Glassblowers give back by offering classes

One of the biggest challenges that the Bee Kingdom glassblowing collective faced while starting up in Calgary was the lack of space for artists such as themselves.

“Calgary’s rather rich and property values are so high it’s actually hard to get started, because it takes a fair amount to get the equipment…it takes about $30,000 to $50,000 to get started, and then you need a building to put over it,” says Kai Scholefield, the newest of four members of the collective.

Glassblowing is an art that requires a lot of space to be performed. Furnaces heat and reheat the glass, and then there needs to be enough room to shape the glass with equipment such as pincers, blowpipes, pliers and blowtorches. The furnace that contains the molten glass is never turned off because it would take a week to heat back to the proper temperature.

Bee Kingdom made their own art space, building a glassblowing studio in their own backyard in northwest Calgary. They also built some of their own equipment with blueprints that they obtained from a technician at the Alberta College of Art and Design, or ACAD.

THE BEGINNING

Bee Kingdom was created by Philip Bandura, Ryan Fairweather and Tim Belliveau in 2004, then expanded to include Scholefield in 2011.

“Glassblowing is quite collaborative, in order to form the glass quickly, because you only have about 15 seconds before glass cools down, you need to work quickly so we try to get as many hands in there as possible to shape the glass,” says Scholefield about working together.

The group chose the name Bee Kingdom because the golden colour of molten glass resembles the colour of honey.

All four members of the collective graduated from ACAD in 2005, which is one of only a few schools that teaches the art of glassblowing. Schloefield says the program is “world-renowned” and because of that, glassblowing artists from all over the world go to ACAD, giving it a reputation as an international hub for glass art.,

CONTRIBUTORS TO CALGARY 2012

Bee Kingdom was one of the artists participating in Calgary 2012, a program run by the Canadian Heritage Foundation that provides support for establishing and developing arts and culture in a different city each year.

Tim Belliveau uses the surface of a table to shape glass for part of a project that Bee Kingdom is creating.

Photo by Krystyna SpinnerCalgary 2012 enabled Bee Kingdom to participate in a festival called Pictoplasma, an event held in Berlin.

“What was really great there was, like you’d think Berlin would be the capital of art and everything that’s cool in the art world. Little did we know that there’s very little glassblowing that goes on there, so we helped start the very first arts glassblowing studio in Berlin’s history,” says Scholefield.

He says that Calgary 2012 enabled the collective to export and represent Calgary arts and culture internationally instead of work to develop the arts community in the city itself.

BUILDING A COMMUNITY IN CALGARY

However, Bee Kingdom also works to build and grow a community here at home.

“We’re homegrown and we’re very community based just naturally as glassblowers, so a lot of our community and our collectors are in our community in North Mount Pleasant,” says Scholefield.

“We found that in growing that community we’ve grown an appreciation for art, but then also glass as well, and as a way of continuing to give back to that community, but as well growing an appreciation for glass, we offer classes so people can literally get a hands-on feel for it.”

He notes that forming and shaping glass is an interesting, “intoxicating” process to watch, and often people are inspired after watching Bee Kingdom at one of their open houses to try out the art of glassblowing.

“For this small facility it [the classes] was booked right away,” says Scholefield. A look at Bee Kingdom’s website online reveals that the glassblowing classes are currently booked until June.

The collective anticipates that space won’t be a problem for long, with a move to a larger facility planned in the near future.

ksaretsky@cjournal.ca