Sarah Hall was giving tours at the Royal Ontario Museum and on occasion people would tell her she should be a member of the Order of Canada.
“Yeah, OK,” I said. “You go ahead and nominate me, then.”
Someone took her seriously and on Dec. 28, 2019, Hall was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor. It is awarded in recognition of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Appointments are made by the Governor General (the Queen’s representative in Canada) on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada.
Potential honorees are not involved in the process at all. And the honor, well, was quite surprising to Hall.
“I really feel so blown away by it,” Hall said. “It’s a fantastic feeling.”
Hall studied architectural glass in Canada, the UK, and the Middle East before establishing her own studio in Toronto in 1980. Her work comprises contemporary art glass at an architectural scale. Over the past 40 years she has created hundreds of large-scale artworks for public, private, and institutional settings. In the process, she has gained international recognition for her creativity, uncompromising artistry, and the innovative use of solar technology in architectural glass.
Her revolutionary work in bringing solar technology to her stained glass projects combined two of her passions and started around 2000 when she was in Germany visiting fabrication studios. That’s where she met Christof Erban, an engineer who had been working to integrate energy-generating photovoltaic cells directly into the artwork.
“He asked artists if they were interested in working with solar cells in their work,” Hall said. “Most other artists said no, that it would really be an imposition to bring a grid into their work. I loved the idea. It would bring my environmental concerns into my artwork. It meant I could move into what felt to me like really contemporary installations. We could collect energy for the building and use new technologies to make renewable energy look beautiful and engage people.”
That attracted her to the idea and she received a fellowship back in Canada to study bringing this technology into her artwork. Her passion sustained her when the reality of the work became challenging.
“I liked the idea behind it. I really wanted to bring renewable energy to these works and I liked the idea of bringing my environmental concerns into my studio practice,” Hall said. “It’s a huge challenge and I think it’s good I didn’t know what I was getting into at the beginning. It took the complexity of every project to a whole new level. All of a sudden you have to have engineering and electrical approval for the glass panels you’re making.”
But the thrill of seeing a solar project come to life invigorates Hall, allowing her to see her stained glass work in, literally, a different light.
“The first time I saw the energy coming just from the sunlight, I was so excited,” Hall siad. “In a sense, these solar pieces are creating light. It’s no longer using the glass in the historical way where sunlight passes through the colored glass, but the glass is creating light itself.”
Currently, Hall is expanding her environmentally conscious architectural art glass footprint by working on prototypes for bird-friendly glass in collaboration with the American Bird Conservancy.
(Photo of Sarah Hall courtesy of Alana Lee)