The Long Story
I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC. While studying Arts at UBC I received a hand-me-down potters wheel from an artist friend of my mom’s and set it up in my parents’ garage where I taught myself pottery as a creative outlet, and a way to relax between classes. It was the mid-1980s. After three years at UBC I transferred to the University of Toronto and, shortly thereafter, Teacher’s College. Yet even at the time, being a school teacher felt like a fall-back position rather than my life’s passion. Trouble was, I had yet to discover exactly what that passion would be. I just knew that I wanted to do something creative and artistic, and be able to support myself in the process.
While at Teacher’s College, I took a night course in copper enamelling. At the end of my first class I bought a second-hand kiln from my teacher for $50 and set up shop in the unfinished basement of the rented house I was sharing with six others. Two weeks later I was selling my copper-enamel jewelry on the streets of downtown Toronto. Before long I was making and selling my jewelry full time, and the idea of teaching school quickly vanished. After two years I switched to making aluminum hair clips with images of impressionist paintings. The clips sold like gang busters and I soon graduated from my fold-up street stall to selling my hair clips to art gallery shops and other stores throughout Canada and the US.
By 1990 I was ready for a change, and returned to Vancouver where I augmented my hair clip business by making magnetic photo frames, which eventually overtook the hair clip business. But by the late 90s I was spending most of my time on the computer and phone tending to the business side of things, while my staff did most of the production. Clearly, it was again time to move on to something new. Despite the fact that I had no idea what that “something new” would be, I took a leap of faith and sent out over 500 letters to my wholesale customers thanking them for almost 10 years of support, and letting them know that I would no longer be producing magnetic frames. Two weeks after that I met my husband-to-be. Funny how life works.
A few months later I attended a Dale Chihuly glass exhibition which instantly plucked a creative nerve; I immediately fell in love with the rich colours, effervescence, and playfulness of glass art. But I shied away from the heavy lifting, sweat, and large studio infrastructure required of a professional glass blower. It was 2000 and I focused on my new project - marriage and kids. But kept the glass idea on a low flame in the back of my mind.
At the same time, I continued my search for a new art-related business. One that could fully engage my creative drive and passion, and pay some of the family bills. I completed a painting course and then went back to my original medium, clay. I set up a handbuilding studio in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood where I dabbled in ceramics. This continued until we were on a camping trip on BC's Saltspring Island, spending our days studio hopping from one artisan to the next. Along the way we stopped in at a glassblowing studio. The glassblower was on a break, but his wife was demonstrating lamp work - using a small torch to melt glass into beads.
“I could do that,” I told my husband, and within a month I had enrolled in my first glass bead making course. My ceramics studio morphed into a glass studio, and for seven years I took one bead making workshop after another. And made glass beads. Lots of them. While on a year-long family sabbatical abroad, I found a glass studio to work in and a master craftsman to mentor me. I learned to sculpt faces and critters on my beads, and continued to work on my skills. And filled up boxes and drawers with more and more beads.
Every so often my husband would ask me what I intended to do with my glass-making passion. I didn’t know. But I knew that I loved being on the torch and felt powerfully drawn to the medium like never before. Then, one evening my husband opened a large kitchen drawer to find its contents buried under a thick scattering of plastic straws - for the umpteenth time. My then-ten-year-old son was a life-long straw user who had a predilection for spilling packages of straws in every kitchen drawer and on every counter. Exasperated, my husband insisted that we buy a straw dispenser to keep the straws in one place. Before going to bed he found a dispenser on Amazon. But I was reluctant to buy it, mostly because I hated plastic straws, and buying a dispenser made it seem like we were committing to using plastic straws in perpetuity. Plastic straws never decompose and - as dispensed in the billions and billions by McDonald’s, Starbucks, and the like - are an environmental catastrophe.
When looking at the the Amazon site I noticed that the straw dispenser was also plastic, so I searched “glass straw dispenser.” An instant later a glass drinking straw flashed up on my computer screen. This was my “Eureka!” moment: A business idea based on working in the medium that I loved, producing a locally made handcraft that was fun, functional, and affordable -and good for the environment. Plus, I finally had a destination for all the zany glass critters and other artistic touches that I could now use to decorate my straws.
That was in 2014. Since then, I have been selling my straws at craft shows, online and wholesaling to stores. In 2016, my husband quit his day job as a lawyer and joined me. He cuts the tubing and flame polishes the ends of the straws, and writes about, and photographs, my straws - doing all those other jobs that are part of having a craft business.