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Company HistoryIt all started while I was in graduate school at USC (University of Southern California). I was a grad assistant helping to teach Ceramics. One weekend, while talking with another grad assistant, I heard about a glass program at Long Beach State. I went there to check out their Ceramics department and found something interesting - in Long Beach, many of their kilns are kept outside. While exploring the kilns, I came across this little interesting furnace firing away. Someone mentioned that the San Jose crew had set it up and had demonstrated the new glass blowing techniques. I found out it was a glassblowing furnace and was instantly fascinated by it. I immediately returned to USC and suggested we learn glassblowing. Unfortunately, the department was not as keen on the program as I was, and they turned down the idea.
Two years later, I found myself at Sheridan College - School of Design, in Ontario, Canada teaching ceramics. In my second year there, a fund was developed that allowed me to take a class at the Penland School of Crafts. While there I would have the chance to learn from glassblower Mark Pieser, an industrial designer and model builder from Chicago, who also gave up his job for the love of glass. I was first in line for the course that summer - a course that held only three of us. Fortunately for me, the other two students fell in love and spent most of those 2 weeks off somewhere with one another while I had 98% of the glassblowing time all to myself.
When the course was over, I returned to Canada inspired and excited, but realized that I had no idea where to even start collecting the tools necessary to create a hot glass studio. So I opened the yellow pages and searched for glassblowers. At the time (1968), there were only two listings: Consumer's Glass and Dominion Glass. So I called Consumer's Glass - at first they sort of scoffed at my request and then kindly referred me to their engineering department. The engineers were interested in my inquiry and offered to give me a tour of the glass plant. These men were unbelievably helpful and eager to help me set up a glassblowing school in Canada, and encouraged me by donating a furnace. They even had it delivered to the school and supplied me with the names of tool manufacturers in Germany where I could buy supplies to begin courses at Sheridan. We completed the building of the studio and soon glassblowing became a requirement for my Ceramics students.
Unfortunately, after a few years of running the courses, our equipment began to fail and late one night, after a call from someone driving along the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) who saw flames, leaping from the building, the fire department broke down the doors and attacked the poor furnace with their axes! Shortly after, the administration decided they didn't want the glass department anymore. I convinced them that there was a solution. If I could find them a metal building they could have a department. We built it, moved the tank and studio there on Sheridan property and I taught glassblowing until 1976, by then I had hired another glass teacher to help me and I prepared to move on to the next stage of my career.
After I left Sheridan College in 1976, I moved to Calgary and went on to work for Canadian Art Glass - a company that at the time, did not have very many clients and were looking to increase their exposure. I was initially hired on as Production Manager, which soon channeled me into my next position as General Manager. While there, I helped open markets in the United States and established fifteen new major accounts that would soon carry Canadian Art Glass. I stayed there for two years until the company packed up and moved to Ontario. I had just bought a house in Calgary and decided that I didn't want to move back to Ontario so I left Canadian Art Glass (and thank God because within a year they were out of business!) and in 1978 I opened a hot glass studio - Skookum Art Glass Inc. - with one inexperienced helper. Initially, my plan was to have the production support my art. In the end, it was our production art glass that took off and I had a small but moderately successful business on my hands. After meeting my future wife, Chris, the two of us decided to move to Vancouver and open our current studio in beautiful British Columbia: Robert Held Art Glass. This year we're celebrating twenty-six years in business and the company's doing better than ever.