Here’s a quick question for you Edmonton art lovers: How many outdoor blown glass art pieces does the city have? The answer: As of a few weeks ago, Edmonton now has its first! If you haven’t walked down 108th street lately you’re missing out on some pretty interesting pieces of art. As part of the city’s Capital Boulevard “streetscaping” project, local glassblower Keith Walker was commissioned to create unique art pieces to decorate the lampposts that line the street.
The name of the installation is “Transitions,” referring to a number of transitions that Walker noticed throughout the project; his transition from part-time glassblower to full-time artist, his transition from being primarily a solo artist to a team leader (around 40 people helped with the project), the transition of Edmonton itself from a city that has, Walker says, “a bit of an inferiority complex compared to our neighbour to the south to a city that is closer to where it wants to be, artistically.” The title also refers to the transition that took place at Highlands Jr. High School during the project, which is where the story finds a nice third act.
Recently, Highlands Jr High became the first Arts Core Junior High School in Edmonton. Students are now able to “increase their skills in a number of art disciplines and in turn use those skills to enhance their understanding of core curricular outcomes.” Sounds like a perfect place for budding artists, and potential assistants in a certain glassblowing project, right?
Walker’s friend Brad Burns is the principle of Highlands Jr. High. They were talking about the school, Walker’s project and other things, and Burns mentioned that the school had a bit of extra space as a result of lower enrollment. This struck Walker as fortuitous, because even though he was commissioned to decorate about 70 lampposts, his downtown studio, Blow in the Dark Glassworks didn’t have the room to hold all the pieces.
So Burns and Walker struck a deal: In exchange for providing a place for him to work and store his pieces, Walker would teach students at the school about glassblowing. Walker even enlisted the help of six of the students to complete his project. They helped with putting the pieces together, boxing them up, planning the installation out, and learned a little about glassblowing along the way. Hopefully, this experience will help these students continue to pursue their own artistic passion, and we’ll see a new batch of Alberta-grown creativity in the near future.
So if you happen to be on 108th street in Edmonton, take a look up at the lampposts. They may look like amazing pieces of art, but they represent something else as well: An Alberta story connecting culture with education, glass to class.