May 1, 2010
Jamie McDonald Gray
From the growing variety and multitude of talented people evident in the Canadian glass scene, you’d think Canada has a glass school in every major city churning out master glass craftspeople with factory efficiency. Not so. Canada has only three schools providing a focus on glass technique. And each of these cuts loose only a handful of graduates every year. What is it then that makes glass students stick to their chosen medium in higher numbers and go on to be great representatives of Canada on the world glass scene? Is it any particular school’s exit strategy? Ex-school support? Glass community networking and mentoring? Is it simply an extreme love of the craft? It’s worthwhile to examine what makes each of our great glass schools tick.
Firstly, it’s important to note that there is no doubt whatsoever that there are many glass artists and craftspeople who have never set foot within institutionalized art education, and yet are nevertheless making interesting work, providing great teaching, and being key contributors to networking in their communities. That’s a given. Passion and commitment to our medium does not require formalized education. However, a small handful of people in Canada choose each year to pursue a structured, academic method of learning glass techniques to the exclusion of all else. In order to provide an in-depth report on these, three students, one from each of Canada’s glass schools, have been polled. Alexandre Hupe at Espace Verre, Jen Van Herten at Sheridan College, and Jeff Rodier at the Alberta College of Art + Design have all contributed key information on the current state of affairs in their schools’ glass departments.
Espace Verre, Montreal
Montreal is home to Espace Verre, founded in 1983 by a collective headed up by glass masters Ronald Labelle and François Houdé. In 1989, Espace VERRE joined up with the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal and so now offers a Diploma of College Studies (DEC) in fine crafts with a glass option. Espace Verre is the only school in Canada where the focus is entirely on glass.
Alexandre Hupe, Espace Verre student representative to the Glass Art Association of Canada, says the atmosphere is very positive because everyone there loves what they do. There is much shared curiosity and discussion, with technical questions answered freely by anyone who has the information. Teamwork is strong and the students are free to choose projects that interest them for any particular technique being taught. Graduating students show as a group at the end of the year at a local gallery. Also at the end of each year, the students’ work is celebrated with a Journée Critique (Critique Day) in which students exhibit their final projects, and both students and instructors weigh in with comments in order to help everyone else with their artistic development. The school has a solid administrative team headed up by Christian Poulin. Alexandre says that the school technician, François Perrault, is integral to the success of the program. Fundraising activities assist the students to attend functions such as the GAAC conference. It’s exciting that the conference will be hosted by Espace Verre this year.
Sheridan College, Oakville
The glass department at Sheridan College is part of the Craft and Design Program, which is part of the School of Animation, Arts and Design. Current student Jen Van Herten says that the program is evolving in exciting ways. While Dan Crichton was certainly a central character to the original development of the Sheridan glass program, today’s students would likely point to Koen Vanderstukken as a major influence. Koen came to Sheridan from Belgium, bringing with him an extensive knowledge of teaching, working with glass, working internationally, and working collaboratively. Under his guidance, the program has adopted a sharper focus on content and quality. He calls on each of his students to challenge what they believe about art history, and to push the boundaries of what is being done in the art world today.
Jen says that she believes the best part about the glass program at Sheridan is the breadth of artistic focus. While the program has historically been focused around glass blowing and the hot shop, a new strategy has allowed for students to focus on their own areas of specialty. This can now include kiln forming, flameworking, sand casting / hot casting, engraving and coldworking. Students are encouraged to think as seriously about concept as technique. And Sheridan’s knowledgeable faculty is always on hand to advise students on the most effective way of creating their work.
Sheridan’s glass students have opportunities to show their work a minimum of twice per year within the school’s own gallery facilities. Those in their graduating year have even more opportunities to exhibit, both within and outside the school environment, including galleries in Toronto and Hamilton. This is just one way in which Sheridan provides its graduates the necessary tools for success upon graduation.
Alberta College of Art + Design, Calgary
Calgary is a bit of a dichotomy. A growing and evolving city of more than a million people, it has nevertheless preserved its small-town feel. Jeff Rodier, ACAD student representative to GAAC, says that that outlook is reflected well at ACAD, where the studios are filled with a friendly, helpful vibe. The glass community is small but strongly connected both within the school and to the overall glass scene outside of it. This is largely due to both the regular return of glass alumni to the college as visiting artists as well as the influx of international glass artists-in-residence. The exciting diversity this provides offers a variety of challenges for the students, pushing them to new limits in concept, design and technique. This year alone, the glass department welcomed Dante Marioni, Paul Marioni, CUD (John Drury and Robbie Miller), and Carrie Iverson as short-term artists-in-residence, and Jane Bruce has been in residence for the full winter term helping mentor this year’s graduates through their final projects and out the door. The faculty and technicians of the glass department are a cast of key players in their own right in the glass world, providing a wide spectrum of expertise to the students.
ACAD’s glass department was founded by Norman Faulkner in the late 1970’s, where it began as a sub-set of the ceramics department. Jeff notes that the glass department still shares the same floor in the college as the ceramics, sculpture, and print media departments, who make great neighbours. The first graduate of the program was Marty Kaufman in 1982. ACAD became a degree-granting institution in 1995, putting into place a four-year BFA program making ACAD the only school in Canada offering a BFA in glass.
Jeff says that yearly events such as the ever-popular Glass Olympics, Mug Nights, the BBQ, the Hotshop Roast, and SmartNight, serve to bring the students, faculty and alumni together as a community to have purposeful fun. Some of those events serve as fund-raisers, which help raise money so that students can be subsidized for travel expenses to international glass schools and conferences. The students show both in groups and individually and everyone celebrates when someone is recognized with a grant, award or other honours. The glass community both within the school and outside of it is close-knit and supportive.
With only three glass schools across the width and breadth of our great country, you might expect competition to be fierce, but no. Competition does indeed exist but just like Espace Verre’s Journée Critiques, Sheridan’s collaborative shows, and ACAD’s Glass Olympics it’s friendly, cooperative and encouraging. There is definitely pride of school but not to the exclusion of an implicit acknowledgement that we’re all in this together; both those who’ve taken the academic track and those who’ve discovered glass on their own. Our glass communities tending to cluster are nevertheless all-inclusive. This makes it easy to explain how it is that when we gather together from all over the country for a conference or meet up at various glass meccas around the world, we often know to whom we’re talking. It never takes us Canadian glass artists long to seek out the other Canucks and get talking shop. It’s a tribute to our glass schools, which help turn out glass artists and craftspeople knowledgeable about the history of our craft, curious to explore new processes and techniques, well-supported as alumni, and well-connected to the outside glass community. Class acts indeed.
Many thanks to the three students who generously took time out of their busy academic schedules to contribute information about their schools. Alexandre, Jen and Jeff, your key insights into your schools’ inner workings have helped us to know and understand better both Canada’s history and future in glass.
Jamie McDonald Gray is a recent graduate of the glass program at the Alberta College of Art + Design, as well as coordinator of the Calgary Warm Glass Guild, contributor to the Calgary Glass Initiative, and on the Board of Directors for the Glass Art Association of Canada. Clearly, to her, networking in the glass community matters!