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While most of his business is international, Joel Berman has done custom textured glass work for such homegrown companies as Air Canada, British Columbia Hydro, the Winnipeg airport and Aria restaurant in Toronto.

Karen Johnson

Glass might look fragile. But Joel Berman has turned it into a strength.

The Winnipeg-born, Vancouver-based decorative glass designer has pioneered new styles and ways of manufacturing glass, pushing the ancient medium forward into the 21st century as both design element and building material.

"We, as a team, have invented and continue to invent a language of glass that is completely Canadian born and bred," Berman says. "We are very proud to be part of today's movement in contemporary architectural glass."

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His award-winning Joel Berman Glass Studios International Ltd., located on Granville Island, specializes in kiln-cast and pressure-formed glass, made from hand-carved moulds. His projects range from the glass and steel canopy created for the Chelsea Market and a sandblasted Stanley Cup sculpture and glass ice bar at NHL headquarters, both in New York, to the hanging light sculpture suspended from the ceiling of the Winnipeg airport.

For corporate boardrooms Berman has created real glass ceilings, for retailers glass shelving and for governments lobby sculpture.

For residential customers, Berman has produced circular glass showers, coloured glass fences, and all-glass staircases with glass balustrades starting at $120 a square foot.

While based in Canada, more than 90 per cent of his business is international. His client list reads like a who's who of the corporate world: AT&T, Boeing, Disney, Gap, Ford Motor Co., Lufthansa, McDonalds, Nokia, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ritz Carlton and Xerox among many others.

Closer to home, Berman has done custom textured glass work for Air Canada, British Columbia Hydro, the Winnipeg airport and Aria restaurant in Toronto.

"Glass to me is magic," says the 61-year-old married father of two grown children."No matter how hard we try to box it in, it will do its own thing."

Some of the processes Berman has pioneered include techniques to recycle and cast tempered glass. He has also implemented a glass coating process that can match any colour on the Pantone scale.

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The kiln cast method he invented, called Transition, is responsible for Berman's signature style: deeply embossed textures which transition fluidly from translucent glass to clear glass in a single panel – useful in hospitals where privacy is needed.

Recently, Berman has been creating three-dimensional glass that is completely clear in order to showcase the beauty of glass through its relationship with light.

He grew up surrounded by glass and craftsmanship and this determined his path in life.

His grandfather, David Berman, was a watch maker in Winnipeg with a family-run jewellery store where he sold Italian blown glass. The younger Berman fell in love with it.

"It was from that source that my interest in glass grew to the point that when in my 20s I decided to see if I could learn glass making and architectural glass design," he says.

He started studying leaded glass in Winnipeg in the 1970s, followed by courses in cast glass at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, where he was mentored by architectural glass artists from Germany and Sweden, among them Ludwig Schaffrath and Johannes Schreiter.

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Moving back to Canada in 1980, he settled in Vancouver, opening his own studio which today employs 40 from diverse backgrounds – a "mini United Nations," as Berman calls it. The business also occupies a permanent showroom at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago to manage global saleswhich, before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, totalled $6-million a year.

"Glass is pliable despite looking like a rigid material," Berman says. "Glass is a material that literally can last a millennium, truly defining sustainability."

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About the Author

Deirdre Kelly is a features writer for The Globe and Mail. She is the author of the best-selling Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection (Greystone Books). More


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