Attrape moi by Catherine Labonté


David James

The retirement and passing of two of its pioneers has given the Canadian glass community an opportunity to reflect on how it has evolved over almost forty-five years.
The American ceramist who founded the first academic glass program in Canada is putting down his punty. Robert Held introduced glass at Sheridan College, Toronto in 1969 after learning some basics in a summer workshop at Penland, North Carolina.
A year later, Held converted another ceramist to glass who went on to be a pioneer in Europe. Finn Lyngaard of Denmark came to Sheridan to lecture about ceramics. He left seduced by the new material and went on to found the Glasmuseet Ebeltoft. He passed away two years ago.
Held, who turns seventy in March, grew his Vancouver, British Columbia operation into the second largest production hot shop in North America. His works are in shops and galleries across the continent and have been gifts to royalty. Just like the spirited hippie he was in the ‘60s, Held is skipping off with his fiancé to Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast.

Posted 1 May 2014

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Sheridan College was joined in 1975 by a glass program at the Alberta College of Art and Design – ACAD in Calgary and in 1983 by Espace VERRE in Montréal whose program gained college status in 1989. Together, they have graduated some 760 glass artists.

“It’s a very different climate from when I was at Sheridan in the ‘80s”, says Brad Copping, past president of the Glass Art Association of Canada. “At that time, we sold as many vessels as we wanted. Glass blowing reigned supreme and we were eager to set up hot shops!” Copping, whose sculptural works are in museums, says “the market place has become much more sophisticated in its appreciation of glass and if younger artists do not have a production line with their own design sensibility, they may be in tough luck.”

‘Precious Timber’ by Sally McCubbin -photo credit: Will + Raina

Sally McCubbin and her partner Aaron Oussoren operate a Toronto studio, TIMID glass, whose creations exemplify these new exigencies. Thoughtful in design, thoughtful in process efficiency, thoughtful in quality, and thoughtful about their community, they create innovative utilitarian objects as beautiful additions to the home. A minimalist aesthetic pervades their sculptural designs from production equipment to final object.
McCubbin teaches part-time at Sheridan where she graduated eight years ago. Afterwards, like Copping before her and many leading glass artists who are mentoring the next generation, she refined her practice as a three-year resident at the glass studio incubator, Harbourfront Centre, run as part of a multi-faceted not-for-profit cultural program on the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto.
Since its glory holes opened in 1974, Harbourfront Centre has helped some seventy graduates gain their feet before going into their own practice. The centre accepts applications from across Canada and beyond. Director Melanie Egan sees “a rising confidence that one can make different kinds of work or a combination of work  – production, decorative, architectural, sculpture – without suffering some outdated idea of ‘selling out’. It’s positively refreshing.”

That change was hastened at Sheridan in 2006, with the arrival of a new and current head of glass, Koen Vanderstukken, former studio head at the State Institute of Art and Crafts in Mechelen, Belgium. McCubbin says he helped break down the old tension between art/sculpture, craft and design and the hierarchy of methods.
Similarly, at Montréal’s Espace VERRE, director general Christian Poulin relates that blowing and kiln casting were joined by sand casting, kiln work, cold work, neon, multi-media construction and particularly in the past five years by  flame working which is much less expensive for students to set up on their own.

Sally McCubbin: Precious Water

Delirium by Catherine Labonté
Photo: Andrew Gene

Wanna play? by Catherine Labonté p
Photo: Andrew Gene

Several of these currents are encapsulated in the sculptural and production work of Catherine Labonté, who graduated from Espace VERRE in 2002. She has taken the classic form of a bell jar to create drama and humour within.  Sometimes distorted and decorated with screen print applied imagery, Labonté’s bell jars envelop a wooden stage upon which her pâte-de-verre cast crystal animals, with flameworked eyes, perform a story, like the cartoon characters from her youth. Beneath the stage, a little drawer holds a secret to discover.

‘Catch Me’ by Catherine Labonté photo credit: Andrew Gene

‘Flat Depth’ at Harbourfront Centre by Rachael Wong
Photo: Rachael Wong

Graduates from the college programs are increasingly leaving Canada to pursue further academic and applied education in Europe, Australia and the United States.
After Rachael Wong completed her program at ACAD, she went to Harbourfront Centre and then completed a master of fine arts in sculpture at Alfred University in western New York State in 2009.
Working primarily in installation with blown glass components, Wong’s thesis sculpture received an Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the United States-based International Sculpture Centre and the 2010 Royal Bank of Canada Glass Prize.
Wong’s signature work consists of curvaceous protrusions that seem to emanate from the other side of a pristinely contrasting painted wall. They defy gravity, held in place with shadowy echoes, some painted while others cast by overhead lighting.
Another ACAD graduate, Jaan Poldaas, has gone down under to Australia, which has attracted several Canadians. ACAD’s current head, Kenyan born Natali Rodrigues, helped lead the way ten years ago when she was the first Canadian to receive a Master of Arts at the Australia National University’s Canberra School of Art.

‘Red Effect’ by Rachael Wong
Photo: Rachael Wong

Nick Mount, a father of Australian glass, welcomes the exchange of artists and teachers with Canada. “We have to work hard at seeing what is going on in the rest of the world. It is important for us to encourage people from other cultures to come and work with us and we really benefit from what ever it is that they bring with them leave with us if and when they travel on.”
Poldaas, who once tried his hand at graffiti art, headed to Adelaide a few years ago to immerse himself in a production experience that is unique in the world, the JamFactory. Poldaas sold his car, borrowed funds from his parents and scrounged $22,000 to enter the JamFactory’s intense two year associate training program. He reckons he received at least double that value in blowing time alone.

Associates develop a keen sense of business realities as they work collaboratively on JamFactory projects, products and commissions as well as alongside creative staff when developing their own work that may be selected for sale through JamFactory’s shops. For Poldaas, that opportunity came with his sleek Feel Good bowls which he continues to supply to JamFactory.

An inspiration and model for the next generation of Canadian glass artists was Jeff Goodman, who passed away last year at fifty-one years of youth. A preeminent and successful glassblower, his work exudes contemporary design based on a handcrafted tradition.

Goodman started at Sheridan College, went to Harbourfront Centre and on to the University of Illinois where he was named outstanding student of the year and received a Bachelor Fine Arts in 1986 after which he set up Jeff Goodman Studio in Toronto. His experience gave confidence to others to venture forth as well.
Goodman’s passing shocked the community. He was highly valued not only as an artist and designer but also as a mentor and a gentle, quiet and generous man. An exhibition of his work is on at the Ontario Crafts Council in Toronto.

‘Lima Vessels’ by Jeff Goodman
Photo: Jeff Goodman studio

Koen Vanderstukken
Virtual reality 10-15-05
49 x 36 x 36 cm

Robert Held Glass
Sheridan College
Alberta College of Art and Design
Espace VERRE
Brad Copping   
Sally McCubbin / TIMID glass
Harbourfront Centre
Koen Vanderstukken
Catherine Labonté
Rachael Wong
Jaan Poldaas
Natali Rodrigues
Nick Mount
The JamFactory
Jeff Goodman
Glass Art Association of Canada – GAAC
David James
David James is a Canadian sculptor in cast glass and stone. Canada’s ministry of Heritage has designated his works as having outstanding significance and national importance. They are exhibited in Europe and North America and are in corporate, private and museum collections. James has served on the board of the Glass Art Association of Canada.

Published in Fjoezzz 1/2013

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