Life is fragile for artists called to create

CUPAR, Sask. — Swirls of intense hues spiked with glitter fill the blown glass hearts ready for Valentine’s Day markets.

Artist Jacky Berting transforms plain glass into curling stones, vases and earrings of various sizes, types and colours in a house turned studio on an acreage outside Cupar.

She established Berting Glass in 1992 after the unveiling of her Glass Wheatfield, A Salute to Farmers, which included 14,000 waist-high glass wheat stalks and took her several years to make.

Berting said the wheat helped cement a full-time career as an artist.

“I was really lucky. Wheat was really a blessing. It’s such a popular Sask-atchewan gift,” she said.

“We hit on things and it’s made all the difference.”

She derives inspiration from the prairie that surrounds her 18 acre property, which includes the home where she raised two sons with her artist husband, Jim Clark, as well as their studio and show room and a detached shop for transforming molten glass.

Sketches abound in an upstairs room, while Clark’s newest work in whimsical characters is displayed in the basement. The couple’s creations are also displayed in a former living room.

Clark, who is turning glass in a blazing furnace this day, is also a metal artist. Those skills allowed them to create larger pieces such as chandeliers, room partitions and tables.

“Jim’s a man of many talents,” said Berting, who doubted that their work would be feasible without him creating and adapting machines to make the creations they sell.

“We are able to do so many things,” Clark said.

“All of it together makes a business.”

He enjoys the rural lifestyle, which includes helping his farm neigh-bours during their busy times.

“We’re up at 6 a.m. and can sit with each other for an hour,” he said.

“There’s no rushing through the day. Days are long but not hurried.”

Berting received formal art training, where she was drawn to glass blowing.

She can be found in her studio most days, surrounded by a burly dog and a bevy of cats and wielding a torch while hand fashioning her signature glass wheat pieces.

Berting balances the more commercial side of her business with side projects, sketching and creating one of a kind pieces.

“I accept it as part of our business.”

She is helped by two part-time workers from the rural area.

For Clark, art settles a busy mind.

“I’m a fast mover, it slows my mind down,” he said.

For him, art is more than just making money.

“Money can’t be your ultimate priority. I love to create things,” he said.

Berting agreed but keeps a sharp pencil on her business’s bottom line.

“I do care a bit more, as I do all the bookkeeping and am pretty much forced to concern myself with bill paying, et cetera.

“Also, we do have many bills each month and there is never an abundance of money. This is an expensive craft to be in.”

Berting agreed that art is engrained in her, cultivated from her early days on the farm in St. Gregor, Sask., where she was given free rein to play with wax, plaster and clay from her father’s taxidermy hobby.

Her parents also dabbled in sketching, painting and carving.

“I don’t think I could do anything else. Art is what’s calling,” she said.

For Clark, art was also calling while working full-time for Ipsco.

“I was a crane operator in body but not in soul,” he said, citing his other work during that time in commercial photography and sculpting.

“Most artists have to make,” he said.

“If not making, they’re not happy.”

The couple’s rural location has complicated marketing efforts because couriers will not come to the acreage.

However, the bus and post office have been their saviours, transporting their art to market.

“We send hundreds of parcels each year,” said Clark.

Sales in their 20 years of business have fluctuated, falling off in 2009-10 because of bad economic times.

“These are luxury items,” said Berting.

They market through their website, craft and wholesale shows and word of mouth and have their items in more than 80 stores in Canada.

Debbie Ohlhausen, owner of Different Strokes in Olds, Alta., was drawn to Berting’s wheat because of her own farming roots.

She said Berting’s work is well re-ceived in her art boutique.

“It seems to really speak to people in the Prairies,” said Ohlhausen.

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