Hot Glass

Three Peace Area Artists
by Jody Farrell & Wendy Stefansson

Cheryl BrownBeadmaking: Cheryl Brown

Grande Prairie artist Cheryl Brown, widely known for her unique pottery and playful children’s furniture, says her recent passion for glass beadwork is partly fuelled by its immediacy. In no time, she fires up her small studio torch and taking a skinny glass rod from a well-organized assortment of materials, melts it into a bead. From there, she does all manner of pulling and prodding, using “stringers,” or thin, taffy-like wisps of glass to make dots and stripes to render the bead a tiny glass treasure. Further manipulation turns the beads into perfume bottles, witches’ brooms, and glass bobbles. Imaginative new creations appear to Brown in her many “bead dreams.”

“It’s fun to watch,” she says of the process, in which the glass changes colours as it heats and cools. Future plans for the ever-inventive Brown include combining the beadwork with pottery.

Jonathan Kostuk

Lampworking: Jonathan Kostuk

For Grande Prairie artist Jonathan Kostuk, “playing with fire” is admittedly part of the intrigue of lampwork. While this small-scale version of glassblowing, named for its original use of oil lamp and foot pump, has emerged as a leading artform, Kostuk only knows of a handful in Alberta who do the work, particularly using the plastic-glass medium borosilicate (Pyrex.) The artist works over a specialized torch, manipulating and blowing the molten material into finely crafted art including wine glasses, bottles, and pipes. Elaborate lampwork creations are listed online for thousands of dollars.

The interactive process, with glass colours reacting differently to differing flames, demands constant movement and a keen sense of chemistry. Split-second decision-making and skill in using a myriad of special tools is required for turning and blowing the glass. “It’s like getting to make a little universe inside a bubble,” Kostuk says of his love of the work, which he currently does full-time. “It requires using both your brain and your emotions.”

Geri FranceSlumping and Fusing: Geri France

Peace River artist Geri France might be better known in some circles for her work in clay, but the kilns she uses for her pottery are also central to her practice as a glass artist. In them, France fuses together fragments of hand-cut glass, the heat causing the melded mass to slump into the clay or metal mould in which she has placed it. Many of the moulds are themselves Frances’ creations, creativity in one medium spilling over into another. The results are small sculptures or luminous and functional vessels; solid glass suspending bubbles of air, colour and light in elemental forms.

Through years of trial and error the medium itself has been her best teacher. “The more you do it, the more predictable it becomes, but there are always surprises,” she says. Spurred on by the surprises France continues to try new things. “Even something that breaks in the kiln teaches me something that I didn’t know before.” She will look at it and think, “Here is a starting point for something totally original and new.”

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