Becoming a glassblowing master will takes years of experience to attain that level. But, it is interesting to note that some of the first students at the University of Wisconsin went on to create more programs at other schools. The next two university level programs that were offshoots from Wisconsin were the University of California Berkley followed by the Rhode Island School of Design.
You don’t necessarily have to attend a university to begin your educational opportunities. Glass art studios and some museums will offer classes from time to time. Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington is an example of a school created for the sole purpose of glass blowing education. You may also be able to apprentice with a master once you have established the proper learning foundations. Apprenticing gives you a chance to assist another glass blower, learning new techniques and improving on the techniques you’ve already learned. Depending on availability in your area, this may be, more challenging than it sounds. More on apprentices later.
Glass Blown Bongs
Making a glass blown bong is a bit of a different process. In this case, the glassmaker cuts existing glass tubes into smaller pieces which can vary by thickness and dimensions. Before beginning work, glass rods are prepared with color and other additives before igniting the gas burner to heat the glass. Sounds a lot cooler than being surrounded by three fiery furnaces.
Silver or gold fuming is next when one of those colors is added to the glass. The amounts added depends on the desired look of the finished product, and other colors can also be added. In this case, the craftsman is using a much smaller tube to blow into and shape the bowls.
Parts are made separately, as in a double bowl process. Once complete, decorations can be added. These include the mouthpiece or slider holder. The cooling process, while not as long, remains important to avoid unintended cracking in the glass. Special ovens are used for the cooling process for these smaller items. The delicate work of adding the threads into the glass is interesting to watch. With these little items and using a gas burner, safety goggles and arm/hand protection is still recommended. You can even make bowls with a unique dragon or snakeheads. And just like the manufacturing process earlier, the glass is sanded and smoothed before any engraving or etching is completed.
There are studios in places like Soho that are dedicated to the sale of high-end, unique bongs as showpieces. Listen up freelancers; these beauties sell for $20,000 to $300,000 each. I think we can consider that lucrative. These are of course highly delicate works of art, and some are replicas from history so count on spending hours and hours on a single piece if you want to head in this direction. These aren’t being produced for everyday use, although many are functional, these are investments to be treasured and shown off. And there are other similar locations around the country.
Glass Blown Pipes
Today, some recognize Bob Snodgrass as the “godfather” of color changing pipe products because he is believed to be the first person to coat a pipe interior with vaporized silver. The same group believes that Eugene, Oregon is the birthplace of the modern glass artisan revival. That is where Bob settled there in 1990 and began teaching his art.
Both glass pipes and bongs have become a multimillion dollar industry. And even though some big factories are involved now, most are still made by hand. This area is also considered a “sub-culture” of artists. There is an interesting film documentary about Bob’s contributions to the industry that has some excellent reviews. It’s called “Degenerate Art: The Art and Culture of Glass Pipes,” and the sole reason for mentioning this film is for its glass blowing learning. Bob is a fun loving, well-traveled free spirit and owner of Eugene Glass School in Oregon.