Healing through glass: Yukon studio opens doors to the vulnerable

A Whitehorse artist wants to invite some of the city's most vulnerable people in to the studio, to learn about and try working with glass.

'We’ve built our studio in a great place. It's beside the river, but it’s also close to the liquor store'

Luann Baker Johnson and Mel Johnson are opening up their Whitehorse glass-blowing studio to the city's 'riverwalkers' for classes. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

Where others may see fragility, Luann Baker Johnson sees power and strength.

"The first time I touched glass, I fell in love with it," she said, sitting inside the busy glass-blowing studio she opened in downtown Whitehorse a year ago

She believes molten glass has healing properties. She learned that after she lost her daughter to leukemia, and found solace in creativity.

"It provides these absolute moments, where you are absolutely focused on one thing, and something very powerful — 1,200 degrees of molten glass."

Johnson wants others to have similarly profound experiences. Specifically, she wants to invite some of the city's most vulnerable people in to the studio, to learn about and try working with glass.

"We've built our studio in a great place. It's beside the river, but it's also close to the liquor store," she said.

A worker a Luann Baker Johnson's glass shop shapes 1,200 degree molten glass into works of art. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

She remembers building the studio in 2015, and getting to know many people who frequented the area. 

"From that first dig down for plumbing all the way up to the top of our roof, we were watched by people walking from the liquor store to the river. And we call them 'street people' in Whitehorse. But in the end, I think that 'river walkers' is a better term.

"So we got to know our river walkers. We were building right on their spot that they would walk through. And we're in their way now."

Johnson says there was "lots of laughter, conversation" with many river walkers over those months of construction, and many of them still stop by the studio. 

'An evening of joy'

The plan, Johnson says, is to hold regular glass-making workshops starting this spring, geared toward river walkers.

The studio has invited some guests from Hilltop Artists, a non-profit glass studio in Tacoma, Wash. to hold an initial session. That studio runs similar programs for vulnerable people and at-risk youth in Tacoma.

"We are going to have one day of adult river walker workshops, where everyone who works with them in our community is going to try to get as many of them in, as possible," Johnson said.

Luann Baker Johnson says her shop is right along the route of Whitehorse's street people, so she wants to engage with them as best she can. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

The studio will also host regular workshops for youth.

Johnson says it's part of her original vision for the studio as a community space, for everyone.

"What we want with our river walkers programming is just an evening of joy. You come in, substance-free, you sit on our bench, and it's an opportunity just to thrive." 

With files from Sandi Coleman


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