Nelson artist Dan Farden was meandering along a Vancouver Island highway years ago, thumb up-thrust, when a pair of van-dwelling hippies pulled over to give him a ride. Later that night, as they camped on a secluded Cowichan Lake beach, the pair demonstrated for him the delicate art of glass-blowing.
“I remember thinking it’s like welding, but with glass. I fell in love with the flame right there. The heat. I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
Farden, the long-time face of Ourglass Studio & Gallery on Ward St., was sitting down with the Star to reminisce about his 14 years running the business, which also acted as a social and cultural hub for a number of aspiring and professional Kootenay artists.
Recently Farden decided the studio, which started out as a six-person cooperative, was no longer viable. But nobody’s more disappointed at its recent closure than him.
“It was amazing, man. I was formative. It made me into the person I am today,” he said, demonstrating the point by showing off his fused-glass belt buckle.
During his tenure at Ourglass, Farden moved from his initial interest — crafting pipes — and began experimenting with more ambitious projects. He created cups, wine goblets, perfume vessels, pendants and earrings, to name only a few items he sold.
“The sky was the limit. I made so many things, like little salmon and unicorns and women. The list goes on.”
But the aspect of the job that enlivened him most was working with other artists and fostering interest in aspiring glass blowers.
Jesse Evans, a local glass blower, said he owes his career and livelihood to Ourglass. As a teenager he started hanging around the store, and within a few years he was one of Farden’s best employees.
“I don’t know what I’d be doing right now without him,” said Evans. “He basically gave me a whole career, a whole way of life.”
Hourglass was also known for its elaborate art showcases, akin to ArtWalk or Blue Night. Farden said the shindigs were a great opportunity for artists to engage with each other’s work and celebrate artistry.
“I remember early on we realized the walls were bare. It seemed like a no-brainer to me to put up art and start making money selling paintings. Then we said ‘why don’t we throw an art opening?’”
That was the beginning of a tradition that lasted over a decade. Artist Richie McBeath said he personally hung most of the pieces over his 13 years there.
Having run the studio with Farden and other members of the cooperative for years, he spent plenty of time glass-blowing in front of curious sidewalk passersby.
“I may have complained about it at the time, but I really liked working in front of a window. Sometimes you would get distracted, but I liked that people got to see the work up close. Not many people get to see that.”
McBeath said the store was hugely beneficial to the community. “It really built up an inclusive glass-blowing community where we all supported each other,” he said.
Local visual artist Ian Johnston said Ourglass was unique in Nelson.
“Dan operated halfway between a business and something like Oxygen or Touchstones. He created an atmosphere and a space where emerging artists could show their work. And he went that extra mile on his own. That was really valuable.”
And Farden believes even though the store no longer exists, the creative infrastructure will remain.
“It’s an accomplishment I definitely feel good about. And just because it’s not viable at this point doesn’t mean it might not evolve again. I could see that happening.”
He said he won’t be leaving Nelson anytime soon.
“I grew up in Saskatchewan and my blood family lives there, but my real family, of artists, my community, lives here. You walk down the street and people know your name and you know them. I chose this place because I fell in love with it.”