Wendy Maurer has spent the last year relearning how to create her colourful glass bead art.
She’s been making her creations since 2006, but needed to learn to adjust after she began experiencing tremors in her left hand due to Parkinson’s.
When she taught, the first thing she would say to a student is “you need two steady hands” but she’s learned that’s not necessarily the case.
“That’s been my biggest challenge this year,” Maurer said. “After I first of all thought, ‘well I can’t do this anymore’, then I realized how important it is for me to have that creative outlet in my life.”
Maurer uses movement to shape the beads, which begin as coloured glass rods.
She holds a rod in the flame, and as it melts she rolls it onto a steel rod, using gravity and the heat to shape it. There are also tools such as molds that can help shape the glass.
“I teach people from scratch, so they’re not dependent on the tools,” she said.
“So they learn how the glass wants to move. Because once you know that, you can create any shape.”
She gets plenty of inspiration from other artists, customer requests and the ocean.
“I like ocean-themed beads,” Maurer said. “I like bright colours, I can’t stay away from bright colours.”
Maurer’s glass art is on display permanently at Qualicum Art Supply and Gallery (206 First Ave W) and includes many colourful pieces completed since she adjusted to the tremors with new techniques.
Her new display has been a catalyst for her to get back to her torch and patiently figure out how to work with her tremors, she said. Persistence in trying out new techniques has been key.
“It’s been a really interesting experience for me, right, because part of Parkinson’s is apathy,” she said.
“And I found it was really easy just to sit in my recliner in the living room and look out at the ocean and listen to audio books, but that’s not healthy if that’s all you’re doing.”
A little movement goes a long way. She starts her day by heading into the studio to check on yesterday’s work and bring it into the kitchen for cleaning.
“Just that amount of movement, I’ve found, benefits my Parkinson’s,” Maurer said.
Maurer said she is fortunate to have supportive friends — one circle of glass bead-making friends bought her a thick leather apron, for safety.
She also keeps a bottle of lavender oil handy (cap loosened) since the flame is approximately 1,400 C.
Another group of friends gave her a long-handled electric lighter for her torch she can use easily, instead of matches.
“When my tremors get really bad, then I just take my hand out of the flame and my glass out of the flame,” she said. “And I transfer it to the other hand — and I breathe deep.”
It has taken a great deal of practice to relearn her craft. Her fingers gained muscle memory from years of learning and creating.
“The trick now is to relearn how to work with a hand that has a mind of its own — and it doesn’t talk to me,” she said.
Since Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, Maurer says she will need to continue adapting.
When her tremors first started, they used to stop when she began to move her fingers.
“It doesn’t do that anymore. So I’m adapting my work station. I’m constantly adapting as the tremors change. I’m just praying the right hand doesn’t start,” she said with a laugh.
Before the tremors, she could make as many as 18 large pendant type beads in a full day. Now that she has to concentrate so much more, she might make three or four.
Maurer has tried a variety of art forms over the years, but said it was not until she reached a certain skill level in glass working that she began to think of herself as an artist.
“I never dreamt I’d be an artist, but I totally love working with glass,” she said.