The glass cat lady

Catherine Labonté has been working in glass for 17 years and, though her mastery of the craft has progressed, one thing remains the same: cats!

Catherine Labonté and her cat Bayou.

Catherine Labonté and her cat Bayou.

At home in Montréal, Canada, Catherine coldworks, kilncasts and flameworks in her own studio, Le Chat des Artistes (The Artists Cat), but her furnace time is spent at nearby Welmo Glass Studio. Cats are obviously a theme throughout her work, from her nickname to her studio space to her favorite animal, the cat is ever present.

What started out with sketches of Garfield, the nuisance tabby (she still has a big collection of his comics from her childhood) soon developed into drawings of her own feline creations. A career as an illustrator seemed possible, but Catherine felt that something was missing. Wanting to breathe life into her cartoons, she took up glassworking instead. “With my work I am trying to put some soul into a glass piece,” she says. “I almost want for them to be alive.”

But Catherine’s first glass animal was actually a fish. The simple lines and shape were easier for her as a beginner. As her work evolved, more of the animal kingdom was included in her repertoire. Sometimes choosing to blow a green mouse or a flying purple pig, or even a red bird with a little yellow beak, each animal retained that same uniquely playful shape that characterized her original cartoons.

Although never tempted to name any of the glass animals that she crafts, Catherine always puts a little of her own cat, Bayou, into the end product. Whether in the eyes, face, smile, or the charmingly loveable disposition that Catherine bestows on each sculpture, Bayou has a habit of creeping in. For Catherine, each new piece reminds her of him.

Catherine’s full array of animals can be seen at The Corning Museum of Glass Shops, where they have long been a firm favorite with shoppers. Her mini animals are beautiful swirling skeletons of color encased in clear glass bodies. Cats with perfectly round eyes that look longingly up at you; rabbits with tall, alert ears and mischievous faces; and dogs, with their black-tipped snouts pointed high in the air, looking like they’ll trip you on the way to fetch the paper. Alongside these, her bigger sculptures showcase her humorous, whimsical appreciation for the expressive faces of frogs, bears, and even jellyfish.

Catherine Labonté's glass animal birth certificate.

Catherine Labonté’s glass animal birth certificate.

In 2015, Catherine visited The Corning Museum of Glass to engrave the names of pets into the base of each piece a customer bought. Now we welcome Catherine for Adopt-a-Glass Pet Day on September 3 from 12 to 3 pm. This year, customers will be able to name their new best friend and have Catherine sketch its likeness on a paper birth certificate they can take home with them, much like the cartoons she made of Bayou all those years ago.

The Chemung County SPCA will be on hand for anyone considering adopting a non-glass pet. Staff will have information on animals waiting for adoption and to talk about the adoption process.

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