be pushed and its always that much better having a great assistant or two so the glass dance can be performed in all its glory.
Not only is it fun being the gaffer or blower working the glass. It is also really special to be an assistant to another artist. The assistant will bring attachments of glass, offer heat protection, make sure working paper stays wet, offer air to the gaffer, bring a punti to help with the glass transfer and generally just stay in the background keeping the blowing bench tidy and thinking many steps ahead so the process can be as flawless as possible for the gaffer. I have been honoured enough to assist for many of New Zealands most prestigious glass blowers including David Traub, Katie Brown, Keith Grinter and finally Lyndsay Patterson with whom I was one of the assistants blowing glass for the movie, The Hobbit. I was also fortunate enough to work with Canadian glass artists Julia Reimer and Tyler Rock in the small town of Black Diamond when I first moved to Canada and was pregnant with my eldest Son. All of these different artists have brought excitement and skill sets that have helped me to grow as an artist and I loved being involved in their blowing processes to help their art be a success.
There is something so mesmerizing about not only the process of glassblowing but the studio itself. There is a warmth and glow that emanates from the studio entrance (often a large factory like roll up door) inviting in passers-by and the smells of burning newspaper or charred wood as it makes contact with the thousand degree molten glass in a bid to tame it, create smells that are unique to the art. While working with glass all aspects are magical. The transparent clean state of glowing clear glass holds the most brilliance of all and capturing bubbles with or without the assistance of baking soda is always an instant people pleaser. The numerous applications of colour and changing of this colour throughout the heating and cooling process is an art in itself. Watching a trimmed lip reveal its colours while cooling on the floor offers a glimpse of what the final product will hold. Wrapping red hot trails around a parison and feathering or cutting applications of glass for effect keep mystery in the glass as you wont really know the final results until the glass has slowly cooled over night in the annealer down to about 80 degrees Celsius. Other highlights involve the punti transfer aka. Magician act, blowing a bowl onto newspaper on the ground, swinging the blowing iron to elongate the glass or heating a bowl form in just the right way that you can quickly spin it out into a plate of platter shape.
Making glass is such a special art form and I feel so at home and at peace while I am working in its presence. I love to use my hands while I am creating so being able to hold just newspaper between my hand and 1000 degree glass really allows for me feel at one and in control of the medium.
All this writing is making me wriggle. Like I just could just be in there now, hand covered in ash from the newspaper, a little deposit on my face, sweat dripping down my back and a burn on my arm from some silly encounter with the blowing iron, but i'm not even noticing. It takes me to that place, that exists only when you have found your passion. It keeps me there, bathing in the glory of being fully immersed and present in the process of making.
Of making beautiful things, of making mistakes, of making masterpieces. But most importantly of all,
Of making Me.
Thank-you to Shannon & Bob McLeod for their support and generosity. www.bobmcleodglass.ca
Thank-you to Vince Kehn for the amazing studio photos. @capnvini