Riddle: What work can be done in shorts and a t-shirt and preferably during a frigid Alberta winter?
Answer: Glassblowing of course; standing in front of a 2300 deg Fahrenheit gas furnace!
Darren Petersen of Sparrow Glassworks has been working with glass for 23 years and independently making a living doing it for the past 15 years along with his wife Deborah who is also an artisan. While most Red Deer residents may be filling their garages with quads, snowmobiles and snow blowers, Darren and Deborah have filled theirs with a home based glass making studio replete with all the tools of the trade including two gas furnaces, one containing the initial crucible of molten glass, and the other for reheating to maintain malleability while working with the glass.
Darren gave us a demonstration of the glass blowing technique while I tried not to sweat on the camera in the penetrating heat of the furnaces. It was a marvel to watch him work with what is such a delicate and fragile substance in it’s hardened form, but while molten he could manipulate and shape it to his will. He made it look so easy; no doubt a result of his many years of practice, trial and error.
Feel the heat with Darren’s glassblowing demo below!
Darren notes that along with the conventional techniques learned for glassblowing that he has also figured out some of his own tricks to create desired effects. I’m sure thousands of years ago this practice would have appeared mystical, and my lack of understanding of the process from beginning to end certainly left me bewildered, especially once we entered the gallery. The contrast walking from his shop of steel, heat and sweat into the bright, quiet gallery with the finished, handblown creations of coloured and clear glass staring back at us was palpable! All around us were glass objects in the form of drinking vessels, vases, pitchers and ornamental pieces that left my mind struggling to comprehend how they ‘came to be.’
Darren says that there are virtually no limitations to what can be done with glass, and he actively seeks out new and interesting ideas to shape into glass. Not willing to be bound by the safe and well traveled routes through his glass creations, he says that his ‘multiple glassblowing personalities’ allows him to try various undertakings without the constraints of convention. Armed with the knowledge that glass has absolute properties in it’s heated and cooled states, it is quickly evident to him whether a particular experiment will work or not, and so he is not averse to improvising on the fly and an object of one intention may become another as the process unfolds. Regardless of what Darren’s next creation may be, he is always inspired by nature’s beauty as well as a purpose or interconnection of the piece for the appreciator.
From the furnace blast now to the finished glass!
Please click on the image for a larger view:
We hope you enjoyed our interview with Darren as much as we did and please feel free to leave a comment below!
It’s pitch black outside and there’s not a sound to be heard; the only light penetrating the darkness are the billions of stars trillions of miles away on this cool, duvet-worthy night! Our resting place for this evening is at glass-work and macro-photography artist Robert Moeller’s home, an idyllic setting along the banks of the Gatineau River in Wakefield, Quebec. As a fellow Westy owner, Rob understands the more stark living conditions we may subject ourselves to, and so his gracious invitation for a place to park our van, shower and fill up on water was eagerly accepted.
Wakefield is a picturesque town that exudes charm and an atmosphere of relaxation in its natural setting along the Gatineau River. The forested shoreline futilely leans and reaches for the opposite side; the river only giving up it’s span to the brilliantly red, covered foot bridge which emerges as a focal point of the town. Within the beauty of it’s surroundings, it is also an intensely community-minded place, where residents can feel connected not only to nature, but to one another. With inspiration at your doorstep and at every turn, it is no wonder that this area is home to many artists, artisans and crafts people. These are the reasons that Robert chose to make Wakefield his home, and as he conveys images of paddling his canoe to the store to pick up groceries, or swimming in the river on a hot day, I can feel the tug of my own heart strings to this halcyon homestead.
Rob has been working with glass for thirty two years, but in the last seven his focus has shifted from working with stained glass to clear glass infused with colour from various metals, alloys and minerals such as copper, brass and mica. He has also incorporated plants such as ferns and horsetail. The effect is stunning, with the copper changing colour from brilliant blues to ruby reds depending on the number of firings in his kiln. The plants add the organic appeal with nature’s detail captured within the textured glass. Rob notes that he likes to explore his own backyard as well as traveling Westfalia style to other parts of North America to discover fresh ideas. This in part sparked the evolution from more traditional stained glass with its visual appeal to creating textures within the glass itself. Either way, nature is the inspiration behind Rob’s glorious glass work.
Click below to scroll through larger images:
Rob’s foray into macro-photography as an art form evolved from his lifelong interest in observing the world of small things and examining their textures. His shift from selling traditional photographs to his current montage style was a format inspired by an artist at an Ottawa art show. She was combining her paintings, mosaics and all her mixed media work within a montage design of same size squares. This was an “aha!” moment for Rob and the aperture on his lens has been wide open ever since! He combines various square photos of the same size and category into a larger rectangle or square. Ironically, Rob’s intent is for the viewer to be caught off guard by taking in the larger piece first from a distance, and then allow each person’s inquisitiveness to draw them in closer to find a surprise in each individual square. Rob’s goal for a viewers first impression is that the eyes are not drawn to any one picture, but that the individual photos create the overall effect. Once again nature is the prime target for Rob’s lens. The macro images not only allow him to capture nature at its smallest but also allows us to feel its texture with our eyes. What I enjoy about Rob’s work is that he is unfettered about delving into new arenas of creativity. He admits that he can get bored doing repetitive work and so he is always looking for new ways to direct his artistic channels. This can only bode well for his admirers and we certainly look forward to seeing more of Rob’s work!
