There is molten glass, fire and human hands. No wonder people stop and stare. From out of the flames, hot art appears.
“It’s not dangerous,” glass artist Holly Cruise insists, “if you’re careful and well-trained. Of course, it is fire and molten glass, so sometimes things break and you burn yourself. But, it’s just part of the process.”
And what does the flameworking process involve? Cruise lays it out.
“We have different table-mounted torches. They are hooked up to oxygen and natural gas lines. I turn on the torch, and then melt the tips of the rods of coloured glass in the flame. I use a steel mandrel dipped in clay, and wrap the glass around this in layers, then shape and add more colours or patterns.”
“When I am done, I put the mandrel with the bead on it into a small kiln to cool down over night. When it is cool, I remove the bead from the steel mandrel and clean it with a file. Then I do any coldworking and grinding, and finish the piece with metal components.”
It’s not only the sear hazards that attract an audience. “People are also fascinated by glass because it’s very soothing,” says Cruise. “The flame and the qualities of molten glass are very mesmerizing. It’s transfixing in a very calming way.”
Cruise does her flameworking out of the Terminal City Glass Co-op on Parker Street. She is the Executive Director and co-founder of this non-profit glass art studio that now caters to 170+ glass artists. The Co-op also offers beginner to advanced classes in glassblowing, beadmaking, flameworking and sandblasting.
“TCGC has certainly helped the glass scene in Vancouver. It’s really expensive to run a glass studio, because of the cost of fuel and other overhead costs. Before we opened, there was pretty much one or two glassblowing studios left in Vancouver, where there had been seven or eight before.”
“A lot of people moved to Vancouver Island or the Sunshine Coast where it’s less expensive. So, the community was kind of dwindling. But, we have definitely built a community, through teaching beginners and getting them into it, and also attracting established artists to Vancouver from elsewhere.”
Cruise was 19 when she discovered her love for glass at Urban Glass studio in New York. She had dropped out of art school and was encouraged by a glassblowing friend to check out the Brooklyn studio. “So I did, because I pretty much had nothing to lose. It was an instant attraction. I was sold. I think I was working there a few weeks later, making $8 an hour. I would have done anything to be around glass all the time.”
Cruise stayed at Urban Glass for two years, working with “fantastic” artists and honing her craft. “I like the instant gratification. You plan, you learn the steps and you execute in an hour. Of course there is cold working – grinding which can take hours – which I actually enjoy more than I did then. I also love colour and my experimentation with colour is the bulk of my work.”
Cruise is trained as a glassblower, but now spends more time with the torch. “I melt rods of glass in a torch and shape them to make beads and pendants. I do a lot of grinding and polishing of my work to finish it and make it unique.”
With glasswork, you cannot let up. “You can work on a piece for an hour, and if you aren’t paying attention, you can crack your piece at the end, and you can’t repair it. Sometimes it’s just not your day. You can’t force glass to work.”
Cruise has developed a Macaroni series. “They are basically grown up macaroni necklaces and bracelets made out of glass. I like taking childish concepts and making them in glass.” The Macaroni series also gives Cruise a chance to go wild with colour.
Her consistent top seller is her Rainy Day Necklace. “It’s so Vancouver and it embraces the misery of rain in a really beautiful way. This defines my emotional struggle with the weather of Vancouver, which can really dampen the spirits. Pun intended.”
When she is not working with glass, Cruise looks for other mediums to expresses her creativity. “I am easily bored.”
She draws and illustrates: “I incorporate some of this into my glass work.” Cruise is a graphic designer who has also tried her hand at fashion. “When my children were babies, I didn’t have a lot of time to do glass, so my sister and I started Mimosa. We produced art prints and children’s clothing with my illustrations, which sold across North America. After a few years, we decided to move on, as both of our lives were just too busy, but it was a wonderful experience.”
What advice would Cruise offer to someone looking to set up as an independent artisan in Vancouver?
“Be prepared to spend half of your time marketing your work and doing things you don’t necessarily enjoy. Or hire someone to help you. I am a big fan of partnerships too, because you can’t be good at everything.”
You can see Cruise and some of her fellow glass artists at the Eastside Culture Crawl, November 17th to 20th at Terminal City Glass Co-op.
Written by Elizabeth Newton
Photos – Holly Cruise