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Visual Art: Playing with light

Glass artist Pauline Olesen creates colourful fused-glass peices at her Piers Island studio
Glass artist Pauline Olesen at her studio on Piers Island

A visit to Pauline Olesen’s studio begins with a splash.

The artist, who creates colourful fused-glass pieces, lives and works on Piers Island, a seven- minute, two-kilometre journey by boat off the north end of the Saanich Peninsula.

Olesen is waiting at the dock as the Piers Island Ferry, Seastar I arrives. She shouts “hello” and grabs hold of a rope, quickly helping secure the 28-foot pontoon boat.

“It’s very quiet,” she says of the tiny island, population somewhere around 80 full-time residents – that number swells in summer with cottagers. “There’s no sounds of the city. … There’s not very many people, which is nice,” she adds with a laugh.

A quick trip down a narrow gravel track in her golf cart – the only motorized vehicles allowed on the Island aside from those of the volunteer fire department – and we arrive at the idyllic and serene waterfront property.

Olesen and her husband Steve Cruise have owned their property on Piers for 24 years and have lived there full-time for the last 15.

“We were tired of what we called ‘sad Sundays,’” she says of having to leave their 600-square-foot cabin after weekends away. They have since expanded the home which includes a separate studio space and fragrant, wild gardens.

Olesen was born and raised in Victoria, attended Belmont High and says art has always been a part of her life.

“I was always drawing and painting, it’s always been a hobby.” She switched from painting to ceramics and, about 12 years ago, discovered a passion for glass work.

“I just did an experiment with clear glass in the kiln. I was just really fascinated with what glass did in a kiln. Glass is just so much more exciting than pottery,” she says.

The “surprise” of working with glass is both a frustration and fascination for Olesen as she layers pieces of different colours of glass, firing and molding them into everything from functional dinnerware and custom lighting to decorative works. One of her latest is a three-foot crocodile.

“I always need to go bigger. I think ‘what can I do to stretch the limits? How far can you go to take this from just being glass to something else?’” she says.

Largely self-taught, Olesen says glass “just makes me happy. I don’t get that from painting, but I get that from glass.”

See her work at