The first time Glenna Turnbull tried her hand at cutting glass

Ultimate Inspiration: From Okanagan arts writer to artist

Glenna Turnbull is turning over a new leaf, trading pen and lens for a colourful new career in stained glass

  • Oct. 10, 2014 6:00 p.m.

Glenna Turnbull knows all about artistry. She’s written and shot photographs of everyone from ballerinas to circus clowns, thespians to painters. Then one day, a glistening opportunity to become the featured artist herself landed on her doorstep. Watch as the arts columnist trades pen and lens for a colourful new career.

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As the glass shattered on the North American economy in 2008, two very important things occurred for arts columnist Glenna Turnbull.

The trajectory of her writing career was set. She would be downsized from the Kelowna Capital News and immediately picked up by the Daily Courier’s EVENT Magazine.

Second, the die was cast for her to venture out of writing and into the life her subjects enjoyed, although it would be seven years before this beautiful new path came to light.

“I’ve always been fascinated with glass. I think it was a trip in Brownies where we went to a glass blower…I’ve been fascinated with the medium ever since,” Turnbull said as she settled in to tell her story this week.

Turnbull is now the owner of Glass heArt, a small stained glass business launching sales at the Fabulous Finds Artisan and Collectors’ Show at Summerhill Pyramid Winery on Nov. 7.

TurnbullSitting in the kitchen of her purple home in old Glenmore, a warm nook she jocularly describes as “a paintbox on acid,” she is surrounded by a forest of glass Christmas trees, snowflakes (no two are alike) and, of course, the glass hearts for which she named the business.

She doesn’t know why she started making the hearts. The first was a vision for an emblematic red windowpane. Many since have been broken or half hearts; although she quickly ceased production on this line, concluding the market might be slim. This new vocation as an artist comes with two decades of arts knowledge—including a sense of what sells—and follows a decision to pull the plug on her run in the fiscally fraught world of newspaper freelancing.

“It broke my heart to leave the column, without a doubt, because it felt like I really filled a niche in the arts community,” she said.

The artists attest to her value. This year, she won a Civic Award for her arts coverage, an Okanagan Arts Award and, lending credence to her mastery of the written word, placed first runner up in the Okanagan Short Story contest.

Technical prowess does not always breed pay dirt in any creative industry, however, and a brief dalliance with hosting her own Okanagan arts scene website proved untenable. Her photography business and writing gigs needed a complimentary wing. Glass was calling.

In the early ‘80s, stained glass hobbyists flocked to night school courses. Coloured and textured glass options blossomed. Talented individuals opened businesses, making everything from lamps to inlays for doors and windows. Then the 2008 economic downturn hit and, all at once, everything changed.

“Basically, we’re the last people standing. It’s like being the last people to make buggy whips,” said Ken Ransom, owner of Rutland-based Fusion Glass.

Ransom started out much like Turnbull. It was 1983. He was needing a career change and decided to take his passion for the nouveau art form to the next level.

The business would grow to include two locations, two generations, and see Ransom expand into a whole host of trade nuances, investing in fancy bevelling equipment and a glass laminator to complete complicated jobs. As the large glass manufacturers hit financial problems, and the Kyoto Protocol established new emission standards for their 20-year-old furnaces, glass plants were shuttered and the glass shop’s competition closed their doors.

“Virtually across North America, most probably 50 per cent, or more, of the studios have closed because they lost their passion, they got old, and they worried about retirement,” Ransom said.

Fusion Glass, meanwhile, continued to pick up customers, downsizing its Calgary office, but forging onward in the Okanagan. They’re currently working custom jobs for a childrens’ hospital in Florida, making wood veneer glass for a building in Vancouver and elevators for the Department of National Defence. The business ships glass orders across the continent to artisans with unique orders who seek out the shop, now run by his son.

Ransom, meanwhile, still knows his local customers by name and says there are half a dozen enthusiasts, like Turnbull, gamely buying up glass and asking for advice.

“Glenna’s really cool. She’s morphed herself into someone else and she’s taken to it with a passion,” he said.

Landing her spot in Fabulous Finds was no accident either. It’s a show Turnbull never missed as a columnist and she knew it did not have stained glass work in the mix. She’s now pumping out ornaments, sourcing crystal beads from the States and beta-testing a nuclear family in a glass panel—curlicue hair on the youngster.

Her website, glassheArt.ca, launches next week and she just let the cat out of the bag on Facebook.

The response? Overwhelming support from the community of artists who flourished, year after year, with her help. Glass heArt will allow Turnbull to continue a successful career in the arts community and, yet, she is not naive. She is expecting a few difficult twists and turns in the years to come.

“I’ve always taken the hard route, but I’ve always believed if you do what you love, the money will come,” she said.

Twitter: @jaswrites

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