This Artist Is Carrying On The Beloved Craft Of Glass Blowing On The Magdalen Islands

Jeryl Brunner

On Îles de la Madeleine there is no shortage of culture. This island is also a hotbed of ingenuity and resourcefulness. It it said that in every family on the island you may encounter a fisherman, an artisan and a musician. And sometimes they are the same person.”

While there are no amusement parks, no Starbucks, no MacDonalds and just four traffic lights. However, what you will find are empty stretches of sand that seems to go on forever and fetching red roof light houses doting the coast.

Plus, there are places like Musée de la Mer. The fascinating museum recounts the history of the island, its “Madelinot” people and their centuries of survival. There are also plenty of theaters and music venues to pop into all the time.

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Glass blowing artist Catherine Chevrier-TurbideCourtesy La Meduse

Meet glass blowers Sophie Bourgeois and Catherine Chevrier-Turbide. Catherine's father François Turbide began his craft on the island in 1985. In 1997, Bourgeois came on board. And in 2013 Turbide’s daughter Catherine joined.

As the company celebrates its 35th anniversary Chevrier-Turbide and Bourgeois have officially taken over the business. While retired François Turbide still lends his expertise when needed.

Their studio and gallery La Méduse is known for creating stunning molten glass jellyfish made on site in ovens that heat up to over 2200 degrees fahrenheit. “My father was fascinated by jellyfish and loved how transparent they are and relate to the environment,” explains Chevrier-Turbide. “He wanted to make pieces that looked like jellyfish floating in the water. And glass seemed to be the best material to use to create that clear, transparent appearance.”

They also make lamps, urns, vases, jewels, trees and fish in their fetching workshop in a century-old schoolhouse that is open to the public. So people can watch them fashion creations from raw materials like clear glass.

Not only do they show their works in their gallery at La Méduse, they also display local artists, selling their paintings, photography and ceramics. “It’s a crazy good feeling to make glass, from beginning to end. You get that strong feeling of “wow” inside,” says Chevrier-Turbide of the joy of moulding the glass into works of art. “Sometimes you get what you wanted. But sometimes you get something even more beautiful than what you expected.”

Jeryl Brunner: How did you end up working in the family business?

Catherine Chevrier-Turbide: I studied visual art and communications and have a degree in biology from Laval University in Quebec City. I was trained as a marine biologist. My father had always been blowing glass. And when I came back to Îles de la Madeleine after my studies, I started helping him on the communications side. Then I decided to start making little pieces. Slowly I began to make more. I knew that if I would be a glass blower, it would take many years before mastering the glass. I wasn’t sure I was ready to put that many years into something that I didn’t know I would like. But finally, slowly, step by step, I really got hooked on glass. I was patient. And I stayed.

Jeryl Brunner: Why do you love working with glass so much?

Catherine Chevrier-Turbide: Glass is a magical material. I have always been amazed by it. It gets so soft on the stick. Then just like that, the texture changes and becomes hard. Also, there is no end to what is possible to make. And I love that it will last for a long, long time. If we buried one of these glass jellyfish archeologists would be able to find it in 2,000 years. It would still be there. Crazy.

Jeryl Brunner: Glass making remains a craft steeped in tradition. What is the hardest part of the process?

Catherine Chevrier-Turbide: Mastering your element. In other words mastering the glass itself and knowing how it works. You have to work with the glass, not against it. You have to trust each other and learn to work together. That takes time and patience.

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New York based journalist who has written for Forbes, Parade, InStyle, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal. Author of the book "My City, My New York, Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places" and podcaster, ("When Lightning Strikes"). I cover the arts, theater, entertainment, food, travel and people who are motivated by their joy and passion.

New York City, NY
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