Blowing Culture” (Unedited)â€¨By: Aaron Evans
“Personally I’ve always found something mesmerizing, magical, even hypnotic, about a solid object that stays in a perpetual state of motion.Â Infinitely flowing as if it’s its own universe bound together by some unexplainable force, glass is a naturally occurring substance forged in the flames of volcanic fires, left behind by lighting strikes, and found after meteorites tumble through our atmosphere heating then rapidly cooling particular rock compounds.Â Used by humans since the Stone Age when cave men sculpted obsidian and obsidianites into a variety of knives, tools and weapons, glass working has a rich history in human civilization having played an intricate role in nearly every culture, creed, and corner of our world.
Originally viewed and used only for its practical applications glass working has grown into an artistic mainstay developing from its early roots in Roman architecture, to modern installations in the world’s finest galleries, conservatories, and private collections. As man found and adopted different techniques to replicate the natural phenomenon that created glass, craftsmen from around the globe began to see and manifest the potential of molding, blowing, and carving the unique substance into a menagerie of artistic goods.
Glass beads present perhaps the most interesting example of the art form and craft’s progression having been used for centuries as a means of monetary trade, decorative adornment, and personal expression from ancient Asian dynasties to the early Americas. In fact, beads are so deeply rooted in theÂ Americas’ history that they can be traced back to early settlers such as Christopher Columbus and Lewis and Clark who used beads to barter and trade with local indigenous tribes. (I’ll save my views on their impact on said indigenous tribes for another article, in another magazine, at another time.) Glass beads were also used in the purchase of Manhattan Island and fascinatingly, the first glass house was located just outside of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the new Americas. That’s right, the same beads attached to the side of your favorite bowls, bongs, chalices and chill-ums are also attached to a timeless tradition, passed down from generation to generation, amongst private inner circles as protected and guarded as any secret society in the world.
All of this leads us to the topic of NUG’s new monthly installment, “Perpetual Motion:Â An Exploration into the American Glass Blowing Culture” with a focus on, you guessed it, this author’s preferred way to medicate:Â glass pipes, tubes, and bowls. From mind boggling Sherlocks showcasing inside out honeycombs and etched with the precision of Escher, to bongs that bend like a bohemian contortionist, from blubbers inlaid with reverse wig wags to new developments in mixed media designs combining metal and glass working, I plan to examine, highlight, and review the rapidly advancing techniques being displayed by some of the finest artisans on the planet, American glass blowers.
It’s been said that any real art form is never accepted in it’s time and if this saying holds true then I can find no other medium that more accurately fits this description than this specific field. Present day torch workers are the new age bootleggers, boldly navigating the rocky terrain of modern prohibition and its murky shades of gray. For what other form of art, fit to be displayed in the Smithsonian, can be shattered in the streets as paraphernalia simply for serving a dual propose. Its ingenuous innovations cast aside as irrelevant for its ties to an “illicit” substance. Its creative minds caged behind bars for providing essential tools for patients to ingest their medication without paper or tobacco additives.
Furthermore and perhaps the most bothersome fact lurking behind the drawn curtain of the glass industry is that this ongoing senseless attack on all aspects of the green culture has created a black market that indentures swarms of 3rd world children to a life of servitude. Adolescents with lost innocence, tethered to torches, teetering on starvation, work inhumane hours in warehouses with unsanitary conditions and nearly non-existent ventilation. (Ventilation is vital in the glass blowing process to remove dangerous and deadly chemicals released by both the materials used to heat the rods and the fumes cast off from the molten glass itself.)Â I find it horrifyingly ironic every time I see someone using a pipe or chalice with origins in spiritual elevation and medicinal application that was obviously manufactured by unwilling hands.
The present day glass trade can draw parallels to African blood diamonds, and just as I’ve never seen the logic in symbolizing love with a gift of death, I’ve also never seen the logic in getting lifted with an item that undoubtedly has negative dogma attached.Â My hope is that through education, adventure and little eye candy I can entice you to take an extra moment when considering your next purchase of a soon to be new best friend.Â I plan to show a multitude of reasons why in the realms of artistic quality, environmental impact and moral obligation, it is a must that we return to supporting local American glassblowers.Â It turns out keeping it green doesn’t just come down to what you pack in your pipe; it also matters where said pipe was procured. As both an artist and an American I take pride knowing that with every puff from “Lonely Fire” (My heady piece featured in the December ’10 issue of NUG from which I am blazing Fire O.G. copiously while typing this) another fellow artist and American is being supported rather than some industrial tyrant in some unknown land who could care less about me, his workers, our culture or for that matter this world at all.
Still along my travels I’ve seen that sometimes the best way to tackle a problem isn’t to look at the supplier but figure out how to change the public’s demand and that’s my end goal with “Perpetual Motion”.Â I absolutely believe that my fellow smokers care not only about the sheer beauty and wonder that they experience when that perfect new piece peers at them from across the store, but also the craftsmanship behind it.Â Unfortunately many of us have fallen naive due to either lack of public knowledge surrounding a field that still guards it’s walls with a vivid veil or misinformation from opportunists out to make a buck.
Change can only come from within.Â Whether personally or culturally it takes merely the smallest spark to rouse a raging flame.Â I look forward to sharing the information I have and will obtain on this journey with the NUG readers and will be shooting for the stars as I set forth to bring you features, interviews and reviews from some of the industry’s most respected and accomplished names and events. It’s off into the forest in pursuit of the wild North American Glass Blower and I’ll be leaving behind breadcrumbs of wisdom every step of the way.”