The Little Blue Petticoat

How Glass Skirts Kept Us Warm

We are currently exploring ideas for a public sculpture that will feature discarded glass insulators as shown in the two pictures below.

The city of Montreal, with Hydro-Québec, is currently involved in moving its electrical grid below ground. One of the leftover products of this process are the insulators made all over North America from the early 1800s on.

1920s Montreal utility poles

These important pieces of Québec history will be either thrown out or recycled in some way.

Electrical wires once ribboned the landscape of urban and rural North America. Like the trans-continental railroads in Canada and the United States, the wires-and the glass blue insulators that capped them– shaped the nations, economies and citizens. Not only did they bring electricity to the vast expanses of both countries but eventually the telegraph and telephone too, uniting the coasts and the citizens in between.

The blue glass caps, little domes with flared petticoats/skirts, some the color of sea glass (see photo above), topped the telephone poles that stood every hundred feet or so apart. This image hardly needs description except for those readers too young to remember. In cities the poles and wires were a tangle overhead that marred the visual landscape. On the plains they might have been the only thing to look at.

In Québec the lines began to go underground in 2000. Currently 9% are buried. The project, an initiative of Hydro-Québec, continues today. The reason:  Harsh weather, safety, aesthetics plus technology. In the words of Hydro-Québec, “People prefer trees to telephone poles” (

As a result, the gorgeous little pieces of blue are collectibles, having been manufactured as early as 1830 and produced no longer. But to us they are a source of fascination as sculptural components.

Hemingray glass insulators 

The role of Hydro-Québec in the Quiet Revolution in Québec

Hydro-Québec’s role in the Quiet Revolution in Québec will be an important factor in the sculpture. The link between the glass insulators we plan to use and Québec’s national energy company is clear. When Hydro-Québec was nationalised in 1963, Québec was already on its path toward stating its independence and promoting its distinct culture within Canada. Hydro-Québec could provide abundant electricity to to all parts of Québec at a uniform rate. Québec became master of its own electricity requirements. Hydro-Québec encouraged use of local engineering and  helped develop Québec’s international reputation. It became a symbol of  “La Révolution Tranquille.” The image below shows some of the important developments during the twenty-year period between 1960 and 1980 that involves Hydro-Québec and the politics of the time. Click on image to enlarge.


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