There is a bleakness to the Grandview-Woodland section of East Vancouver; the semi-industrial area teems with humourless and washed-out structures.
Just down Frances Street, nestled between an office building and an autobody shop, lies a building as gray and unassuming than its neighbours.
But just inside, rods of sparkling borosilicate glass are spun into crystalline forms as beautiful and bizarre as the imagination will allow. Crossing through the doorway, to where the propane torches burn at 3,000 degrees, is taking a step into the sweltering domain of Burnaby glassblower Braden Hammond.
Hammond speaks excitedly about his trade and has the bearing of someone who is thoroughly enjoying himself. He has been busy crafting glassworks, which he sells at places like the Craft Circle Market, running until July 26 in Vancouver.
Hammond has been a vendor at the Circle Craft Summer Market for the last two years, and at the Christmas market since 2005. Hammond said the market has been a great way to showcase his work, as well as giving him the opportunity to sit face-to-face with clients, calling it his big break as an artist.
Hammond added that the summer sun not only brings out customers, but the best in his art as well, saying how the glass “warms and sparkles in the sun.”
A glassblower for 12 years, the big man originally discovered his passion on the internet while working as a teacher’s aide.
“I didn’t get it, and that’s what drew me in,” Hammond said, who added that he can barely stay away from his craft for more than two days.
The 35-year-old left his hometown of Winnipeg for Burnaby because of its flourishing art community, but found that the only place he could learn to blow glass was in the United States. He spent two weeks in Santa Cruz, California in the summer of 2003, and has never looked back.
“I was hooked from the first time I turned the torch on,” he said behind a wry smile.
Hammond describes his artistic process as excruciatingly technical. The determination required to create something out of a material as unforgiving as glass is not easy. Hammond credits his time playing basketball for the University of Winnipeg as the source of his work ethic, though that isn’t to say there haven’t been mishaps.
Before it becomes art, the glass Hammond works with comes in long crystalline tubes called borosilicate, or scientific glass. It’s the material the beakers in high school chemistry lab were made of. After being superheated and shaped, the nearly finished product needs to be left in a kiln for an hour to harden.
One day, after spending 20 hours creating an ornate glass dragonfly for a customer, Hammond dropped the piece on his way to the kiln. Undaunted, Hammond went right back to work.
“You have to be prepared for failure,” he said.
Hammond met his partner Kristina Holtz through a mutual friend. Holtz assists Hammond in the studio, while also working for the City of Burnaby. Holtz has been a part of Hammond’s success from the beginning, even convincing her parents to let Hammond sell his pieces from their garage.
Now a long way from that North Burnaby carport, Hammond admits that life as an artist isn’t always an easy one. Finding new clientele and consistently performing at peak capacity are just a couple of the challenges that Hammond faces regularly, but Hammond is undeterred. By the sweat of his brow he’s shaping his future, and even in the low light of his studio, it shines brightly.