Our foray into Minnesota was short and was really only a quick passage to the furthest southwestern corner of Ontario where we were in hot pursuit of finding an artist to interview right off the bat. It was not until Barwick, Ontario where we found Emily Hyatt. It was funny how we found her. We stopped to look around the little community of about one hundred residents. Our luck with places to park ourselves and Arty for the night wasn’t working out so well at the point of our stop and so we decided to move on. As we turned back onto the highway, I looked over and noticed the blue plastic outhouse and then Gary saw some picnic tables. We discussed whether or not we should turn around until we reached the outskirts of town and decided it might be worth a look. It turns out we found ourselves looking at the “District of Chapple Complimentary Campground” sign which even included nice cold fresh water and electricity. What a glorious find!
Our other glorious find was walking into the local restaurant to inquire about artists in Barwick and having two nice ladies point us in the direction of Emily Hyatt, the local stained glass artist. They helpfully told us where we could find her and off we went to introduce ourselves. We met Norm, Emily’s husband, who regretfully delivered the news that Emily was away at a workshop in Miami, Manitoba. Norm invited us in and gave us a quick tour of some of Emily’s work and we decided it was worth our while to wait for her return. This was on Saturday, so on Sunday we had a great opportunity to catch up on some work and on Monday we went to see Emily.
Click on the images below to view a large aspect.
Emily took her first stained glass course 32 years ago and has been looking through rose coloured glass ever since. Her desire to pursue the art of stained glass came out of a need to balance a demanding job. She fell in love with the colours, the possibilities and the people. She began working with artist Wayne Barron who is another local talented artist in the Barwick area. He used to teach with Norm at the school. Over the years Emily and Wayne have collaborated on many projects including 35 church windows and a memorial piece for Emily’s parents; Wayne does the design work and Emily brings it to life with the glass. The church windows are commissioned by individuals or families who want to commemorate or honour someone they love. Gary and I stopped to see the ten windows in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Emo as well as the one in the Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Frances.
Like many artists, Emily is humble about her work and feels there is always so much more to learn. She does say that her particular talent lies in picking the colours of glass for a project. She sets the panes of glass in the windows of her studio to watch how the light hits them at all hours of the day. Sometimes the glass will dictate the next project or it will present itself as the perfect choice for a project or commission that she has already been thinking about. For Emily, sometimes this pondering and looking could take up to 2 years before any cutting and shaping even begin.
Emily’s other talent lies in teaching her skills to other enthusiastic proteges. She loves to see that sparkle in their eye’s and know that they too caught the glass bug that she caught long ago. I would love to take a class from her someday!
After we finished chatting with Emily, we were invited to join her for a salmon sandwich, some tortilla chips with homemade salsa, yummy carrot cupcakes and some ice cream with fresh picked raspberries from their garden. Norm arrived home from a hard day at the golf course and we all enjoyed a wonderful lunch and a visit from a pair of Baltimore Orioles (the birds not the ball players). They are stunningly beautiful with their deep orange breast. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Emily and Norm and hope to go back someday for a visit and perhaps a little stained glass lesson for me.
We welcome you to leave a comment for Emily!
The heartbeat of the human spirit is creativity. Many of us tend to think we aren’t creative but it is an element that is woven into the very matrix that makes us human in the first place. Sometimes it takes several attempts when exploring our own creativity before we find what “does it” for us.
Andrea Symons is the first artist that we interviewed as we resumed our trek across Canada and she found her creative addiction in lamp work. Simply put, lamp work is a technique used to manipulate molten glass with a torch into beads and vessels. Every chance she gets, Andrea has been working on her art for the last eight years and there is no doubt she loves what she does. She lives in Pemberton, B.C., where even the most passive creative person would succumb to the beauty that is beholden here.
Andrea exudes a vibrancy that is expressed in her beads and she is quite willing to go down any road to explore new and exciting challenges. The day we met Andrea she was wearing a bead around her neck in the shape of the female torso. I never knew glass could look so sexy! Later when we were in her studio she shared with us the story of her friend who looked at her female torso beads and said “she’s not doing anything”. So after some discussion and some laughter, Andrea set out to put her female torsos to work and now you can find some of them wrapped around a pole. These are very popular with women who use poles as part of their exercise regime. Imagine that!
On a more serious bead note, Andrea has wandered into the world of the Coastal First Nation peoples motifs and has given her own interpretation and style to a glorious series of beads. Her relationship with the people she knows and nature sets her inspiration on fire and it burns right into her beads.
Be sure to watch our interview with Andrea and a little demonstration on lamp work. As well, we welcome you to leave a comment for Andrea.