Quadra Island is a place filled with talented artists and intriguing studios to explore. During my stay at April Point Resort and Spa, I had an opportunity to visit 2 local studios.
From the moment I read the name of the studio (I Blew It Studio), I knew I would have a blast and that the glass blowing artist had a witty sense of humour. Sure enough, I was right! I had so much fun working with Cherie Hemmingsen in her studio.
Cherie’s journey is a remarkable one. Her passion for glass blowing began when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Instead of being discouraged, she decided she was going to pursue life with full gusto. After taking a glass blowing class, she immediately fell in love with the art. It was in that moment that she knew she wanted to work on things that bring her joy and fulfillment. She has pursued her passion with courage, energy and vision by opening up her own glass blowing studio. According to Cherie, “Glass blowing is the best medicine of all. I work hard to stay healthy and most of all have fun in the ‘hot shop’.” The creative name for her studio was born when she blew and ruined a $2,000 glass piece.
Cherie wanted to make a blown-glass fish for me, so she asked me what colors I liked. I wanted my tropical fish to be colorful and bright so I picked lollipop red and lava orange. I stood at a safe distance, yet close enough to hear her explanation of what she was doing.
She began by rolling up the thick, sticky, transparent glass onto the end of her blowpipe. This is what is called ‘gathering the glass from the furnace’. Then she sat down beside a steel table and began to roll the glass back and forth to get an even, cylindrical shape. Every so often she blew into the blowpipe and covered the opening with her thumb in order to trap the air, causing an air pocket to slowly expand into the molten glass. She worked quickly to shape the glass with various hand tools including wooden blocks, jacks and shears, before the glass hardened. She stretched the glass with what looked like a pair of needle nose pliers to make the tail of the fish. Her assistant, Bob McLeod, added the finishing touches to her blowpipe while she created fins and eyes. Lastly, she made an incision for the mouth and took a blowtorch to curl up the lips. She sliced the fish from the base with a wet metal blade. She then placed the fish into an annealer, a cooling kiln, for 24 hours to strengthen the glass. Watching her was like watching a ballerina on stage - quick, graceful and precise. Her hands did not miss a step. She made it look so easy, I thought I would give it a try. I decided to start with something basic, a paperweight.
Cherie gathered the glass out of the hot furnace for me. She handed me the pipe and instructed me to keep turning my glass. I found I wasn’t turning the pipe fast enough; the molten glass was sagging faster than I could catch the drip. This first stage is crucial if you want a perfectly round paperweight…mine turned out a bit lopsided. Cherie and Bob took the pipe from me, fixed it, and rolled the glass on the table, adding shards of blue and red called ‘frits’. Next she returned the glass to the hot furnace. We removed the paperweight from the pipe and placed it into the annealer. What emerged later was truly a work of art!
It was amazing for me to work with molten glass. The final product was amazing to see and touch. Cherie’s fish was beautiful, particularly as it caught the light. It felt fragile yet strong at the same time. My paperweight definitely had some weight to it. It contained lots of tiny air bubbles. Cherie reminded me not to keep it in direct sunlight for fear it would act as a mirror, concentrating light, thus causing something to catch fire. Working with glass reminded me how we are both fragile and strong. We can have our hearts broken yet at the same time summon the strength to rise above it. We have this inner power that can conquer anything life throws at us. We are capable of so much more than we realize. And, like glass, sometimes it takes the furnace of life to bring out the strength in us. We tend to focus on our limitations or circumstances rather than realizing our own power to change. Some of the most admirable people in history who have inspired us, or have risen to greatness, have been people who have experienced brokenness, turmoil, hardship or pain. I admire Cherie for choosing to take her health into her own hands and having the courage to pursue her passion for glass blowing. She has made a choice to conquer her challenges and as a result, she is vibrant, healthy and happy!
2105 Redonda Drive, Quadra Island, B.C.
As I drove up to James Pottery, I felt like I was transported to the TV show ‘Anne of Green Gables’. The gravel road led me to a picket fence and tall grass with a gorgeous drop-dead backdrop of the Georgia Strait. There were pottery sculptures throughout the front garden. The homestead blended in so well with its surroundings.
I walked up to a 1905 farmhouse that has been converted into an artist’s studio and shop. Inside I found a wide selection of decorative and functional pottery from cups, plates and platters, to wall hangings and sculptures. There were different colors and designs on each of the one-of-a-kind pieces. There was definitely no assembly line in this studio. Each piece has been creatively formed and decorated by the dynamic husband and wife duo, Gordon and Martha James. An attractive feature of their work is that if you can’t come to the studio, it can come to you - Gordon and Martha will ship their pottery to you, wherever you are.
Gordon and Martha’s work reflects their distinct artistic styles. Gordon has a contemporary style; his pieces generally relate to the human figure and facial expressions. Martha’s work reflects the natural expression of the west coast. Their masterpieces have been exhibited in numerous art shows and events. They even offer workshops to share their passion and expertise with students.
The finished products give the impression that they are a ‘piece of cake’ to create but I learnt otherwise as I tried my hand at making a fruit bowl. I then began to appreciate the craftsmanship and time that goes into making pottery. Martha offered to give me a lesson. She sat beside me and coached me on how to work the wheel and the clay.
The first crucial step in making a bowl is to center the clay on the wheel to give it a strong foundation. Having centered my clay, I formed a hole in the centre by pulling on the sides of the bowl. I dipped my hands into water and worked the clay. I kept my hands evenly positioned on each side in order to form a symmetrical bowl. From time to time, I carefully brushed the side of my bowl with a sponge to remove excess water without denting the form. It took a lot of coordination to spin the wheel and move my hands to shape the bowl simultaneously. When it looked reasonably like a bowl I decided it was time to remove the clay from the wheel and trim it. Once it was completely dry, my creation was ready to be bisque fired, glazed and fired again. And voila! A beautiful bowl to hold delicious fruits! I have to admit, working with clay brought back childhood memories - getting my hands dirty, playing, and letting my creative juices flow.
Being an artist is rewarding. Artists create and see their creations materialize before their eyes. I believe that, as human beings, our innate purpose is to create; our creativity is expressed in many forms - beauty, hope, love, peace, pleasure, family, laughter, and the list goes on. To create is an expression and a gift to mankind. Usually artists recreate what exists in nature. This is art imitating life. When I look at art I see life through the artist’s eyes and that generates something greater than ourselves. All of us, in our uniqueness have so much to offer each other through our interpretation of life and relationships. I hope we will all be inspired by the art around us. I raise a toast to life and love.
120 Joyce Rd.2105,
Quadra Island, B.C.
Box 166 Quathiaski Cove,
Canada VOP 1NO