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Surrey’s premiere glassblower keeping an eye on the future

Robert Parkes’ says he’d be ‘more than happy to teach’ in the right setting
Faced with the reality of development in Port Kells, local glassblower Robert Parkes is looking for ways to pass on his knowledge of the art. (Trevor Beggs)

Surrey’s most established glassblower wonders how he’s managed to carve out a thirty-year career doing what he loves.

Sometimes I shake my head when I get up in the morning because I can’t believe I get to do this,” Robert Parkes said.

“I’m lucky enough to be able to get globs of hot glass and make stuff out of it for a living.”

‘Great Globs of Glass,’ would make for a great title if Parkes ever decided to write an autobiography. The glass industry has been an integral part of his life ever since graduating from high school in 1969.

Parkes entered the stained glass industry before beginning an apprenticeship at the Robert Held glassblowing studio in Kitsilano back in 1987.

“Robert was a wonderful mentor, I owe everything to him,” said Parkes.

In 2009, Parkes built his own glassblowing studio called the ‘Loafing Shed’ out on his property in Port Kells. He was recognized in the community on numerous occasions, including when his work was presented to Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr. during the 2011 Surrey Economic Summit.

Earlier this year, he was a 2017 Surrey Civic Treasure award recipient.

SEE ALSO: Surrey glass artist, poet, and theatre vet named as Civic Treasures for 2017

However, Parkes is aware of the changes going on around him in Port Kells. A lot of the area around Parkes’ farm has been bought by developers, and he’s aware that the clock is ticking.

“Surrey’s been my home for a long time, but we’re facing this daunting situation that could change our lives,” he said.

“We’re trying to decide what the next step is for us and this property. It’s all going to change, but we’re going to stay here as long as we can.”

Parkes is left with a few different options. He could stand his ground in Port Kells for as long as possible, re-establish himself elsewhere in the Fraser Valley, or face retirement.

Those are his current options, but Parkes is keeping another idea tucked away in his back pocket.

While development is launching piping hot glob of glass into Parkes’ life, he does have a vision for the future of glassblowing locally.

“I have a little idea cooked up where we can take this glassblowing equipment and make a facility where young people can learn glassblowing, blacksmithing and pottery.”

“Back in the day, these art forms made your cities,” Parkes said. “Automation changed everything, but it wasn’t very long ago that everything was handmade.”

“The goal is to partner with a school or move this equipment to another facility elsewhere,” he said. “Hopefully now that they gave me a civic treasure award, they’ll listen to me.”

Parkes is also staying flexible by saying that his equipment could be moved to a University, but it’s not a necessity.

If Parkes is forced to move, he doesn’t want his premiere glassblowing equipment to go to waste. The 65-year-old also realizes that it would be hard to re-establish himself elsewhere.

“This is the state of the art stuff, you can’t get better glassblowing equipment than this,” he said.

What Parkes needs moving forward is support from different levels of government in order to kickstart his project.

“It would have to be publicly and federally funded. Right now, they give no money to arts except for dance and theatre. That has to change.”

Parkes is hoping that his passion for glassblowing rubs off on other people who might have interest in the art form.

“If I can get into a facility that I can run, I’d be more than happy to teach. It would be an outlet for me to remain creative and pass on what I know.”

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