Maggie Marthinsen of Edmonton looks up in awe as glass artist Darren Petersen creates a glass ball ornament in his Red Deer Studio on Saturday.

Maggie Marthinsen of Edmonton looks up in awe as glass artist Darren Petersen creates a glass ball ornament in his Red Deer Studio on Saturday.

Artist marries love for nature and glass in elegant, intricate designs

Darren Petersen’s fish are more smooth and sparkly than fish in real life. His shorebirds appear more graceful and intricately coloured. But that’s the beauty of glasswork.

Darren Petersen’s fish are more smooth and sparkly than fish in real life. His shorebirds appear more graceful and intricately coloured.

But that’s the beauty of glasswork.

“It’s difficult to make something out of glass that isn’t beautiful,” said Petersen, who’s married his love of wildlife with his passion for art in his Sparrow Glassworks studio in the Woodlea neighbourhood.

Petersen, who works with assistance from his wife Deborah, held an open house at their home studio Saturday. The public was invited to a show and sale of organic sculptures — from glass apples, pears, acorns and mushrooms, to leaves and ladybugs, sandpipers, and trout.

The Petersens also create functionally beautiful pieces in the form of stemware, tumblers, pitchers, bowls and vases. These range from clear glass, with decorative swirls, to punchy bursts of green, yellow, orange and purple colours.

“It’s quite intriguing,” said customer Denise Germain, who watched as Darren dipped a long steel pipe into clear glass in the furnace in his garage. He then rolled this molten blob into yellow and green ground glass the texture of sand.

After melting the colours together, Darren repeatedly blew through the pipe to create a glass bubble. He shaped the glasswork-in-progress on a steel-topped table, imprinted it with a pattern from a mold, and repeatedly immersed it back into the furnace to keep it hot, so the glass wouldn’t crack by cooling too quickly.

Minutes later, he produced an amber-coloured globe that could hang from a Christmas tree, or reflect light in a window.

“It’s very complex,” observed another patron. “You could do six of the same thing and they’d all turn out a little differently. That’s what I like about it.”

Darren grew up painting and drawing the wildlife he saw around him in his hometown of Edson. He never knew he’d want work with glass until he began experimenting with different mediums at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary.

“Art school seems to redirect people,” he said with a chuckle. “When (glasswork) was first introduced to me, I remember thinking, that’s not why I’m here.” Yet the process quickly hooked him because “playing with molten glass is pretty neat.”

While some people find working in thousand-degree temperatures scary, Darren said the challenge suited him and somehow made sense. “It’s not complicated, it’s just a matter of gravity and temperature. But a lot of people struggle with it. It takes a long time to get to do what you want, but it’s just a lot of practice and repetition.”

Darren, who is also a fly fisher, bird watcher and painter, believes the organic fish and shorebirds forms he creates are very suitable to the medium. “The glass very naturally wants to be fluid and to take an elegant shape.”

The immediacy of transforming a molten lump into a beautiful sculpture continues to appeal to Darren, who met his wife Deborah beside a glass furnace in art class. The couple were married a week after graduation.

When they decided to relocate to a smaller centre from Calgary about 17 years ago, someone suggested Red Deer, and it proved to be a good move for their family, which now includes a son and daughter.

“This is a great place to raise kids,” said Darren, who with Deborah, manages to make a living solely from creating glass artworks. The couple sell primarily from home to corporate clients and individual collectors. Their prices range from $30 for a small decoration to $400 or more for a large fish or bird.

“It’s not a way to get rich quick, but I frequently have it pointed out to me that not very many people are able to do this for a living,” added Darren, who credits their success to teamwork.

While Deborah has her own bead-making sideline, her assistance to Darren is vital. The glass maker said he couldn’t create his intricate sculptures and vessels without Deborah first preparing and then passing him other metal rods tipped with glass for applying fish fins and bowl handles. “This can’t be a one-person job,” he said.

Deborah, a details-oriented person who enjoys experimentation, said, “We’ve been working together for so long, he doesn’t have to tell me what he needs. You recognize when there’s a need for this or that. You just know, without needing a lot of communication.”

Darren first draws the designs that he intends to make. The resulting three-dimensional glassworks turn out virtually the same as his two-dimensional sketches, said Deborah.

“He makes exactly what he wants to make — it’s really amazing.”

For more information about Sparrow Glassworks, please call 403-346-1975.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta is on pace to administer more than 300,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per week, according to the provincial government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
One million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Alberta

Alberta hit a milestone in the fight against COVID-19 this week. As… Continue reading

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Interior work will start this year on Red Deer hospital project, says infrastructure minister

‘We are committed. This is a top priority,’ says Presad Panda

Even with recent restrictions due to rising COVID-19 variant case levels, about 95 per cent of businesses are open in Alberta, said Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Consistent pandemic policy has helped Alberta, premier says

Alberta fatality rate lower than Canadian average

Richie Laryea of Toronto FC, left, and Jean Meneses of Mexico's Leon battle for the ball during a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Leon, Mexico, in Leon, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Toronto FC hosts Club Leon in the second leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League round-of-16 tie holding a valuable away goal after a 1-1 draw last week in Mexico. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mario Armas
Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Injury-riddled Toronto FC dispatches Club Leon in CONCACAF Champions League play

Winnipeg Jets' Dylan DeMelo (2) skates the puck around Ottawa Senators' Thomas Chabot (72) as he holds off Winnipeg Jets' Mason Appleton (22) during first-period NHL action in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Winnipeg Jets score two third-period goals to secure 3-2 victory over Ottawa Senators

Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher (25) shoots over San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

Anunoby, Siakam rally Raptors past Spurs 117-112

John Furlong pitches a broader B.C. bid for 2030 Winter Games

John Furlong pitches a broader B.C. bid for 2030 Winter Games

New York Yankees starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Bichette hits 2nd homer in 9th, Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-4

Bichette hits 2nd homer in 9th, Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-4

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort (5) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Jarrell Brantley (5) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Salt Lake City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Rick Bowmer
Undrafted Montreal native Dort continues to smash “glass ceilings” in NBA

Undrafted Montreal native Dort continues to smash “glass ceilings” in NBA

A man wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks past banners for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, to mark 100 days before the start of the Summer Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Rings on the Horizon: Tokyo Summer Olympics hit 100 days out marker

Rings on the Horizon: Tokyo Summer Olympics hit 100 days out marker

Lethbridge Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh speaks during a news conference in Lethbridge, Alta., on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Rossiter
‘Right path:’ Lethbridge police release improvement plan in wake of controversies

‘Right path:’ Lethbridge police release improvement plan in wake of controversies

Most Read