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Last look: glass blower Tia Saley

A health scare convinced this New Brunswick glass blower to follow her passion

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Photo courtesy of Tia Saley

When your brother is a child painting prodigy, finding a way to make your mark is hard. “My brother, Rob Saley, is a professional and prolific painter. He was a child prodigy, so I couldn’t compete there,” Tia Saley laughs. “I did pottery classes and that process takes forever. It just wasn’t for me. What lead me to glass blowing was the immediacy and the physicality of it. It’s high-risk multitasking, and I’m really good at multitasking.”

In 2007, Saley was frightened awaiting the outcome of a possible thyroid cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, tests determined she was healthy. After that stressful period, the Ontario native took a sabbatical from teaching at Lakefield College School in Lakefield, Ont. to pursue artistry full time. “I made a pact with myself that after my advisees graduated I was going to take a year off and do something to nurture myself. And that was travelling and glass blowing,” Saley says.

She attended the Haliburton School of Art and Design, undertaking a four-month intensive diploma in glass blowing. In 2013, after several years of world traveling while teaching, Saley and her husband moved from Ontario to Rothesay, N.B. She teaches at Rothesay Netherwood School (RNS), a private boarding school. Now a mother of two small children, Saley teaches art, environmental science, and ecology part time, to balance her work, family life, and art. “There’s a theme there,” she says. “The subjects I teach are the things I’m drawn to. But there’s also some irony, because glass blowing is notoriously energy inefficient. I have an internal struggle with that, in some regards.”

Saley travels at least twice a year to Brighton, Ont. to visit her former teacher Paulus Tjiang at his gallery and hot shop, Frantic Farms Clay and Glass and Gallery. There she creates wine glasses, functional vases, dream jars (glass that is sand blasted and decorated), and more. “I love the fluidity of the material–viscous liquid transformed into a hard, usable piece. And that my breath is what has shaped it.”

The nature in her adopted home is her inspiration. “The rolling hills of coniferous trees with the sea on the horizon–those vivid blues and greens definitely find their way into my work.”

Saley sells her glass work primarily at Handworks Gallery in Saint John, N.B., and at the annual RNS art show. Her art was also recently featured at the Saint John Airport. Tandi Hooper-Clark, whose parents are famed Canadian artists John and Kathy Hooper, is a curator of art from local visual artists and craftspeople for the airport. “You can see that they’re happy pieces, and she loves what she’s doing,” says Hooper-Clark of Saley’s work. “She experiments with colour and form and shape. Her work is fun and has a real sense of whimsy.”

For Saley, representing the local artisan community in such a well-travelled place was an honour. “It was a wonderful feeling to welcome people, potentially for the first time, to Saint John with the vibrant colours that go into my pieces, reflective of the landscape here,” she says. “Sometimes coming ‘from away’ can be palpable with the lack of family around, but friends here have become like family. Being selected to show in the airport made me feel rooted and a part of this place.”

Heather MacLean Reid

East Coast Living