Welcome to the hot button issue of the functional art market, the debate is now entering almost old enough to drive a vehicle in many states. This is an emotional issue for many companies and artists because, quite literally, competing with import glass is taking food out of their employees and families mouths. The arguments are actually fairly disparate - Quality, working conditions, legality, and respect for original designs or brands - but it all comes down to this: Which of them is actually better for the collector and consumer?
Let’s start with what many industry analysts agree is the jumping off point for independent artists and American production companies truly fighting imported merchandise - Operation Pipe Dreams goes into action on February 24, 2003. Early that morning agents, operating under the direction of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, raided hundreds of different locations around the country and arrested fifty-five different people. In short order, with the prosecution of Tommy Chong as well as other well-known American pipe manufacturers, glass shops and distributors across the country went underground, online, or flat out of business. At this point everyone in America immediately stopped buying, or needing, functional glass art. At this point smoke shops across the country began looking literally ANYWHERE to satisfy the demands of their customer base and previously overlooked importers started making frantic calls to factories in China, India, Pakistan, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
So let’s get into the arguments, for and against, huh? It breaks down like this: The only pro for import glass is price. Ta da. It seems like such a simple answer but it really is the truth, you buy import glass if you cannot afford anything better or if you break glass like it is spun sugar. Why is American glass more expensive? The quick and dirty answer is that the American government does not subsidize manufacturing or handicraft but the Chinese, specifically, do and it keeps the labor prices MUCH lower. You are also paying for the cost of living in the United States - health care, rent, materials, and all of the same bills everyone living there deals with. No one ever likes hearing it stated so bluntly so we can break the two main arguments down, too.
Quality - American production companies, and almost all well-known solo artists, spend thousands of dollars and man hours doing iterative prototyping (they make it again and again until they cannot improve it any further or are satisfied) single pieces of work. Import glass is manufactured under the mantra of “Make it faster, make it cheaper” and it shows in every aspect of the work. Lower quality supplies, thinly worked glass, bad welds and joints, no thought to durability - These are the hallmarks of imported functional production glass.
Working Conditions - Following their mantra of the most work for the least money, import glass manufacturers pay incredibly low wages and have minimal safety equipment or training. This means that there is a very real human cost to imported glass that is rarely discussed by the customer. Beyond the safety hazards many of these companies do far more than just make smoking devices, this also means that cross-contamination of materials is a reality. Would you buy a piece of plumbing from Flint, MI, to take home and use with your friends and loved ones? This is the ONE area where United States Federal guidelines mean we are all better off working here.
Over the ten years since the founding of Illuzion Glass Galleries we have been proud to contribute to the resurgence of the American functional art glass scene, even as more import glass showed up on the market and forced prices ever higher. We continue to be proud to support American companies and solo artists because they treat glassblowing as the intricate and innovative art form that it is - Overseas this medium is not treated as an art but as a manufacturing job, where designs are copied instead of created. By purchasing American glass you are contributing to the legacy of American craftsmanship as well as helping to earn functional glass art respect within the broader art community.
Making it, as a glass artist, follows a similar path as many industries to make an overnight success. It's simple, really: spend ten years on the torch and you may have what it takes to be declared an "overnight" success. In a lot of ways that is what happened with Mobius Glass. The company founder, John (known as cIRclE to many in the glass community) began blowing glass in November, 1999, after initially pursuing a degree in music performance. Initially working out a small shop in the San Fernando Valley as an apprentice he fell in love with glass while also learning about real life.
cIRclE launched Mobius Glassworks in April of 2010, almost eleven years after picking up a torch, and almost immediately found that "overnight" success. With the dual core values of "innovation" and "perfection" John and his small hand-picked team of glass experts have now continued to impress and amaze for over seventeen years at this point. To absolutely no ones surprise John continues to enjoy his work creating unique functional art and still has a deft hand with the torch!
Perhaps best known for their intricate perc work, the Matrix is perhaps their most widely utilized creation. Using either a tube or puck of glass their technicians ensure that there are up to one hundred and sixty small holes for maximum diffusion around the entirety of the percolator. This perc is featured, to great effect, in many of their designs and allows the vapor-filled bubbles to rise and stack with minimal drag - Plus the vapor, or smoke, is incredibly filtered and smooth when it reaches the end user.
Helmed by someone with almost twenty years in the business, now, Mobius continues to evolve their incredibly stylistic scientific style. Known for respecting other blowers ideas this team is committed to always pushing the boundary in a new direction - not to simply reinvent or restyle someone else's design. It has been an absolute pleasure seeing and experiencing what this company has made over the last seventeen years, we wait in mute anticipation to see what new things lay in store over the next seventeen years.
Before there was Mothership, the legendarily elite American production company, there was Jake C and Scott Deppe - Two true American glass masters from before Operation Pipe Dreams was an actual thing. While most contemporary functional art collectors only know him for his founding of Mothership Glass with Jake that is far from his only credential. When you hold a Scott Deppe piece in your hands you will marvel at the precision of his craftsmanship - while many artists are hard at work cornering a niche market with their trademark style or signature design Scott has always been one to display an amazing ability to master any technique he worked at hard enough. Custom linework, crazy stemless bubblers, thirteen different types of wig wags, opal encasement, dry, bubbler, stemless - Deppe has thrown down something in literally every single one of those styles that make artists with ten years on the torch weep a single, appreciative, tear upon viewing.
