Shadows shining bright on the international art scene

Written by Heather McCaig


Flameworking uses a specialized propane and oxygen fuelled torch to melt borosilicate glass, a type of glass that contains boron trioxide, making it an extremely heat resistant and a durable product. Used as a material for scientific glassblowing this glass can be found in your home in glass baking pans and french presses. In the 1980’s coloured borosilicate glass was invented, and a new art form has taken off. Solid rods and tubes are my starting materials, I melt and shape them to make each piece I create. I have been a flameworked glass artist since 2013. My goal is to bring flameworked borosilicate glass art to Atlantic Canada. In the beginning I made small glass pendants and trinkets, selling them at craft shows, festivals and wholesale markets. In 2019, I transitioned from my wholesale work to creating one of a kind fine craft pieces for gallery exhibitions.

Heather McCaig. Shadows – “Tundra” (detail), 2021. Photo Credit: Colin Swift.

This summer I had my first exhibition, accompanied by painter Emily Phillips at AX: The Arts and Culture Centre of Sussex, the exhibition was titled Shadow Ecology. Shadow ecology refers to cases where resources are taken in a rural setting (clear cutting, oil sands, etc.), is transported and then sold to the public. The environmental repercussions are only felt by the rural communities, as if a shadow had fallen on them, while a disconnect is created in the urban areas where the transformed products are being purchased.

Heather McCaig at the opening reception of Shadow Ecology at AX. Photo Credit: Colin Swift.

My glass series Shadows, displayed in this exhibition, highlights the seven ecosystems of Canada that are disappearing due to the climate crisis. This series plays with using gallery lighting to cast shadows on the walls, creating a feeling of loss. Triangles frame each ecosystem, symbolizing the alchemy symbol for fire; a reference to the words of environmental activist Greta Thunberg, “our house is on fire”. The thin black glass shaped into animal silhouettes represent the loss of biodiversity. When viewing this series, it is important to pay attention to the glass itself as well as the shadows the glass casts on the wall—the wall shadows show each piece’s title as well as a feeling of each ecosystem slipping away.

Heather McCaig. Shadows – “Tundra” (detail), 2021. Photo Credit: Colin Swift.
Heather McCaig. Shadows – “Tundra”, 2021. Photo Credit: Colin Swift.

Leading up to this exhibition I submitted a proposal to artsnb for a Career Development – Professionalization & Promotion grant, the grant was successful. With the funding from artsnb I hired local Sussex photographer Colin Swift to document my series Shadows as well as photograph the exhibition being displayed at AX: The Arts and Culture Centre of Sussex. These photos were then used for exhibition proposals, my website, magazine submissions and social media.

Heather McCaig. Shadows – “Wetlands” (detail), 2021. Photo Credit: Colin Swift.

Heather McCaig. Shadows – “Wetlands”, 2021. Photo Credit: Colin Swift.

In September, Emily Phillips and I received an email from Jane Simpson, the executive director at AX. The email read that our exhibition Shadow Ecology had been selected by the New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, as well as Heritage Canada to represent New Brunswick at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany: the largest book fair in the world. Each year, the fair selects a country to be their Guest of Honour, and Canada is the 2020/2021 honouree. Due to the global pandemic, the visual arts component moved online, making virtual exhibitions the highlight. Shadow Ecology was selected because of the quality of the artwork as well as the excellent virtual presentation.

A screenshot of the online exhibit Shadow Ecology.

It is a great honour to be chosen by both Heritage Canada and New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture to represent New Brunswick. It is also worth noting that this would have never happened without the teamwork involved; ceramist, Matt Cripps, created the virtual exhibition and photographed Emily Phillips paintings, AX: The Arts and Culture Centre of Sussex is an incredibly supportive artists hub, and last but not least, Colin Swift, who documented my glass work, went above and beyond what he signed up for in the beginning.

The artsnb, Career Development – Professionalization & Promotion grant gave me the funding to hire Colin. This experience has made me realize that having professional documentation of your work should not be overlooked, and it may even contribute to a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Interested in visiting Shadow Ecology? Follow this link.

Heather McCaig is a flameworked glass artist from Ontario, who now lives near Sussex, New Brunswick. Heather is entirely self-taught and at the forefront of flameworked fine art in Atlantic Canada. Through her work, she hopes to portray the fragility of our natural world and inspire a need for its protection.

In 2019 she transitioned from her production glass line to creating one of a kind fine craft. Heather has received a scholarship to the Pittsburgh Glass Center in the United States and support from the New Brunswick Arts Board through their Creation Grant, Career Development Grant Program and an Arts Infrastructure Grant for New and Emerging Artists.

Photo Credit: Colin Swift

Stay up to date with Heather’s practice on social media and on her website: