Eric Covington remembers the first thought he had after blowing his first piece of glass.
“How much will it cost to build my own studio?” Covington, then 60, wondered. His obsession with glass-blowing had begun.
Covington, a telecom engineer, retired in 2004. He originally took up jade carving after meeting a rock carver during a months-long motorhome trip to the Yukon with his wife. After going to the Ottawa School of Art for further instruction in carving, Covington decided to treat himself to a glass-blowing course at the school.
Although Covington intended that glass-blowing would complement his jade carving—by using blown glass as a mount for the jade pieces—he became smitten with the immediacy of blown glass.
“Jade-carving is a long, slow process,” says Covington. “But with glass-blowing, you can get from concept to finished product in an hour.”
There are many technologies in glass art. Covington found his particular passion was hot-glass, using a furnace. Early on, he discovered murrine tile rolls, and made that technique his specialty.
“Murrine rolls let me put the colour exactly where I want it,” says Covington, who incorporates slices of the rolls into his blown pieces.
Covington’s obsession has evolved into a passion for sharing the art of glass-blowing. Covington is a partner in the non-profit Priest’s Mill Arts Centre in Alexandria. In addition to providing gallery and sales space to local artists, Priest’s Mill is an art-teaching institution, with a fully-equipped glass-blowing studio.
Originally called Priest’s Mill Glassworks, the arts centre expanded its mandate to support local arts and artists in all media.
“The reason we’re able to exist and grow is our relationship with Airbnb,” says Covington. While Airbnb is best known for accommodation, they’ve recently branched out into an “experiences” program. Covington says that over 60% of current revenue at Priests Mill comes from experience bookings at Airbnb.
“Airbnb does a lot of the marketing for us,” says Covington, “and they handle the transactions.”
Visitors to Priest’s Mill learn the art of glassblowing, and create their own piece of glass art to take home. Covington estimates that about 70% of the centre’s visitors booking through Airbnb are from outside the Montreal-to-Ottawa area, with 50% coming from outside Canada.
“We’ve become a destination,” says Covington. Priests Mill is eligible for Young Canada Works grants, and plans to apply for four positions this summer, including instructors and gallery assistants.
Covington, now 73, still blows glass twice a week. In addition to his murrine pieces, he takes on commissioned work. One often-requested product is replacement chimneys for old glass kerosene lamps, which Covington makes to match.
Covington sells some of his glass pieces on Etsy, but the main outlet is the gallery at Priests Mill, on Mill Square in Alexandria.
Covington doesn’t foresee any end to his glass-blowing obsession.
“I’ll blow glass until I die,” he says.