All of that being said, this piece is the culmination of everything he and Jake worked towards when they started Mothership - A completely custom piece of work, designed by the company owners, and executed by Scott. The secondary faberge egg percolator is fed by a fixed, stemless, downstem which itself is diffused by six deeply carved Seeds of Life. The downstem, foot, neck, and bucket are all encalmo black-to-rainbow sections, some wagged out with custom rainbow linework - All handmade by Scott Deppe himself. The foot is sandblasted with the classic Mothership logo and the titanium hinge on the honey bucket is also deeply carved with matching Mothership branding. This piece is a one of a kind, museum quality, collectible piece of the American functional art industry. You don't have many chances to own a piece of history and Illuzion Glass Galleries' is absolutely proud to offer that opportunity to our clients. The piece is available to view at our downtown Denver, CO, location and may also be viewed here on our website.
When it comes to long-lasting brand power in the elite American production scene Toro Glass definitely sets an example. JP Toro's exemplary work in glass has a sterling reputation among collectors, too, dry pieces he created during the early portion of the 2000's are jealousy guarded - this reputation meant that by 2008 his new tube company, Toro, had already nailed down some amazing collabs with Banjo. Founded by JP, just two years previously in 2006, this company jumped quickly to the top of the market by executing beautifully clean scientific work while maintaining deep ties to the artist community.
Since their founding some would say it has been onward and upwards for this company - We argue it has been downsize and inward, because the pieces keep getting smaller and the percs keep getting crazier! Currently their line ranges from Macro to Micro, clear to fully worked, and includes a wide selection of signature percs. Toro Glass truly stands their ground as one of the premium scientific production companies coming off of the East Coast. With all of the darkness that occurred in the company's hometown - Dryden, NY - JP founding his studio there was a much needed light for the Finger Lakes region at the time and they continue to burn bright today.
Welcome to Collector’s Corner, a little blog we here at Illuzion Glass Galleries' are bringing to you to try and help illuminate the wider world of collecting borosilicate glass art! To kick things off we are going to be talking about pendants, not just because they are an up and coming way to collect work from our favorite artists but also because they are a great introduction to collecting glass in general -or- bringing someone brand new into the scene. This will not be covering pendant rigs or pipes, we will be focusing exclusively on non-functional work. (It won’t be boring, promise, and there is a porpoise!)
(Anything But) Basic Pendantry
So you want to start collecting glass but that 2000-era Jake C inline bubbler is WAY too far out of reach and even starting with a Cowboy onie is a two or three paycheck stretch, huh? You could start a GoFundMe (#poser) or you could turn around and pick up a Paulie Two Fingers “Steal Your Face” pendant for half the price - and start a glass collection that rapidly becomes the envy of your heavy hitter friends with their room full of pipes that they can’t carry everywhere and show off. With up-and-coming artists like Miyagi pulling off opal-inlaid disc flips (and collabing with HUGE artists like AKM) the pendant scene is where new folks show off ever tightening skills and well known artists can make their smallest work available to a wider audience.
The Wider World
What really turns you on about glass? Fume work? El Hefe. Reversals? Eric Ross. Opals? Adam Reetz. Sculpture? Aquariust. Electroforming? Shipwreck. Sandblasting? Amani Summerday. Carving? Rye. Wire wrapping? Jason Burruss. Implosion? Takao Miyake. Cane work? Harold Cooney. Dichroic imagery? Berzerker. Drawn images? Punty. Every artist and style can be found in the pendant game.
Honestly, when it comes right down to it, utilizing any technique cleanly in a small format really makes the techniques shine. As you see more work in the same techniques from different artists you can start to clearly see what makes the headiest of pendants so amazing - not just the artist, or artists, involved but the consummate skill showcased making something so intricate. Once you have a wider array of pendants in your collection you will also be amazed at how often someone will either recognize the artist’s work or simply start a conversation about what the pendant is, how it was made, and generally getting interested in the art as a piece of jewelry or for itself.
Porpoises! (We Told You.)
As your collection evolves and you decide what techniques and/or artists you want to focus on it should also be pointed out that there are plenty of pendants with purposes, too! Many pendants made today serve not only as jewelry, but also as carb caps or dabbers, with the rare glassblowing tool or titanium pencil tossed in for good measure. The “carb” part of “carb cap” is short for “carburetion,” which is the process of mixing gas and air. This is a fairly vital part to low-temperature vaporization - one of the best ways to experience the flavor locked in precious essential oils. These types of pendants typically have either a groove or a small hole through them (not the bale) which allows air flow when the intended side is placed on a domeless nail...Vaporization and accessorization, harmonized. As for the dabber functionality basically any longer point on a pendant COULD be used, technically, but artists like Sherbert and Jon E. Walker create uniquely designed pendants with obvious “designated use” areas. The rarest uses for pendants, the ones that are seen more frequently on the artists, are as glassblowing tools for either in the process or finishing the piece. Firebug Jay, in particular, is known for his fully functional graphite reamers that are the size of a quarter and Sherbert, once again, partnered with Happy Daddy to manufacture titanium pencils that will sign glass just as well as they serve essential oils.
Hopefully you have enjoyed our first Collector’s Corner, we will continue to publish these blogs - although not on any particular schedule - and cover topics primarily focused on educating or reaching out to collectors, new and old. This could include topics like display and lighting; more pieces on categories of collectible glass; valuation and insurance; and potentially spotlights on specific collections and gallery displays. Thanks for joining us!