Italian block vases, circa 1960.
Italian lamps and decanter from Seguso, circa 1950.
Pieces by contemporary Austrian artist Herbert Schmidt.
Scavo technique by Italian studio Cenedese, circa 1960.
The interior of Circa Vintage Art Glass Inc.
In the heart of Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood, behind an unassuming storefront window, lies a treasure trove of sparkling glass and crystal forms. This is owner Brian Imeson’s mecca, Circa Vintage Art Glass Inc., a retail showroom devoted to intriguing mid-century, vintage, and contemporary glassworks. A Venini chandelier hangs in view at the entrance, and throughout the gallery, beautiful coloured works cover display shelves. Near the reception desk, a shining Italian sconce hangs on a brick wall and an adjacent textured white façade separates the showroom pieces from the overflow stock space behind it.
Ten years ago, when a 200-square-foot space in Inglewood became available, Imeson seized the opportunity to turn his humble collecting hobby into a business. “I’ve always collected art glass, and when travelling, I discovered some mid-century pieces—the first pieces I ever bought for myself. Then I started selling to friends, then this,” he says.
The gallery focuses on mid-century styles—most pieces dating between 1940 and 1960—and the majority of what Imeson sources is from Europe. Each display section is a nod to a particular studio or country. “That way you can see the subtle differences from the Italian work [Seguso, Cenedese, Fratelli Toso, Venini, Vistosi, Barbini, Romano Dona, Nason, Avem] to the Scandinavian work [Flygsfors, Orrefors] to the Belgian [Val St. Lambert], French [Daum, Vannes, Cofrac, Schneider], Czech [Exbor, Skrdlovice, Beranek, Visner], and Dutch [Maastricht]. Even with the Italian studios, there are an awful lot of them, so this way you can point out the differences from one studio to the other.”
Imeson also carries work from select contemporary artists: Austria’s Herbert Schmidt, Slovakia’s Andrej Jakab, Czech Republic’s Josef Marek, and Alberta College of Art and Design instructor Marty Kaufman, who teaches glassblowing. Though Imeson has tried glassblowing himself, he considers it a very humbling experience and paints instead. “Painting and sculpture are very immediate compared to glassblowing. It takes a long time to do and develop the technique to create pieces like these,” he says, with deep appreciation.
The Cenedese collection from Italy is one of Imeson’s favourites. “This was a rare find for me. These are all pieces that came from the archival inventory from [founder] Gino Cenedese and his partner Antonio da Ros, all done between 1948 and 1958. Finding these 45 pieces from one particular studio, in this condition [is unheard of]—these represent probably the best of the work in terms of what they’ve done.”
As for the pieces in the window with a more muted finish, Imeson reveals Gino’s kin created the pieces after his death using a technique called scavo, which translates to “buried” in Italian. “They were trying to mimic glass that has been buried for a long time. What’s interesting with scavo is the ability of the pieces to grab and hold the light,” he points out. Indeed, a yellow vessel is aglow in the sunlight.
Imeson’s gallery is unique in Canada with its focus on mid-century glasswork. While he was ahead of the curve 10 years ago, Imeson continues to be a force in Calgary’s growing arts and culture community, and is only too happy to illuminate buyers on his favourite subject.