Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design
Degree: Crafts and Design, Glass
Year of graduation: 1988
Whether working with an aesthetic medium such as glass or turning hops into locally-sourced beer, Mark Lewis is a craftsman through and through. Although Lewis is careful to distinguish between the level of production in the 7,000 litres of beer that he works on at Collingwood Brewery daily and a single piece of blown glass artwork, he derives true satisfaction from the creative process.
“You're playing with the materials to get a result, and that's one of the joys of working in anything where you get to make stuff,” says Lewis. “It's fun to do, and you can push the envelope a little bit and make something that hasn't been done before. That's an interesting proposition.”
Born and raised in Toronto, Lewis was drawn into the field of decorative arts at an early age by his mother, an amateur painter. “I grew up in and out of the Royal Ontario Museum as a kid and just sort of loved objects,” says Lewis. This appreciation for the creative form stayed with him into adulthood when, bored with a government job at GO Transit, Lewis began taking evening classes in stained glass as a creative outlet. Curiosity led him to Sheridan’s doors in the mid-1980s to learn about glassblowing from mentors Daniel Crichton and other professors. “I liked the physicality of it. Stained glass is a process of design followed by an awful lot of work and then, at the end, you've got a finished product,” he says. “With glassblowing, it's more like a dance, or a performance. I would say that I never really reached the end of my learning with it, so it was a very good discipline to be involved in.”
After continuing to develop his skills through a three year artist-in-residence stint at Harbourfront Centre, Lewis opened his own studio in 1997 to hold classes for the public, finding success through commissioned work for clients such as the Ontario government, and in exhibitions around the globe. He eventually decided to buy a farm, converting a barn into Beaver Valley Glassworks studio in Collingwood, as well as pursuing his interests in gardening and landscaping. When neighbour John Mott asked for his help when opening Beaver Valley Cidery, Lewis saw the potential for another avenue for his desire to create. “I started home brewing on my own and, after I had done it for a couple of years, I thought this could be another viable career offshoot. Whereas trying to sell fine art can sometimes be a rather difficult proposition, selling beer is extremely easy,” he says ruefully. “It's a product that everybody loves, so it has a mass appeal.”
Remembering his positive experiences from Sheridan and his love of the community college model, Lewis decided to go back to school, graduating from Niagara College’s Teaching Brewery in 2014. Today, along with his work at Collingwood Brewery, he also consults on local startup breweries and is looking to open his own facility in the future to foster the connection between the maker and consumer. Like the materials with which he works, Lewis sees future potential hidden within the everyday. “Glass is very unforgiving and you have to really learn how the material wants to be used, rather than imposing your will on it. At the same time, it also has a certain amount of freedom, as you choose the form and the colour. It's like anything else in life – when you first get into it, you never really know what's going to happen.”