Wise 50 Over 50 Award™
Lu Baker-Johnson – Lumel Studios Ltd.
Before building Lumel Studios I was many things. Initially I was a teacher, then as my six children came along, I discovered that a carpenter’s belt fits very nicely under a pregnancy belly and over the next 35 years I gutted and fixed older homes and built our family homes. I was also a student, spending 13 years in post secondary education
In 2016 Lumel Studios opened its doors in Whitehorse, Yukon – I was 56 years old. The Lumel journey began ten years earlier with the death of my daughter, Rondi, at the age of 19 from leukemia. A year after her death I enrolled at Alberta University of the Arts (AUARTS). Entering art school provided an opportunity to channel my grief into something tangibly good and provided opportunities to begin to laugh again. I went to AUARTS to draw and paint but was drawn to hot glass. I loved the challenge of working with 1200°C molten glass. By the second year of a 4-year degree program I planned to build a glass blowing studio in my hometown of Whitehorse, Yukon.
Dreams are easy to envision, but harder to implement.
It took four years of struggle, perseverance, and long conversations with safety authorities to build Lumel Studios. It also took personal financial commitment. It was a situation of jumping into the deep end, but the life jacket was the knowledge that hot glass is a powerful and appealing medium.
I designed the studio, managed the build and worked side-by-side with the building crew. The building crew was an interesting mix: one certified carpenter/dog musher, 4 glass blowers (myself and 3 of my fellow AUARTS alumni), 3 summer students, a nurse, an Australian tourist, a hitchhiker from Quebec and 2 local Indigenous youth. A diversified crew that built an amazing studio.
My dream to build a glass blowing studio in downtown Whitehorse included a multi-pronged business approach with the gallery being on par with community workshop opportunities, social programing and a happiness-for-all ideology. I pay ‘a living wage’ to all Lumel staff. The original philosophy was that wages should not build with the success of the business but be commensurate with the education and experience levels and to be a motivating factor towards the success of the studio – all must work together to support a ‘living wage’ infrastructure.
At Lumel Studios working with molten glass, hotter than volcanic lava, is accessible to everyone between the ages of 5 to 100 including street people, disenfranchised youth, and people with Alzheimers and dementia. In relation to our street people and elder programing we have a saying, “Giving people back the dignity of risk,” each creating within their ability, paying (or not paying) within their economic means. Lumel also offers AUARTS alumni programs, student work experience initiatives and awards, and visiting artist opportunities (embracing AUARTS instructors and international artists).
All of these operational processes work together to create a strong and economically viable business – we are building community as we ‘build’ Lumel Studios.