As Matthew Wood melts glass together over a scalding, oxidizing flame, he seems relaxed and in his element. Surrounding him in the Pixie Glassworks garage studio are other glass blowers, each with their own individual station creating different kinds of trinkets.
Glasses are draped over our eyes to provide a filter from the infrared and ultraviolet light—but even with them on, the light given off by the glass meeting the torch is extremely bright.
“It definitely takes a while to get used to the brightness,” Wood says. “Basically if you want to do this for awhile you gotta find the darkest shades possible, but I do a lot of peeking to find out the colour I’m creating.”
At the moment, he’s creating a seahorse. The murky violet colour slowly reveals itself under the hiss of the flame.
“What makes the colour of the marble is the metal inside of the glass. So having different metals causes different reactions in colour. It takes a lot of experimenting to figure out the properties of certain colours. With this seahorse I chose a polychromatic colour which will change the white to a purple blue.”
Wood got into glass blowing three years ago after he discovered that Pixie Glassworks, a local business made popular by appearing on CBC’s hit reality show Dragon’s Den, was looking for new glass blowers during their expansion. Wood applied with no prior knowledge of glass blowing and got a job with Pixie that turned into an apprenticeship.
“It was a lot of practice and failure with the glass,” Wood says “Even now it can be a very unforgiving process. You can spend hours on making something and then it cracks or even explodes in the kiln.”
A glass blower has to visualize what he or she wants to create and determine the steps needed. Sometimes, these steps are repeated multiple times, and the process requires an extensive reserve of patience.
Wood and the other glassblowers at Pixie use borosilicate glass. Borosilicate is very resistant to thermal shock meaning it is less apt to crack or shatter while being morphed under a torch.
Right now, Wood is making little marbles and seahorses, but he has also created beads, pendants, pipes, miniature swords, sculptures, and more.
His favourite trinkets right now are what he calls landscape pendants—something he created by accident after squashing the glass in its malleable state to create an ocean or sky design.
“You’d be surprised how many things are created by accident” he says. “But then you have to remember how you did it to recreate it again…. That’s the thing I love about glass.”
Like many glassblowers in Canada, Wood eagerly awaits Canada’s legalization of marijuana, and the expected increase in the demand for glass pipes.
“If it happens here in Canada—especially with the massive thing going on in Leduc—we’re laughing, and will have work. Everyone and their dog is going to want to set up shop and purchase things from us glass blowers,” Wood says, referring to the Aurora Cannabis grow-op.
While the prospect of increased business is exciting, this is ultimately a passion project for Wood.
“This is what I love doing. I have fun doing it and I love experimenting with the glass. There may be a monetary value, but my chase for the art is filling the gap we seem to all have. Its food for my soul.”