The Fragile Art of Making a Living: An Ottawa glass artist shapes a new future during the COVID-19 pandemic
OTTAWA -- When Richard Bond became a glass artist 35 years ago, he knew there would be challenging times.
“It’s a journey. It’s not always easy. There are ups and downs,” said Bond, in his Wellington West Ottawa studio.
“Still, I’ve been very blessed, very fortunate to make a living as an artist.”
For much of his career, Bond has made that living south of the border.
“I’ve been doing, almost exclusively, all my art shows, art festivals, in the US,” he said.
Earlier this year, Bond and his wife, Diana, a recently retired nurse, planned to attend a series of shows in the Southern US, while seeing the sights along the way.
“We arranged a series of shows to do starting in Florida, travelling across the southern US, and eventually ending up in the Grand Canyon, where we’d do a little bit of hiking,” said Bond.
“And in early March, we set off for this tour, with this COVID-19 thing just on the horizon. It was there, but still seemed to be far away.”
Not long after their arrival in Florida, Bond would discover that making a living as a glass artist was about to become more fragile than ever.
“On March 12, we arrived after a three-day drive to Florida to begin the first of a series of shows. On the 13, the show opened, and we had a great opening day,” he said.
“And as we were closing up, the police arrived to inform us that President Trump had announced a national emergency. The show was cancelled, and we had to pack up and get out immediately.”
“We were somewhat stunned. We knew COVID-19 was on the horizon, but this was certainly a shock to us. Later that day, we got messages from the remaining shows on the tour that they were cancelling all their shows. Our trip to the Southern US was completely washed away,” said the artist.
“We needed to head home and as we were driving we were hearing news items about closing the border. And we were starting to panic saying ‘What’s going on here? Are we going to get trapped and not even be able to get back into Canada?’ he said.
Richard and Diana Bond made it back to their Wellington West home, and an unsettling and uncertain future.
“We got home and hunkered down for this new reality, not really sure what was heading our way. It was like running into a brick wall. I had to figure out what I was going to do for living, how I can sell my artwork, when all that I’ve done, almost exclusively, is sell my art at these US art festivals.”
Gone, along with the shows, was the bulk of Bond’s annual income.
“Almost all my sales were generated at these shows,” said Bond.
Bond would have to “rethink” how to attract clients to his work; not an easy undertaking given the tactile nature of his sandblasted slabs of multi-coloured, opaque glass, often depicting the raw, natural beauty of the Canadian landscape. His son helped him set up an on-line store, but it’s not the same as welcoming potential customers to his show booths, where they can handle pieces before they buy.
“It’s very difficult to sell work that’s very tactile when you’re looking at a screen. It’s much easier when you can talk to people, have them touch the artwork. It’s a different experience all together, so it’s been a real challenge to turn around and reach the audience I used to get,” Bond said.
Bond has reconnected with artists in Ottawa and has joined the West End Studio Tour, for its upcoming show. Covid has also given birth to the re-imagination of how the long-standing tour will take place this year.
“People can’t go into an artist’s studio space, so they came up with the idea that they would offer the show as an outdoor studio tour. The set-up of the displays of their artwork will be outside,” he said.
The West End Studio Tour runs over two weekends, September 19/20 and 26/27. Bond is encouraging the public to support artists by visiting their creative spaces.
“Within the creative community the musicians, the actors, and the visual artists are faced with some real serious challenges. I’m hoping people are sensitive to that. They can do a lot by coming out, even if it’s just to encourage the artist. It’s nice to see people’s interest. Obviously, we want to sell some work, as well, but the first step is to come out and support the artists,” he said.
Bond said he is grateful for the support he’s received from family and friends.
“They’ve stepped up in some pretty big ways to help us out and that’s been wonderful, really encouraging.”
Bond is hopeful the show will be a success. He remains grateful for the opportunity to create beautiful works of art that bring joy to those who showcase them in their homes.
“I feel blessed that I can do what I do and still make a go of it. I may have to evolve a bit. I may have to change and pick up an old paintbrush that I haven’t picked up for a while. I take one day at a time. I have a lot of ideas. I’m not short on those. I’m generally optimistic. We may all evolve a little bit I’m still optimistic this will work out in the end.”
To learn more about Richard Bond’s glass art, visit https://richardbondartist.com/
To learn more about the West End Studio Tour, visit http://westendstudiotour.ca/