Glassblowing | 26-10-2023

Spirit of the forest

Canadian glass artist Susan Rankin draws inspiration from the landscape where she lives, contrasting tall pillars of bright coloured glass for exterior settings with vases covered in voluptuous, curving flowers, perfect for interiors. Linda Banks finds out more.

What led you to start working with glass?

I started out in stained glass back in the late 1970s. I went to Pilchuck Glass Schook in 1984 to do a fusing workshop with Klaus Moje and began a journey in fusing. I ran a stained glass shop and studio, working on church window commissions and restorations and teaching stained glass classes for a number of years.

I returned to Pilchuck in 1987 to take my first glass blowing class with Flora Mace and Joey Kirpatrick. I met several Canadians who were at that session and Laura Donefer invited me to stay with her in Toronto to attend Sheridan College and continue my glass blowing education. After graduating I received a three-year residency in the Glass Studio at Harbourfront Centre in downtown Toronto. I also continued learning by attending summer workshops every other year at Pilchuck, Haystack Mountain School of Craft and Penland School of Craft. I set up my own glass blowing studio in1995 with studio partner Brad Copping.

Life and movement are captured in the flowers in these ‘Sprigs’. Photo by the artist

What glass techniques have you used and which do you prefer?

Over the years I have worked with many different techniques in glass but I am a glass blower at heart and continue working with hot glass going into my third decade. I also work on the bench torch, making components with flame working techniques. I have taught glass blowing for the past 18 years at Fleming College Haliburton School of the Arts in the Glass Blowing Certificate Programme.

Susan at work in her studio creating a ‘Sprig’ floral piece. Photo: David Smith

What is your creative approach? Do you draw your ideas out or dive straight in with the materials?

I work with the material. I sometimes work on a maquette for larger works and I do work out colour in a digital sketch process.

A Grove of seven pieces in blues and green makes a statement in the landscape. Photo by the artist

You work in different styles – from simple, but effective, coloured discs in your outdoor sculptures to highly detailed, naturalistic flowers on your vases. What message(s) do you want to convey through your art?

Through the past 30 years as a glass artist, I have explored the idea of garden through my work. The most recent projects continue this exploration, but the focus is now on developing sculptural glass objects to adorn the gardens and outdoor spaces that have been my source of inspiration for so long. We are all constantly surrounded by something. The landscape that surrounds us shapes us and influences us as we function within it. I live in a hard wood forest on the edge of the Canadian Precambrian Shield. The change in this landscape from season to season has inspired me to examine how the glass columns can evoke a new sense of space, by enlarging the groupings of columns to evoke the feeling of forest or grove. I have worked with scale to create a presence; they demand that observers engage with them in a more physical and direct way. Using numerous columns to define a space, I incorporate light through the multiple transparent or opaque glass elements. Drawing on natural and abstracted forms I have created a series of work that is harmonious and compelling through the seasons. Light is the critical element for glass in both indoor and outdoor settings. The shifting movement of the light throughout the day illuminates the beauty of the glass elements, creating moments when it appears that the colour itself sings and that colour is commanding the space. When lit at night, the columns take on a dramatic, jewel-like quality. The illumination of the coloured shafts is reminiscent of coloured lights reflecting off the surface of water at night with a slight ripple. This integration of light and object is something that I have been exploring throughout my work with sculptural forms.

With the ‘Flower Vase’ series I sought to examine how glass has been used historically and how I could bring it forward in a contemporary way to adorn the home. My latest project extends this exploration to the ‘Large Flower Vase’ pieces. When I think of gardens, I think of something larger than life. They are a physically manipulated, living space that can not only surround you, but also overpower you. These ideas have fed into the new blown vessels as they take on a larger, more voluptuous form. These pieces capture the beauty of the blooming on vessels, which reference historic forms that have evolved with a contemporary style.

One of the Large Flower Vase series, this smokey grey vase features Cala lilies. It is blown and solid worked glass, with a sandblasted surface. Photo by the artist

Botanicals and flowers have long been a source of inspiration for adorning the body in a jewellery format. I have been exploring this idea on a larger scale and refer to this new series as ‘Wall Brooches’. Holding the light, the glass contrasts with the airiness of the wire form, playing on the idea of reversing the density of steel and the translucency of glass. The shadow cast by the wire form also speaks of transparency and the movement of light, while the glass holds the colour and brilliance of the blossom in the moment.

Wire and glass are combined in this collection of ‘Wall Brooches’. Photo by the artist
‘Memories’. A detail of one of the Wall Brooches. Photo by the artist

What is your favourite tool or piece of equipment and why?

My favourite tool is my small pair of Carlo Dona tweezers because they are good for oh so many things!

Do you have a favourite piece you have made? Why is it your favourite?

Whatever I am currently working on is my favourite, because I am creating.

Where do you show and sell your work?

I primarily show and sell my work through galleries or art consultants. Increasingly, I am working with landscape designers. I am also contacted through my website.

This Flowering Vine vessel features a 23k gold lining. Photo by the artist

What advice would you give to someone starting out on a career in glass?

Just do what it takes to make… Take lots of workshops; there is so much that can be done and you never stop learning. You have to keep your hand in it … Time makes you better.


Sage green vase with 12 soft blue flowers, comprising blown and solid worked glass and a sandblasted surface. Photo by the artist

Do you have a career highlight?

In 2022, I installed seven Groves in the garden of a new wing of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. This was a large, complex project and I worked with an art design consulting firm for the donor who gifted the Groves to the space.

Before that, I had a 25-year retrospective travelling show that toured across Canada, called ‘Susan Rankin: Valid Objects of Beauty’. I began at the Moose Jaw Museum and Art gallery in 2009 and finished in Whitby, Ontario, at the Station Gallery in 2013.

Where is your glass practice heading next?

I continue to make and will see where the journey takes me.

About the artist

Susan Rankin with one of her Grove installations. Photo: David Smith

Susan Rankin lives and works from her home in Apsley, Ontario, Canada. She graduated with honours from Sheridan College, Oakville Ontario in 1989.

Susan’s towering columns and lively, voluptuous vessels wrapped in vines, leaves and flowers, have been shown in 34 solo exhibitions and numerous invitational and group exhibitions across North America at prestigious venues for contemporary glass. Her work is in public collections at the Corning Museum of Glass, Claridge Collection, Michel-Pierre Grenier Collection, Saskatchewan Arts Board, Winnipeg Art Gallery, USB Bank (Canada), Department of Foreign Affairs, Musee des beaux-arts de Montreal, Quebec, Glazen Huis, Flemish Centre for Contemporary Glass Art, Lommel, Belgium, as well as in private collections.

Find out more via Susan’s website:

Main image: Sunset on the lake featuring detail of Grove in snow. Photo by the artist

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