A bong can be more than a smoking accessory, it can be art. After five years in the cannabis accessory industry, I have found that this statement can elicit surprise, intrigue, disgust, and dismissal. As Canadians, it is important that we, at the bare minimum, become aware of this thriving subculture, because we can produce some of the world’s best examples of this underappreciated art form.
It Started with the Grateful Dead
For those who require a bit of background information to understand how this craft developed from simple glass pipes to bongs selling for $150,000+, it all began with a Grateful Dead superfan named Bob Snodgrass. While touring through the US, hot on the heels of the Dead, Snodgrass financed himself by selling increasingly elaborate glass pipes. The breakthrough moment for Snodgrass was when the accidental addition of vaporized silver was applied to molten glass. This created an appealing silvery blue hue to the glass and had the added benefit of colour changing properties with built-up resin. After this discovery, Snodgrass started to experiment, starting with new shaping methods, colour, and function. Nobody had seen glass like this before and the Dead community started to ask for his new fumed glass pipe.
With increasing sales came interest from both glassblowers and non-glassblowers alike interested in practicing the technique that this unassuming hippy had pioneered. With that, a movement was born.
Fast forward 40 years, and the same inventive spirit that allowed Snodgrass to develop his fuming technique still remains. At this point, however, the speed and depth of development is truly staggering: functional glass art has captured the imagination of artists all across the globe. From Japan to Germany, to the USA and Canada, artists are captivated by the flexibility of glass. They’re applying techniques borrowed from traditional Italian glassblowing, with experts from the scientific glass community offering insights, as new types of materials are
being developed to sustain the growing glass community. For example, raw glass colour has been created specifically for glass pipes that reacts under different light spectrums. Some glass artists, like any other art form, stand out in the landscape of the global community. In the US, glass artist Banjo typically creates stunningly intricate and spiritual female figures surrounded by a hypnotizing wreath of coloured glass. Yoshinori Kondo from Japan uses marbles and pendants created with staggering detail and precision, often incorporated in collaboration with other functional glass artists. German bong manufacturer Roor produces simple beaker bongs crafted with world renowned quality and precision, which are often a canvas for more artistically oriented glassblowers to collaborate with.
So where does Canada fit in?
Canadian Artists are a Creative Force
The established community of functional glass artists that Canada has to offer is more than enough to cement its reputation as a creative force. Artists such as Stratisphere glass, Korey Cotnam, and Nish to name a few. Stratisphere is known for his dramatic use of moving glass parts and expert sculpting, with spinning glass molecules, DNA strands, and flowers. Cotnam’s work can be subtle and sophisticated, or dramatic and fantastical. Some pieces are a perfectly formed orb with swirling complimentary colours, while others are more defined like dragons, nymphs, and lizards winding their way around a bong’s body.
Nish is a glassblower that puts an intense amount of focus into colours, where and how they should be positioned, and how they should be applied. His shaping is often simple, but distinctive and expertly executed.
The world of Canadian functional glass is a rapidly expanding and yet tightly knit group of supportive artists that push one another to constantly improve. Methods are shared, styles borrowed, and collaborative work is done. In many cases, this collective spirit results in a trend of making a single piece featuring two or more artists. Since many glassblowers have distinctive styles, or repeated profiles, these collaborations can have very recognizable traits from each artist. For example, Browski is an artist who is known for his glass slugs, and Mimzy is
known for his swirling colour style called a “wig-wag”. Together, Mimzy would develop a “wig-wag section” and Browski would shape it into a glass slug resulting in a Browski/Mimzy collaboration. While collaborations are by no means an exclusively Canadian phenomenon, it is worth noting the frequency with which these collaborations occur within our borders, especially considering our relatively small population of glassblowers in comparison to the US.
Glassblowers Work Side by Side
An interesting detail to consider in the world of functional glass art is the environment in which this work is created. Most, if not all, of this work is created off a blowtorch. The perception of glass blowing is that work is done in a large expensive studio, with space to spare. In reality most
functional glass art is made in modest homemade workshops, with much needed access to expensive, sometimes dangerous tools. Since many of these artists reside in expensive, densely populated cities where work space can be hard to come by, most of these shops are built and financed collaboratively, forcing many glassblowers to work side by side. A comradery can develop in these tight spaces. In the same way Snodgrass developed his glass technique on the road, the glassblowing community in Canada has developed their own taste for the art form while working elbow to elbow in a tight community.
With cannabis legalization, many countries are looking to Canada as a representation of their own futures, which we cannot just represent as policy and legislation. Canada has a rich and thriving artistic glass community that stemmed directly from cannabis. This is a movement that is becoming increasingly recognized—we’re even seeing some retailers purchasing high-end glass to feature in their stores. If you are proud of your country’s efforts in legalizing cannabis, why not support our artists who make it an event to smoke?