Breathing new life into Glassblowing

Glass artist Jennifer Bennett is thrilled to be back in studio.

“It’s a roaring, smoky, exciting environment.”

After a lengthy COVID-19 shutdown, Bennett and other members of the Ottawa Glassblowing Cooperative are eager to start creating again.

“I think we’re kind of celebrating our own survival as a cooperative,” said Bennett.

“We opened our doors as a co-op in the fall of 2019, so we had not even made it through our first year before the pandemic hit,” she said.

“It is hopefully coming back to a place where we can be in here again, as often as we like, and work,” said glass artist, Melody Jewitt.

However, how they work has changed. Blowers of glass, now wearing masks, are using innovative techniques, not their breath, to inflate their creations.

“We’ve created two tools,” said Bennett.

“One of them works with compressed air and using your foot you can blow air into the piece that you’re working on”

“Another one looks a little like a blood pressure pump. So, you’re squeezing your hand and gently blowing air into the piece,” she said.

“They’re working brilliantly, actually. So, I think this is the way we’ll always work,” said Bennett.

It means glassblowing artists can continue to do what they love. Even if they can’t explain why they do it.

“I can’t really explain why. I literally signed up for glass blowing school even though I had never seen glass blowing before. I had never done it before, it was a ridiculous life choice to make, but I did that 27 years ago and it changed my life,” said Bennett.

“It’s been the focus of my life, the centre of my life, my biggest passion. I met my husband there. Why? I still can’t answer that question,” she laughs.

But they do remember the first time they saw others working their magic with glass and they couldn’t wait to try it themselves.

“I was just blown away, pun intended, by the whimsical dance of glass and watching it in real life took me over that edge and made me want to try it myself.”

Currently, the members of the Ottawa Glassblowing Cooperative are in the process of making glass pumpkins, a traditional fall fundraiser for glassblowing schools, cooperatives and communities across North America.

“Pumpkins are a relatively simple thing to make but there’s a huge variety of what you can produce creatively,” said Bennett.

“It’s just a typical bubble but you blow it into a mold so it creates all these ridges to it and in the end you get this little artful twirl that you put off the end of it showing how fluid the glass is when you get the right timing,” said Jewitt.

You can visit the Great Glass Pumpkin Patch this Saturday, Oct. 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at ‘Autumn in the Arboretum’, an event organized by Friends of the Farm.

Two hundred glass pumpkins will be on display outdoors and for sale.

The funds raised by the sale of each pumpkin will support the Ottawa Glassblowing Cooperative’s upcoming move to a new space.

“They’re knocking down the whole building and we need to find a new space in as little as a year,” said Jewitt.

It will allow glassblowers to continue to create art in a colourful world where artists can gather.

“It’s starting to become a really interesting and diverse community here in Ottawa,” said Bennett.

“And we want to nurture that and promote it.”