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Noted Island glass artist Robert Held closes gallery, now ‘semi-retired’

Parksville’s Robert Held Art Glass gallery drew in residents and tourists for a decade
Robert Held. (File photo)

Glass artist Robert Held may have closed up his gallery after 10 years in Parksville, but his artistic endeavours will continue on.

Held has blown glass for more than 50 years, and estimated he made approximately 1.5 million of his famous glass hearts, which have been spotted everywhere from Hawaii to the Himalayas.

At 81 years old, he decided it was time to enter semi-retirement. Held experienced a stroke in recent years and for a time suffered from a bad knee, which made the physical work of glass blowing extra challenging.

“It was so bad that I couldn’t blow glass much anymore,” Held said. “It was hurting all the time, like so many people with bad knees.”

Held was able to have knee replacement surgery completed while on a trip to South Africa last November with his wife to celebrate his mother-in-law’s birthday.

Between his age, health challenges and the possibility the building could be sold to a new owner, with a likely rent increase, Held figured it was time for a new chapter. The gallery’s last day open was Sept. 30 of last year.

“Being in Parksville I felt very welcomed and it was a destination spot for a lot of people that came with their families and friends,” said Held, who currently lives in Nanoose Bay. “They would come from out of town and say ‘oh, here let’s go to the glass shop and see what’s going on’. So we had a nice run there.”

Held relocated to Parksville in 2013 from Vancouver, where had a successful glass art gallery. Before that he had a glass studio in Calgary.

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“I started blowing glass in 1968,” he said.

Before finding a passion for glass art, Held was head of the ceramics department at Sheridan College in Ontario. He took a two week summer course on glass blowing in North Carolina and was hooked, and added it as a new course at the college.

Passion is important for an artist to be successful, Held said.

“There were times when I would teach class all day long, go home, help feed the kids, go back and work until midnight every day,” he said.

One aspect Held said he loved about glass work is the physicality of it.

“Once you’ve started, you can’t stop,” he said. “You have to finish it.”

Held enjoyed a career that spanned decades, allowed him to meet the Queen, several premiers and send a piece to the Beijing Olympics.

“The things I made are still there. They’re going to be there for hundreds of years,” he said. “They’ve got my name on it, so they’re out there and they’ll be passed down from one generation to their kids. Hopefully the kids will like them.”

He keeps busy these days painting almost every day with alcohol ink, a new challenge for him.

Held has an exhibition planned for next year at the McMillan Arts Centre (MAC) in Parksville which will feature these paintings.

“I’m painting with something I’ve never done before,” he said. “They’re harder than I thought, so I’m working on that.”

Kevin Forsyth

About the Author: Kevin Forsyth

As a lifelong learner, I enjoy experiencing new cultures and traveled around the world before making Vancouver Island my home.
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