Art is thriving up in this neck of the woods. And it’s also adapting to the times during COVID 19.
Kate Civiero of Infinite Glassworks has moved her shop Online and is now delivering her beautiful artisan glasswork for free within a 50km radius of her studio, one which is nestled beside the rushing waters of Eugenia Falls and overseen by a crew of strutting chickens. It’s a picturesque slice of rural living, and one that is ideal for hunkering down in during quarantine.
When I visited her studio before the COVID 19 outbreak, it was just as much a feast for the senses. There was a perfect contrast of industrial equipment and glittering finished pieces on display. Surrounded by delicate wares, molten glass, and fire reaching upwards of 2100 degrees Fahrenheit, the stakes are always high. Yet, there’s an ease to Civiero’s glass-blowing routine.
It’s a dance she’s done countless time before, a labour of love mapped between kiln and bench to coax the red-hot liquid into shape. The process is constant motion, a nearly hypnotic pattern as fluid as the glass currently in flux. Civiero works swiftly, plunging molten glass into the flaming maw of her furnace (lovingly and aptly named “Baby Dragon”), turning it, inflating it, and bringing it back to the fire. Before long, a bottle has bloomed from the end of the pipe. All this while casually chatting away. It seems effortless, which in itself is a testament to her technique.
Although Civiero values the three-year program that she graduated from at Sheridan College (where she happened to meet her now-husband and number one supporter, Matt Civiero), she attributes most of her skills to the learning that took place once she began her own business. “It’s a tenuous practice. There are a lot of broken vessels along the way,” she explains as my inner magpie eyes up the inevitable shards and hardened droplets scattered about. “It keeps you humble… it hits the floor, you break it, you’re sad. But you get up and you try it again. You struggle a bit, but you go forward.”
“In this world of mass-produced stuff as the norm, it’s refreshing to see the return to craft”
Our entire morning’s conversation is punctuated by occasional glacial popping as discarded glass cools and explodes in an old milk canister. Somehow there’s comfort in understanding that wreckage will always be part of the game, no matter your expertise. It’s certainly affirming for anyone starting out in a craft. Or several crafts at once, as may be the case. While Civiero primarily practices glassblowing these days, she’s also an accomplished metalsmith and dabbles in printmaking and clay. She chuckles, “I’m a person that always has a lot of things going on in my head at once… There’s a foot in this door, a foot in that door…”
I can vaguely relate.
Yet, exploring multiple skill sets has brought challenges, especially when it’s come to defining herself as a maker. “I worry often about my disjointed body of work. I do lots of functional work, but then I switch gears.” There’s often pressure in the art world to settle into a particular medium and develop those skills, a notion that Civiero has struggled with. She recalls the turning point in her dilemma to choose one area of her craft to hone, which happened to come during a conversation with one of her mentors, jeweller Andrew Goss. As someone who delves into a multitude of styles himself, he helped Civiero to see the value in finding her own path as a maker.
You only have to visit her Infinite Glassworks webpage or click on the Owen Sound Artists’ Co-op website to get a feel for the unique style that Civiero has developed by pursuing her loves and allowing her skills to grow together. Her self-described “weird, insatiable curiosity for materials” is a huge asset to her craft, in fact. Combinations of copper and glass have fuelled new waves of inspiration, and being able to move back and forth between those materials allows her to generate fresh ideas. Having grown up in a family that constantly encouraged hands-on learning and exploring new interests, it’s no wonder she’s forging her own path through her artistry.
These days, Civiero’s been concentrating more on the practical side of her creations, with the driving force behind her work a simple question of, “Would I use it?” The studio shelves are stocked with a tempting rainbow assortment of bottles, jars, and tumblers, each a perfect blend of function and beauty. Useful and lovely, these items are her answer to the growing call for sustainable living, as well as the continuing shift toward supporting local artisans and seeking handmade items. “In this world of mass-produced stuff as the norm, it’s refreshing to see the return to craft. And not just objects, but also look at craft beer, craft cider in our area. People get that – it’s so encouraging!” With local, small-scale living a necessary focus at this point in time, it’s heartening to see those needs being met while still allowing for aesthetic appreciation.
When it comes down to sustaining the maker, however, the answer seems to be in the close-knit community that Civiero has found upon returning to Grey County. After connecting with the Artists’ Co-op right after graduating, a group of local artists took her under their wings and helped her to establish herself as a maker, sharing their wisdom in how to put on a show, market herself, and simply how to talk about her work. “Having that support system shaped so much of my early success. I don’t know if I would have had that in a bigger city.” Civiero points out that there is a surprising number of renowned makers scattered throughout the back woods of Grey, which makes a compelling case for the benefits of pursuing fine craft in a more rural setting.
Recognizing the existing talent and our increasing desire for artisanal craft, Civiero endeavours to promote the local art community. Opening her workshop for studio tours, co-organizing the annual fine craft Christmas show in Owen Sound, and working within art collectives allows her to help bring established makers into wider focus. At the same time, she’s eager to give back to emerging artists the support she herself received when she was starting out. When safe to do so again, she will continue to run copper etching workshops through the Owen Sound Artists’ Co-op and open her own studio to teach glassblowing, encouraging anybody with a bit of curiosity to take part.
And while she appreciates the opportunities to share her expertise, the real joy is in watching aspiring makers discover their own passions. “When you meet people that are so hungry to learn – not just craft, but anything – it just warms my heart. It makes me feel so happy,” she grins. That genuine love, right there, is a perfect snapshot of why art thrives in small-town Grey and Bruce.
Note: the visit to Kate Civiero’s Infinite Glassworks studio was done before the outbreak of Covid 19
Words and photos by Sarah Goldman