Light is such an inspiration of so much that we do. Canada’s northern location means that daily and seasonal changes in daylight are a dramatic backdrop to everything that we experience. “Part of the promise of living in Ontario is our environment and it changes every season. Glass shouldn’t negate that, it should celebrate that,” Neil Hanscomb says. And Neil would know. As a premiere artist, he has spent a lifetime using glass to transform the power of light and colour into art that inspires. Whether restoring stained glass windows in an historic church, or creating dynamic art pieces for contemporary settings, Neil has a deep intuitive sense of all the creative possibilities glass offers, combined with decades of technical expertise in handling a material that is at once fragile and strong.
is found in the picturesque Elora
, housed in a yellow clapboard century home. The retail store displays dozens of small glass works, mirrors, fused and slumped bowls, jewelry, and flame-worked ornaments to name a few. In a similarly bright workspace behind the store counter, several projects are in different stages of completion. A drawing of a new commission is taped to the wall, while on a work table, pieces of glass are positioned on a drawing like puzzle pieces waiting to be fused into one piece.
Neil explains that it all begins with an on-site meeting to determine both client needs and how architecture and landscaping will shape the final artistic solution. Hand sketches and computer drawings create a detailed design that actually becomes a “blueprint” for the art work. Glass is precisely cut into the desired shapes – it takes a practiced hand to work with cold-finished flat glass panels that break easily because of a low tolerance for non-linear cuts and fragile shapes. The glass pieces are then individually wrapped in copper foil, fused, and kiln fired. The best part for clients, is that, unlike many glass artists, Neil offers full-service installation, which is when he completes any woodworking and painting required.
In keeping with current trends in glass and architecture, Neil’s commissioned pieces are created from uncoloured transparent glass; it is the leading between the pieces of glass that creates shapes and patterns. The glass itself can be cut, broken to leave a three-dimensional texture, or ornamented with metal.
When creating a piece, Neil envisions how the light and colour from the natural surroundings will be visible through the glass and change throughout the year. “I am inspired by the power of colour and light, and glass is the only art form that deals with transmitted, ambient light. This solar light changes constantly throughout the day and throughout the season so there’s a complexity there,” Neil says. “I see glass as a filter for light passing through it that can be used to create a dynamic environment.”
Yet, his work isn’t just artistic, but highly functional as well.
“I see myself as a problem solver,” Neil says. “Many of my clients come to me with a privacy issue – their neighbours can see into their home easily – or there’s rampant light from a certain direction or at a particular time of year.”
In these cases, colour or more opaque glass is an important part of creating an artistic solution to a practical challenge. However, you won’t find butterflies, florals, and sunsets – traditional glass art standbys.
“I don’t do fleeting. A sunset is only there for a short time, it doesn’t last. A butterfly is just explication, not implication," Neil explains.
"And the most successful pieces include commentary and a message that are interpreted differently by each person, each time they look at it."
Neil also uses this studio to complete parts of his church stained glass restoration work. There is a sharp contrast between the modern creations he installs in people’s homes and the colourful iconography found in this traditional stained glass.
With most of Ontario’s historic churches entering their second century of service, their stained glass windows and their wooden frames have deteriorated to a critical point. The amount of work required depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of design and materials used, size and location of the windows, gravity, and the thermal expansion and contraction caused by sunlight, wind load, condensation, and atmospheric pollutants. In order to restore a stained glass window, Neil could spend a day of on-site maintenance or, for a more in-depth project, he undertakes the time-intensive process of removing individual panels and removing them to the studio for re-setting, tightening tie wires, repair of glass, cementing panels, or re-doing leading.
And there’s more demand than ever for a skilled artisan like Neil who has expertise in both glass and woodworking – in fact, he’s looking to take on additional staff to meet the needs of southwestern Ontario churches.
People increasingly understand the value of artistic glass not just in their churches but in their homes as well –glass works are part of the building that hold value and even increases in value over time. It’s a good investment for now and for future generations.
Hanscomb Glass is open to the public Wednesday to Sunday 11am to 5pm, January through April. From April to December, the store is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday and holidays 11am to 5pm. If you want to discuss a specific commission with Neil, contact the studio to make an appointment. There is also at Etsy shop where you can shop their wares online.