A touch of glass: Tofino artisan Kevin Midgely

Tofino Art Glass’s quaint little cedar-shake studio near the top of Main Street could easily be mistaken for an enchanted cottage. Behind its cheery red French doors awaits a treasure trove of artisanal delights made onsite by glass artist, Kevin Midgely.

“I chose the quiet lifestyle and the ability to talk to my customers one on one,” said Midgely. “It’s important to have a complete visitor experience.”

He first discovered its fascinations the summer of 1979 during an Ontario College Art class at Robert Jekyll’s Toronto-based studio. Within a decade, Midgely began mass-producing plates, trays, bowl and arts pieces to supply 300 stores across North America – work that graced magazine covers such as Food & Wine.

Now he focuses on more portable pieces including jewelry, often using recycled glass and grains of local sand.

“You have to be open to the possibilities of change in ways designs are going to work. I’m always trying to figure out best ways to do something – until I think of a better best way.

“All artists need the time to just think,” said Midgely, time he finds grinding glass – dreaming up new artwork and techniques no one else uses. It took a year to refine his method of drilling holes and a decade for his personally designed kiln – inspired by an experimental kiln he saw while studying at Pilchuck Glass School in the early 80s.

An incubator for glass talent, Pilchuck is the legendary Dale Chihuly’s school in Stanwood, Washington. He also studied at Boyce Lundstrom’s studio – Camp Colton, outside Portland, Oregon – returning several times during the 90s. As Midgley describes it, the once intimate global glass community now exists largely online -although old-timers no longer post on websites like warmglass.com.

He doesn’t see a rosy future for glassmakers – while Pacific Pyros remain BC’s vibrant beadmakers’ group, the BC Glass Arts Association recently dissolved and talented glassmakers like Nanaimo’s Alex Chance have left the island.

“I’m one of the few surviving glass studios left,” says Midgely, who has concerns for the local arts community in a challenging economy when fewer tourists arrive.

“Artists here are not valued enough in terms of what they can contribute to economy.”

He would love to see Tofino become a place where artists could come and live year round – as do some local carvers who sell pieces created during winter for thousands of dollars.

“We need to pull together, says Midgely. “It’s really important we keep the artists and galleries operating in town. We are the reason some of the hotels get occupancy,” adding that Toronto clients travelled here specifically seeking out his jewelry.

The Wickaninnish Inn and Ucluelet’s Black Rock – host to Artsplash – do the most for artists.

The first step is to revitalize Tofino’s summer market – with a policy to include only artisanal products designed and made locally, and with Parks and Rec resuming control so that proceeds directly sustain local programs.

Midgely wants to reinstate the West Coast studio tour – a map he produced and distributed free of charge in 2009.

“I would love to see District encourage more home-based studios,” says Midgely, “as long as they don’t bug their neighbours.”