Words by Morgan Dinsdale | AUGUST 10, 2017
Growing up in the Columbia Valley of British Columbia, Ryan found himself learning the art of fly-fishing from his grandfather on the pristine rivers and lakes surrounding his hometown of Invermere. From a young age he romped in the outdoor playground that was his backyard, in the grand mountains and forests, surrounded by endless inspiration that shaped his style and focus as an artist and nurtured his desire to become an outdoor guide. From Ryan’s perspective, fly-fishing, from tying flies to perfecting his cast, has always been about the subtleties, the small details in nature that delivered a boatload of fish each day. This fascination with the oft overlooked nuances of the natural world, and an inherited artist’s eye, cultivated his talent into the remarkable glassblower that he is today.
The son of a glassblower, Ryan began working with glass as a young child in his father Pat’s Bavin Glassworks studio. He found the medium provided him an outlet for self-expression and a reflection of his love for the great outdoors. In 1988, at age 15, he began an eight-year apprenticeship under his father and he has been creating in the studio ever since.
“I was lucky to start when I was really young. It allowed me the time to develop many glassblowing techniques, to learn how to work with glass, a medium that’s inherently learning and growing all the time,” Ryan says of his upbringing. “I love the variability of the work, it’s wonderful to make so many different pieces, to be inspired by so many different experiences and landscapes, but you have to commit the time it takes to learn how to flow with the glass if you really want to make something special.”
Since his initial apprenticeship Ryan has studied at the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington and returned on several occasions as a teaching assistant and gaffer (lead glassblower). He has worked with internationally revered artists in Canada and around the globe, and today is the main producer of blown glass at Bavin Glassworks.
But it would be a road trip to Mexico with his brother Marc that would spark a childhood inspiration and ultimately, place his unique mark on the artistic map in Canada. Inspired by the tropical fish in the ocean, Ryan, assisted by his father, began recreating them in glass. Mixing exotic colours with varied shapes, sizes and fins Ryan found he could fashion many species of fish. A few years later Ryan would begin working with much more challenging trout contours, at first exclusively with clear glass and then gradually introducing the techniques that allowed him to create glass blown replicas of the fish he’d grown up catching with his grandfather. In November 2008, to great acclaim, the Bavins showcased their fish at Masters Gallery in Calgary, Alberta.
Ever since this first big show, and with his work on display at the likes of the Banff Springs Hotel, Jasper Park Lodge and Chateau Whistler, Ryan has had his hands full producing an array of glassworks and custom pieces. Today Ryan’s glass sculptures of trout and salmon can be found in private and corporate collections across Canada and the United States. Represented by Master’s Gallery in Calgary, his most recent works can be found in his studio and through Mountain Galleries, one of western Canada’s largest commercial galleries who have proudly supported and promoted Canadian artists for over 25 years.
“Glasswork is all about being able to make decisions quickly and seeing a vision of what the glass wants to become,” says Ryan whose artistic expression is an integral part of his everyday life. “The glass doesn’t care what’s going on around you, about the hectic nature of life, it just asks you to sit with it, to focus so you can see the form it wants to take, which for me feels as organic as how the mountains and forests were shaped by the Earth.”
Creative to his core, Ryan is also a successful photographer and his prints are showcased across the province and hung throughout CMH’s lodges. Inspired by nature, CMH tenures provide the perfect canvas and inspiration for his glasswork and photography.
“CMH is always going to be a place I come home to,” he says of his mountaintop retreats. “Being up there is the perfect compliment to my artwork in so many ways, it inspires me, it gets me back into the mountains and woods, and into the places that motivate my work so profoundly.”
As I speak with Ryan he lights up talking about a recent private instillation he completed. Tasked with creating a piece that mirrored the grandeur of Kootenay Lake, the result was an incredible glasswork reflection of its beauty and the fish that call it home. It’s this sort of work in concert with his time in the wild that keeps his artistry flowering. “The best work takes some hindsight, so stepping away is key,” he says of custom pieces such as this. “My work as a hiking guide and as a photographer animates my most creative moments. I come back from a break with a fresh perspective and see the work in a completely different light, inspiring me to do something entirely new, delivering wonderful and invigorating surprises.”
“I am ever evolving as a glass artist,” he continues, “every once in a while you experience a breakthrough that takes you to another level, but truthfully what makes creating great glasswork possible is time, day after day. Continually working your craft enables an artist to both unbridle and harness their skills, to understand how this beautiful work with glass can openly express and come together in the same breath.”
Responsible for the entirety of their manufacturing process, Ryan’s glass blowing season is year-round, excluding the hot days of summer. More than one hundred pounds of liquid glass in his studio, heated to extreme temperatures, makes even the hardiest understand why he chooses not to blow glass in the summertime. It’s those days when he can be found guiding up in the mountains. Somehow he’s managed to find the perfect balance between creating and being out in his creative source. This summer Ryan will spend most of his days from July until the end of August leading hiking trips at CMH Bugaboos, traversing mountain ridgetops, wandering across high alpine meadows and leading guests across the Bugaboos’ Skyladder Via Ferrata.
“I’ve always needed a sense of balance in my life,” he says. “My art inspires me to get back out into nature where I see shapes and movement that inspires my work. So, in its way, guiding in the mountains at CMH and my glasswork are brilliant partners, feeding each other’s ravenous appetite.”
Despite Ryan’s many trips around the sun since his days fishing as a young boy with his grandfather in the backyard paradise of Invermere, the natural world around him continues to invigorate him and his art. Surrounded by extraordinary snaps of his CMH playgrounds and a collection of exquisite glass blown fish inspired by his time with his grandfather, Ryan’s artistic portfolio will surely continue to evolve as organically as the beautiful landscapes that never cease to inspire him.