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News / January 17, 2011

Bee Kingdom, Glass Artists

Bee Kingdom is a glass studio collective based in a backyard garage in Calgary. Formed by a group ofAlberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) students before they graduated in 2005, Bee Kingdom focuses on design, fine art and custom sculptures and installations. Here, Tim Belliveau talks about his work with Ryan Marsh Fairweather and Phillip Bandura.

When I was younger, I saw myself becoming a sculptor, or maybe an architect. When I got to ACAD, I saw glass-blowing for the first time. I wasn’t really interested, but then I took an elective. When it came time to pick my major, it became a fall-back to go into glass. At first, it was really limiting, and it felt like you could never get it to do what you wanted. After a while, the surprising accidents became more interesting than the original idea. Glass gives you a lot of feedback; it’s an active material that way. It completely hooked me. Once I got working with it, I started working with my two colleagues and we decided we wanted to build a studio.

We’re really grateful to the staff at ACAD. The gentleman who built the equipment there also built equipment at a place in Seattle called Pilchuk Glass Studio; it’s a world-renowned facility where people from around the world teach classes, take classes and volunteer. The builder suggested we volunteer to help them produce really giant glass sculptures for their annual auction. We started doing that during our second year of glass-blowing. We came back to Calgary and tried to find a studio. We found that there wasn’t one available here, so we decided to create one on our own, and the staff at ACAD helped us set it up.

We opened the studio full-time in 2006. Getting a permit for a glass furnace was tricky. Taxes are pretty complicated. You’re doing business and you have personal expenses because it’s a home studio. Being a creative artist is maybe 10 percent of our time. The rest is marketing and business. It’s got its ups and downs, but that makes it really fun. During the recent recession, we had to learn to get by on less. But we also just got back from Berlin and Paris because we had an exhibition. That experience was life-changing.

A lot of places take a very functional approach to glass: how to make a great goblet or a great vase. ACAD is more conceptual, more about how to express yourself with this material. The most valuable thing I learned was persistence. You’re also taught how to write grants and how to organize yourself. Lots of people may not become full-time artists, but the value of that experience is useful in all kinds of careers.