For 17 years we have been celebrating leaders in Calgary’s volunteer community with the Leadership Awards. For seven of those years, we have presented the winners with a beautiful purple, blown glass award.
When you think of an artist, you tend to think about a warholesque figure, someone who is very hip, and provocative. You have to disabuse yourself of those notions of the artiste before meeting Brian Kelk.
He’s a tall, some could say hulk of a man, who you would guess is a biker, long before you would ever think he is a glassblower.
He is also very personable, affable, and passionate – a man that enjoys the medium of glass so much that he is more than happy to talk about it and show people around his Midnapore studio.
It is Brian’s history with corporate art that first brought him to our attention, and we jumped at the chance to have Brian create the Leadership Awards.
“When we saw some of his other work, we just knew that we wanted to work with him,” remembers Karen Franco, Director of Communications for Volunteer Calgary. “We have never been disappointed by the awards, every year we are incredibly proud to present the winners with such a beautiful and unique award.”
As for the Leadership Award pieces, Brian says that the pieces take a minimum of a couple of days to create, with an hour or two spent doing the “hot work” – or in layman’s terms, doing the actual glass blowing. The award stays in the kiln for two days, before the bottom is ground down so it is nice and flat, and finally polished.
“Glass is weird that way, if you don’t treat it right, and you don’t take your time, years down the road it can just crack on you,” says Brian. “It’s taken quite a few years of experimentation to get that [Leadership Award] shape right.”
Years of experimentation are an understatement, Brian has been working as a glass-blower since starting ACAD in 1989, before that he was working with stained glass.
People say that it takes around 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, it is safe to say, that after working as a glass blower for over 20 years, he is an expert – albeit a modest one.
“It’s one of my theories on life. Nothing is hard to do; it just takes time to learn how to do it. If you spend that time to learn how to do it,” Brian says with a slight pause. “It might take you a while, but eventually you’ll catch on.”
People all around North America have caught on to Brian’s work. His “fish-in-a-bag” pieces are featured in galleries throughout Canada and the United States, and has had steady work blowing glass pieces for the corporate world, working with such organizations as: the United Way, the World Downhill Skiing Championships and has made the awards for the Flames Alumni golf tournament for going on 14 years.
“It’s hard to break into a lot of these corporations, but if you do a good job and you have the work there on time it keeps everybody happy,” Brian says with a self-effacing chuckle. “But I feel like my work is pretty unique in itself.”
Volunteer Calgary’s Karen Franco couldn’t agree with Brian more. “Brian’s work is unparalleled.. Every year when we get the new Leadership Awards we are blown away by how beautiful they are.”
Despite the fact that Brian’s work is beloved throughout North America, when the economy down-turned in 2008, like so many artists, he had to stop blowing glass full-time, he works with heavy machinery during the day, but lucky for us and all the award winners, Brian’s passion for his art made him keep his shop open.
“I am a die-hard I guess. Some days I wonder why I keep doing it. It’s not like I am getting rich doing it,” Brian disclosed. “If I would have tried to just keep doing the glass I would have been closed a long time ago. You do what you gotta do for something you really enjoy.”