Getting creative outside the bubble

Art and fine crafts abound outside Queen’s campus

Mariel Waddell
Mariel Waddell

Looking for art outside the bubble? Why not make your own? The artists and owners of the Kingston Glass Studio and Gallery can show you how.

Alexi Hunter is part owner of the Queen’s Street shop and he was quick to qualify his stake in it.

“It’s more of a co-op,” he said, adding that every artist spends time in the gallery making sales in addition to time spent creating. “At the end of the month, we figure out who sold what and pay each other.”

The studio was opened 11 years ago by Susan Belyea and has since hosted a steady stream of artists. Currently on display is Cheryl Dunsmore’s show Hot and Cold.

The studio held an official reopening last January, welcoming new artists and changing the name from Fireworks to the Kingston Glass Studio and Gallery.

While most of the larger pieces—including a stunning $8,000, larger-than-life, glass sculpture of pomegranate seeds—are out of the average student’s price range, there are plenty of smaller items such as glass pendants, wine-bottle stoppers and wooden bowls that would make a unique addition to any art collection.

The studio also offers lessons to those interested in glass-blowing and glass bead-making.

“Just yesterday I taught a guy who was probably in his late 60s, didn’t speak a word of English,” Hunter said, adding that the man was Brazilian and his daughter, who lives in Toronto, signed him up for the class as a gift.

If you’re more the patron than the performer, you can come watch the artists at work during gallery hours.

Hunter said he still often finds himself in awe of other artists’ work.

“Some of the stuff I’ve seen even still just blows my mind.”

But he said the end product becomes clear as he watches the artist at work.

His latest project scores points for function as well as form. A friend of his forged a long narrow table without a top. Hunter is in the process of creating glass tiles to cover it. For pieces like tiles, he said, the glass isn’t blown out but placed in a custom mold instead.

Hunter said the striking visuals of the medium are what swayed him from ceramics to glass in college.

“The optics. The colour. The transparency,” he said, adding that it’s the challenge that keeps it fun.

“Experimenting with design or technique, expecting one outcome and getting something totally different happen and it’s equally or more interesting trying to duplicate it.” He said the artists end up with a lot of “happy mistakes.”

Jane Thelwell is a Kingston-based potter with a slightly more pragmatic take on art. A sculptor at heart, she promised herself when she opened her shop on Cataraqui Street two years ago she would put her head down and focus on production potting while she established herself.

“Production pottery can pay the rent,” she said, adding that, from art to utility, the focus shifts from uniqueness to uniformity.

“If you want a bowl, you want four to stack in your shelf.”

She said she plans to eventually return to sculpting torsos.

In addition to her potting and travelling to art shows to sell her work, Thelwell is working toward a masters degree in art history at Queen’s, returning to school 21 years after completing her engineering degree, also at the University. She has been at her shop for almost two years, and the studio is part of a larger community of artists and artisans called NGB Studios.

She said there are a plethora of opportunities to get involved in art and fine craft outside of Queen’s. The Potter’s Guild offers lessons in working with clay and students are welcome to join both the Potters Guild and the Weavers Guild.

Thelwell said the intellectual aspects of art are well-suited to university fine art programs, but for the technical skills, college is the place to go.

Thelwell is a graduate of Sheridan College. It was during her time there she decided to earn a living making pottery.

“Kingston is in an excellent position,” she said, adding that the cultural milieu of the city makes it a prime location for art consumption.

“You’ve got people who want to make the art and people who want to buy the art.”

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