March 1st marks 35 years that we have lived and worked in Elora. The studio was originally located in Fergus, ON and known as Boney Fingers Art Glass, but we changed the name by 1988 to “Hanscomb Glass Studio”. Neil always believed that he would be a glass artist until the end of his days and didn’t want to answer the phone as Boney Fingers, officially he said he would never be tired of his own name.
We moved here from Fergus where Neil had opened a small stained glass studio in the basement of a large stone building , called “Riverside Square'', in September 1983. Gisela joined Neil in the summer of 1984 after immigrating to Canada from Germany, and thus began our creative journey together.
Our first pieces were small suncatchers and glass boxes but we still remember our first commission, a sidelight for a bungalow. At the time it was very exciting that someone believed in us and our work. We became good friends with our first patron who continued to be one of our greatest supporters over the years.
In the fall of 1985 we received our first big commission for a restaurant in Peterborough, Ontario. We had to design 6 windows, lamps, an entrance way, a suspended ceiling and a DJ booth!
It took a long time to finish and we were still working on it after our move to the big log cabin on Metcalfe Street in Elora on March 01, 1986. Elora was already known for its artisans then and there were 11 studios right downtown!
We felt very much at home here. Not only was our studio located in the center of the artistic community but we also lived right above our shop. Before Sunday shopping came along, Elora was a busy place especially on weekends in the late 80s. Due to the village being a tourist attraction, Elora and a few other small towns in Ontario were allowed to open on Sundays.
Our store was busy and we had lots of exciting work to do. In the fall of 1987 Neil had the opportunity to participate in a 10 day design seminar with one of Europe’s foremost glass artists, Johannes Schreiter. This experience has run deeply through Neil’s career until today. Also in the fall of 1987 the “Elora Studio Tour” (now called Elora Fergus Studio Tour) emerged from the Elora Craft Guild. Artists opened their studios to the public to educate about the craft movement and entertain at the same time.
In 1988 Neil went to Pilchuck Glass School, Mount Vernon, Washington to study glass painting with Cappy Thompson. By the end of the year we were awarded a large commission (150 square ft.) for the University of Guelph, which was based on the chaos theory and was installed in the MacNaughton Building’s foyer in the fall of 1989.
It was at this moment that we knew we had to look for a new space to live and work as our lease came to an end. We were very lucky to find the building we are in now, right across the street.
Built in 1864 it was a big old house, covered with aluminum siding. Looking back now we were very fortunate to find this house so close to our old space. It was completely gutted. A lot of time and work went into making it the beautiful yellow building that it is today. We joke about it now that the only original things left of the building are the bathtub, some stairs and the wooden siding which was hidden under the aluminum.
Times were pretty tough then, the recession hit and we had two baby daughters and a mortgage! At that time there were a lot of empty stores in Elora, and many of the downtown artists had moved because the rents were quite expensive.
Luckily, we were able to secure a restoration contract for a local church in Arthur. The early 90s went by fast with little children and all that goes with that, running a business and trying to make it through. We decided to close our store and sell our wares wholesale. Our wholesale customers came from all across Canada, from Halifax to Victoria.
Having to figure out how to best do this, Neil was wondering how we could use obsolete materials and make art out of old glass. Neil spent days “ blue bin diving” and we used discarded wine bottles (that was before there was a deposit on bottles) to create a line of up-cycled work.
Some of our creations included bottle planters, root starters (tops of bottles), breeze chimes made from bottle rings, and tealight lanterns. Word got out that we were making use of old window glass and many people in the community started to drop off their old windows. We used this old glass in our portals and even in some of our custom work.
In 1996 things were getting better and again we were awarded a landmark commission. This time we were chosen to design and create windows for the entire chapel of one of the largest Lutheran Churches in Canada, Trillium Lutheran Church in Waterloo.
After selling our work wholesale for years, we decided to open our store again in the spring of 1999. Elora was getting busier and our children were older. With the help of our good friend Jane, who was also an accomplished weaver, we managed to run the shop while still wholesaling on the side.
In the spring of 2000 our lives changed drastically. Jane was killed one Saturday morning in a terrible car accident . We suddenly realized how fast life can change and decided to spend more quality time with our children and started travelling . Many years followed when we would take our daughters out of school for months to backpack with us through Central and South America, Europe, Asia and North Africa.
We never regretted spending time seeing the world, meeting lots of interesting people on the way, many of whom are still friends with us today. Our lives have been quite impacted by our love of travelling, and this is reflected in our work. The creativity that we observed along our travels has pushed us to invest in our own innovations at the studio. Some of the places we have travelled to, where people were happy to live with very little, really resonated with us as a family. During the early 2000s we became more minimalistic, getting rid of our car, and tv for many years. We would ride our bicycles instead and this gave our children an interesting upbringing in our quirky community of Elora. This town is the type of place that drives creativity and embraces free expression. It is a special place and although we love to be abroad, Elora will always be our home.
During the last twenty years we have been lucky to be given the opportunity to design and create works of art for many people in the form of window panels, room dividers, privacy screens and garden art. Not only are our custom work and commissions an affirmation of what we do, our studio store has become a popular destination in its own right. We meet so many lovely people and count ourselves lucky that we are able to work in such a positive, fun environment. Every day is different and you never know who you will meet or see again that day.
These last 35 years have been a really amazing adventure for us and we have enjoyed seeing our beautiful community grow and flourish into the wonderful town that it is today! Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the years. We look forward to sharing more about our past and current work in detail soon.