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Held just couldn’t sit still for retirement

Glass artist Robert Held will be exploring new ideas now that he is up and running in his new studio in Parksville. He was commissioned to make these giant glass balls that will be turned into two massive lighting fixtures for an atrium in Vancouver. - Brenda Gough Photo
Glass artist Robert Held will be exploring new ideas now that he is up and running in his new studio in Parksville. He was commissioned to make these giant glass balls that will be turned into two massive lighting fixtures for an atrium in Vancouver.
— image credit: Brenda Gough Photo

When Robert Held closed his art glass studio in Vancouver, his plan was to enjoy a relaxing retirement.

Robert Held Art Glass had been one of Canada’s largest hot glass studios and gallery with collections ranging from classic to contemporary.

Held admitted he couldn’t sit still long enough to enjoy his golden years and his retirement last about a week.

Now he is starting again and he has opened a new studio in Parksville.

At age 70 he can’t help but be compelled by his love for blowing glass and wants to continue to create beautiful objects, “because I still have things to say in glass.”

His new space is located in a spacious 4000 sq. ft. arched hut on the Island Highway by the Orange Bridge.

Held has two glass blowing partners who work with him in the hot shop at the back of the building.

At the front of the hut there are shelves displaying his colourful vases, bowls, paper weights and other designs inspired by the work of famous artists such as Monet, Klimt and Tiffany.

Held’s glass work is recognized world wide and many of his pieces have been chosen for prestigious awards.

His glass sculptures can be found in major collections including a set of wine goblets he was commissioned to make for the Governor General’s residence in Ottawa.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s collection houses one of Held’s commissioned pieces. “The Northern Lights” is a stunning glass bowl encasing 23rd karat gold maple leaves and sparkling dichroic glass.

So what brings a world renowned artist who has had studio’s in some of the biggest cities in Canada to the small seaside community of Parksville?

“In 2008 things in my life changed.  I met a lovely lady from Parksville.  I had been doing the weekend thing to visit her and then I decided to retire from the big city and I moved here,” he explained.

What is interesting about his move to Parksville is the studio he is now playing with fire in is almost identical to the first one he ever built back in his twenties but Held’s interesting story begins before that.

Born and raised in Santa Ana California, Held aspired to be an artist from an early age. His father, a sculptor, only lived six years of his son’s life, but passed on the talent and appreciation of art.

“Since I was in the 5th grade I knew that art was what I was going to do. I was going to be an artist since I can remember,” said Held.

He began his quest to create beauty in form and color with paintings in high school.

Held then pursued an art career in ceramics after obtaining a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts at the University of Southern California.

Upon graduating he was offered a position as Head of Ceramics at a college being built in Ontario and became the youngest department head at the Sheridan College - School of Design.

In 1968, after a visit to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, Held discovered a new love: the art of glassblowing.

He returned to Sheridan College inspired and succeeded in launching Canada’s first college level hot glass program in 1969 which allowed many artists to become skilled in the medium, and crowned Held as the pioneer of art glass in Canada.

“The very first building I built at Sheridan was a Quonset hut building.”

He said that first glass blowing studio was smaller than the one he is in now and perhaps this new location has brought him full circle.

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