Come Wander
Glass Blowing at Artech Studios

It’s another Valentine’s Day. You grab the most expensive chocolates you can find at the drugstore and make a last-minute booking at a local restaurant only to wait 45 minutes for the overpriced prix fixe menu while trying to hear your significant other over the bustle. Already exhausted, you solemnly drive home and fall asleep watching Netflix, resigned to the monotony of what used to feel like a special day.

Sound familiar? Ever promise yourself that next year will be different? This year, if you plan just a little bit ahead, you can do something totally different, creative and entrancing in the middle of February.

While traveling in a distant country long ago, a wise person told me that for humans to happy, they must create. Indeed, as I have discovered, there is something about the creative process that not only re-awakens the soul, but reactivates the ties that bind.

With that in mind, my husband and I seized the opportunity to leave parenting responsibilities behind for a few hours and exercise our creative chops through a totally novel experience at Artech Studios.

The Studio and Artists

Terry Craig and Jennifer Wanless-Craig, owners of the Artech Studios in Tory Hill, Haliburton County, have endless possibilities for creation at their fingertips every day. In addition to producing their own upcycled glass tableware and famous recycled beer glasses, they offer hands-on learning sessions for the public at their traditional glassblowing studio.

A variety of local glass related experiences and workshops are organized through Yours Outdoors, a local company offering unique experiences that explore the heritage of Haliburton County.

Terry Craig, our workshop teacher, was first introduced to glassblowing as a young student in his first year of college. He originally anticipated pursuing ceramics or jewelry, but that quickly changed after his first visit to a glassblowing studio.  “I realized within the first ten minutes that this was where I was supposed to be, and I haven’t stopped in 25 years,” he said.  Terry, Jennifer and their daughter moved from Toronto to Tory Hill fifteen years ago to restore a converted church into their living space and build a studio on the property.

Terry equates learning the ancient craft of glassblowing to learning to play guitar, only adding a new guitar string every time.
“It’s an adventure every day”, he said. “I get to play with fire. With glass, the possibilities are endless.”

The Experience

As my husband and I discovered after just a few minutes of the extensive afternoon ‘Some Like it Hot’ workshop organized by Yours Outdoors, glassblowing is not exactly a relaxing activity for beginners. It is demanding, exacting, and interactive – and completely enthralling.

The raw melted glass is expertly ‘gathered’ from the furnace on a metal rod before taken to the bench to be shaped with tools.

We never really stopped moving, from gathering the glass in the furnace, quickly shaping it before it cooled, reheating it, finishing it and repeating the process for the next piece. After a few rounds, it started to feel like a kind of dance – you stop thinking and just follow the rhythm together.

Luckily, Terry’s excellent guidance made the experience relatively stress-free, as he instructed us exactly where to stand near the furnace, where to safely place our hands on the iron rods, and which tools to use to shape and blow the molten, malleable blob of glass into something resembling art. After each piece was shaped, Terry flashed it in the furnace and deftly cut a ‘jack line,’ (the spot to break the glass from the pipe), before placing the freshly made pieces into the annealer oven to slowly cool.

A ladle-like tool called a block is used to shape this blob of molten glass into what will eventually become a paperweight.

Terry framed every step of the process with rich contextual information. While presenting us with the numerous options for colouring our glass paperweights, he likened the process to making bread.

“Essentially all glass is the same, much like bread around the world,” he explained. “There are minor differences, for regional taste.”
We were surprised at the intense heat of the furnace containing the raw melted glass, which approached 2,000 degrees in temperature. Terry explained that everyone has their own ‘thermal comfort zone’, but that regardless of what it is, we would still leave with a light suntan (disappointingly, ours faded the next day, along with any plans to brag about getting a tan through glassblowing).

Teacher Terry Craig guides me through the glass shaping process.

We were so taken with the busy environment that we didn’t even think of a break, and the delicious fresh baked goods and hot tea that arrived halfway through the session were a considerate gesture by our hosts.

While the duration of the workshop was curtailed by a nasty winter storm, we collectively shaped two aquarium pieces, two glass paperweights, and two scotch glasses in the course of a couple of hours.

Shaping an ornamental piece for my son’s aquarium. Participants have to be decisive in their movements as the glass cools down quickly.

Driving home, we felt a little bit different. Not exhausted, but invigorated. Excited by the possibilities in our own backyard and united in the realization that trying something brand new, something totally out of our comfort zone, can give the same thrill in mid-life as it did in our teens.

This Valentine’s Day, dare to do something different – it may remind you of a promise to yourself that you forgot long ago. For me, it was that we should not just strive for regular access to creative outlets, but demand it for ourselves and our relationships – for a renewal of consciousness, purpose and connection.

The fruits of our labour.

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Valentine’s Day ‘Some Like it Hot’ glassblowing workshops will be held at Artech Studios on February 14 and 16, and can be arranged through Yours Outdoors.

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