Dirk Huysman and Mary Ann Richards are the only people in the Nanaimo area with a furnace full of molten glass.
The Gabriola Islanders have been blowing glass together for 22 years and starting Thursday, June 7 they are presenting their first solo exhibition, Emergence: From Fire to Form, at the Hive Emporium.
The show will include both blown and sculpted pieces, and Huysman said the title is a romantic description of the process of creation.
“When you open up that furnace at 2100 F you have this orange, glowing, very hot doorway that you just opened up and to keep the glass flexible we work with a reheating furnace which is like a barrel full of flame,” he explained.
“It’s all about keeping the glass in the right temperature to be able to manipulate it.”
The show will feature both blown and sculpted figures, vessels and paperweights. He said there’s a “longstanding tradition” of paperweight manufacture in the glass-blowing world, though he questions its relevance in the digital age.
“They’re all bowls, vases, sculptural forms that have a hole in one end of it, ultimately,” he said of the work.
Huysman said he and Richards are approaching the five-year anniversary of operating their “hot house” on Gabriola. They began their practice at the Alberta College of Art and Design in the late ‘90s, although at first they were only able to create on a weekly basis, which Huysman said got frustrating.
“When you’re blowing every day you’re really starting to get of sense of what the glass is like and what it’s going to do. When you just blow once a week it is like a new mystery every week,” he said.
The pair orders its specialized blowing glass in pellet form in 50-pound sacks from a supplier in Seattle. IT takes two and a half days to melt the glass down for use. Heating and cooling glass is a delicate process due to the risk of cracking and leaking. It takes 12 hours for a finished piece to cool to room temperature.
Huysman said it’s gratifying to be creating art with his longtime “partner in life.” Richards is the one who gifted Huysman his first glassblowing class for Christmas before eventually enrolling herself. He said he viewed the art form as a tactile version of photography.
“I used to work in the darkroom a lot. When you printed a picture, it was like painting with light. And I saw this T.V. show about glass blowing and I thought, ‘That’s like going 3-D.’ It’s like sculpting with light,” he said.
WHAT’S ON … Opening reception for Dirk Huysman and Mary Ann Richards’s Emergence: From Fire to Form takes place at the Hive Emporium (9-575 North Rd.) on Thursday, June 7 at 7 p.m. Show runs until June 24.