The Art of Everything By Mary Anne Pankhurst an Interview with the Priest’s Mill Glassblowers, Amy, Paul & Eric on the Art of Discovery

Their story is captivating, complex and creatively inspiring.

But it’s also a story about their soon-to-be-opened glassblowing studio so has an additional layer of excitement. Because as the artists have helped me understand: You can’t open a studio if you’re looking through rose-coloured glasses.

To begin, operating costs run high. The glass-melting furnace alone must burn 24/7/365. That’s a big investment in electricity. In addition, the art of glass is never a solo performance. It requires a team.

The gaffer – meaning the artist who leads the team – must choreograph the entire process with a plan that begins with a sketch and a team briefing. That’s because every piece the artists make will bear the signature of “the event,” which is critically affected by temperature, timing, tools, techniques and the team members themselves. Or as artist Paul van den Bijgaart says:

“Liquid glass is so mesmerizing that if you don’t learn to drive the process, the glass will drive you.

It’s tough to find a painterly metaphor but I think sailing works.

(Painting by Russ Kramer)

But finance, physics and studio furnishings aside: What drives a woman – who has a degree in fashion design and a career as an editor in Beijing – to pack up, say goodbye to loved ones and travel 6.6 thousand miles west to Oakville, Ontario, to be educated in the art of glass?

Similarly, what motivates a man – who’s already a competent cabinetmaker – to leave Edmonton and head east, in pursuit of the same goal at the same time?

Likewise, how does a retired entrepreneur living in rural Ontario develop a similar thirst for glass?


And finally, how did they all end up in partnership at the soon-to-be-opened Priest’s Mill Glassworks in Alexandria, Ontario?

Serendipity; destiny; Big Luke’s all you can eat buffet?

Amy Yang, Paul van den Bijgaart, and Eric Covington all suggest it’s a combination of:

Discovery, passion, commitment and “happy accidents.”

Amy discovered her passion visiting glassworks in Czechoslovakia. And she says it was so strong that she made an instant decision to move to Canada.

For Paul, it remains a passion for the geometry, the illusion, the optical qualities and characteristics of glass.

And Eric’s passion burns for technical innovation and team processes.

In fact it was Eric’s engineering feat – with the development a super efficient glass-melting furnace, capable of reducing the total electricity bill to about one-fifth what it would normally cost – that was pivotal.

Realizing that the energy and overhead savings could help make the business more viable, Eric put out a call for artists. Amy responded. Then she and Paul together made the trip to Alexandria for a “working interview” with Eric that gave birth to a team.

It’s been a long road of discovery for Amy, Paul and Eric, but Priest’s Mill Glassworks will open on December 21st – the shortest but I imagine most exciting day they’ll have in 2013.

Artists outside Priest’s Mill, establish view of mill first


Artists inside explaining architectural changes being made


Artists talking about being new in town

Artists talking about fire in the mill

Artists talking about the glory hole

Remember, if there’s art in what you do, I want to hear from you via

alpins aoe

1 Comment

  1. Mary Anne is a real professional.

    She took the time to really understand our artistic processes and at the same time she was interested in how we are trying to contribute to the artistic community.

    To find out more about our mission:

    To form an “Artist centre of glass excellence & learning” at the same time “provide a supportive and collaborative environment for artists in all media”

    Please come to either of our upcoming openings:

    December 14 at 12:00 Noon – 152 Military Road Lancaster (where Big Lukes was)
    December 21 at 12:00 Noon – 8-B Main St South, Alexandria (in Mill square)

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