Studying glass art in Canada: a class act

Explore the opportunities to study glass art in canada

From the growing variety and multitude of talented people 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, each cutting loose only a handful of graduates yearly. 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? Let’s examine what makes each of our great glass schools tick.

Espace VERRE, MontrealMontreal is home to Espace VERRE, founded in 1983 by glass masters Ronald Labelle and Fran“ois Houd”. Espace VERRE offers a Diploma of College Studies (DEC) in fine crafts with a glass option and is the only school in Canada where the focus is entirely on glass.

Students say the atmosphere at this school is very positive, because everyone there loves what they do. There is much shared curiosity and discussion, with technical questions answered freely and well. Teamwork is strong. Graduating students display their work as a group at the end of the year. Also, students’ work is celebrated with a Journ”e Critique (Critique Day), in which final projects are exhibited, with both students and instructors weighing in with constructive critique.

Sheridan College, OakvilleFormer head of studio Dan Crichton was a central character to the original development of the Sheridan glass program, but 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 programme 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.

Students say the best part about the glass programme at Sheridan is the breadth of artistic focus. While the programme has historically focused on 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.

Alberta College of Art and Design, Calgary (ACAD)Calgary is a growing and evolving city of more than a million people, which has nevertheless preserved its small-town feel, an outlook reflected well at ACAD where the studios have 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 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 that this provides offers a variety of challenges for the students, pushing them to new limits in concept, design and technique. 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 is the only school in Canada offering a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in glass.

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 it’s friendly, co-operative and encouraging. There is definitely a strong sense of school pride but not without the acknowledgement that we’re all in this together.
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 who we’re talking to. It never takes us Canadian glass artists long to seek each other out and start talking about our work.

It’s a tribute to our glass schools, which help turn out glass artists and craftspeople knowledgeable about the history of our craft and curious to explore new processes and techniques. These creatives are well-supported as alumni and well-connected to the outside glass community. Class acts indeed.

Jamie McDonald Gray
Glass Art Association of Canada