Studio Vine Glass
Pictured above - partners Claire Anderson and Steven Woodruff (Woody)
Studio Vine Glass – Some Like it HOT!
The art of glass blowing dates back to the Romans and approximately 1 BC. Remarkable considering that raw materials don’t turn into glass until approximately 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit!
The art of glass is not lost on two Niagarans claiming their stake in the landscape of this ancient craft right here in the Peninsula. I first met the young entrepreneurs at a seminar put on by The Niagara Falls Arts and Culture Council at the Biz office on Queen Street. Steven Woodruff (Woody) and Claire Anderson showed much promise for success by being able to combine their business skills with their artistic skills. Studio Vine shared their business model and success story to an anxious group of artists ready to start their own ventures.
The owners, artisans and minds behind Studio Vine Glass attended St. Paul High School together. “We both attended Mr. Griffiths class”, says Claire. After graduating, the two went to Sheridan College to study the Art Fundamentals course in visual arts, and then moved on to the Craft and Design Glass course (which took another three years to complete). When Woody was going through the course he studied both glass and furniture making.
After college, the two headed off to a co-op placements in Picton and in Montreal, then at a popular glass blowing shop in Merrickville, Ontario where their partnership began on both a personal and business level.
I visited Claire and Woody in their glass blowing studio currently located in The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga. The working environment in the studio is VERY hot, “the hotter the better”, Claire states. “There is no skipping any steps here, so it can be very humbling”, she adds. The first step in producing glass is to mix up the raw material which consists of silica sand, dolomite, limestone and often times broken glass referred to as cullet. The process begins with slowly heating all of the raw materials in a furnace to approximately 2,550 degrees Fahrenheit until they melt. The melted materials are then rapidly heated to a temperature of 2,800 degrees to allow the raw materials to fully mix together.
The next step is where the real craft of the art begins, as a portion of molten glass is placed on a long pole and enters the “glory hole” or furnace. As the glass is heated, the pole is removed and the artisan manipulates the glass into shapes and forms.
“We design each piece to suit a specific function and then go through a process of prototyping”, Claire explains, “so we melt down chunks of clear glass in our furnace and then make the piece over and over again until we get it exactly right.”
“Every piece is stamped with our seal and then has to cool down in a kiln slowly over twelve hours before it is ready. All of the pieces with drawings on them [(animal silhouettes)] are fired again with a glass decal so it is permanently affixed to the glass”, she continues.
After the vessels are formed there is a significant amount of labour that goes into “cold working”. This process is where the glass is buffed and sandblasted to be formed into useable and functional tableware.
The minds at Studio Vine also realize that in order to finance their creative projects theyneed to bring in money to pay the bills, which has led them to developing a unique line of glassware and tableware that features Canadian wildlife – herons, black bears and bison, just to name a few. When you combine these images with each piece being created individually and unique unto itself you have “practical art”. Colourful glasses, decanters and bottles that can sustain everyday use because the glass is of the highest quality, yet eautiful enough to display as art on any buffet or dining room table!
“For our commercial work, we just wanted to make high quality and functional pieces. The world is filled with so much 'stuff' that is basically made out of garbage. We want to make things that will last, and that are beautiful and practical,” Claire states. “For our one-off sculptures it is much more labour intensive. The designing process is longer, we use different processes of glass sometimes (casting, engraving, polishing, etc.). These are usually weeks or sometimes months of work.”
So what inspires the two to make their more creative offerings? “I’m inspired to create something esthetically beautiful,” claims Woody. “Something a little traditional but pushes the limits,” he adds. ”I am inspired by craftsmanship and beauty. I love classical design and the rich history of glass blowing and craft in general. I have been playing around with proportions and colour and scale to try and attain a perfectly made and aesthetically pleasing form. There is so much that is ugly in the world, that I love to explore and create beauty.”
Claire’s inspiration is a little different, “I'm inspired by people and our incredible ability to shoot ourselves in the foot” she laughs. “We are so amazing but still so reactionary and we have a tendency to run with ideas before fully discussing the effects of those ideas. Currently I am working on a series to do with our expansion and the spectrum of morality around how we look at basic human needs like shelter and a home. I use house imagery because it is simple and relatable and a quietly powerful image. I have been playing with quantity and scale to express my own questions about the logic behind our building/ expanding.”
Having to share a space in Mississauga with other glass workers will soon be a thing of the past as Claire and Woody open up their own glass studioon Slater Street in the Falls. They invite anyone wanting to purchase a piece of “practical art”to visit and see the two at work. The opening of their new studio is scheduled for Spring 2017 and will involve music and live demonstrations. If that’s too long a wait, their work is located in some wineries around the peninsula and available online at www.studiovine.ca.
In the meantime, visit Claire and Woody at The Handmade Market, Saturday, Sept. 16th and 17th at 13th Street Winery in St. Catharines.
By Jenifer Cass