Everyone knows that the strain you smoke matters. Well, so does what you smoke it out of, damn it. That cheapass pipe you snagged at the checkout counter is going to clog quick. It’s gonna bust into a billion bits the first time you drop it. It’s also ugly. If you care about your weed, you should care about your glassware. The right glass can increase the flavor and potency of your high. It can also boost the local economy.
In the name of getting stoned while supporting local art, we tracked down absurdly talented Colorado glassblowers and talked about the benefits of buying local. Our roundtable included Mary Hess of Colorado Blown in Cortez, Gordon “RightBrain” Rowthorn of RightLeftBrains in Aurora, and Durango artists Matt Beale and Jim Righter – who both can be found at Cloud 9 Headshop.
What are the benefits of buying locally-made glass?
Mary Hess: It’s the circle of life. When we support each other locally, we have a healthier community. I feel very blessed to have strong local support, and it’s so fun to get to know the counterculture of the Four Corners.
Gordon Rowthorn: There are a lot of benefits. One can ask a local blower for subtle adjustments, such as a longer pipe, or a deeper bowl, or perhaps a color combination not listed. Local artists can make little adjustments on a whim, where as something that came from overseas is what it is, take it or leave it. I once worked with a medicinal smoker for weeks on end, a guy with multiple sclerosis, to make a pipe that fit his hand just right … [Additionally,] buying locally helps grow and maintain the local economy, whereas buying imports helps grow and maintain some other country’s economy. If you buy from me, for example, I’m going to use some of that money to buy more glass from Glasscraft, a local supply company [in Golden], and they’ll use some of that money to pay their employees, who will use some of that money to eat at a restaurant or something, whose employees might then again, buy a pipe locally.
Matt Beale: Well, when it comes to that, local artists will make a quality product and it is going to last longer. It is gonna be crafted by a trained craftsman. You will have intricacies within the glassware. Some people will notice those intricacies, but then others might not care. A local artist, like me, can make simple, clear pieces so that if they break, you can buy another one, and there you go. But there is also room to create work for those who know and desire art glass.
Jim Righter: The sheer quality of it, simply put. It all comes down to functionality. Blow-hole size, mouthpiece size, all of this stuff, when it is mass produced will not necessarily function properly or will break easier. It may clog up on you more. When you buy local, like from someone like myself, I make sure every part of a piece is perfect. That it is thick and has increased functionality. I sometimes put magnets in a piece so that your lighter can stick to it or so your pipe can stick right to the fridge. Really, supporting someone local is supporting quality and innovation, too. The longer an artist – not an assembly line – is creating a body of work, the more time that artist has to think about ways to make their art better.
How does a weed experience morph depending on the glassware used?
Hess: If you’ve ever used cannabis, you’ve probably felt a greater sense of creativity while high. Using a colorful and artistically-designed pipe definitely enhances that experience. I’ve spent much time contemplating the universe while gazing into a glass marble … on weed.
Rowthorn: Imports are often of a lesser quality. I’ve seen imports that are colored with paint instead of glass, which will burn when used and fume out. Not good for the lungs. I’ve seen imports that were not annealed. I could tell because they used the color ruby, which goes on clear and needs to be annealed in order to turn red again, and these were clear with just hints of the ruby color. I’ve seen imports that were made with no holes to get around import laws (it’s actually illegal to import/export pipes), and had holes drilled in them once they arrived, which will leave trace amounts of glass dust inside of them. Also not good for the lungs. [Plus,] smoking out of something you take pride in never hurts. That special little piece that only you have, and your friends are like, “Whoa, where’d you get that?” It’s a good feeling to have a unique piece. Also, there are so many blowers and so many unique styles, it can be a lot like fashion. Finding that certain piece that fits your personality to a T. One of my most popular lines is my musical pieces. The trumpet, trombone, and sax … Being a multi-instrumentalist/singer musician myself, I can certainly relate to wanting to express that in other areas of my life.
What are some misconceptions people have about glassblowing or paraphernalia work?
Rowthorn: … That I must be making bank living in Colorado during the Green Rush, as it came to be called. Us being the first state to have legal recreational marijuana and me being a glassblower that lived here during the start of that, people thought I was making a killing off of my product, but its been a rough road. Edibles took off, and pre-rolled joints became a regular product. Vape pens hit it big. This meant people didn’t buy as many glass pipes. Also, lots of glassblowers moved here from all over the country thinking they’d take advantage, which only brought more competition, and lots of people moved here to open head shops, which meant that not only was there more competition between blowers, but each shop had less customers themselves so they all started buying less pieces, and less frequently.
Beale: You can glob glass together and make a pipe and call yourself cool or you can go hermit status and really figure out what it takes to get this stuff to look like the Italian masters … Thinking about how the heck did someone make that piece in the museum? You could spend years trying to figure it out. I always try to emphasize elegant, good quality pieces and that takes time.
Righter: That you can only work on small stuff. It can be very intensive, very hot. Some people think that you sit there on a bench and make dinky little pipes all day, but there is definitely a craft to it and a spot where you hit the next level, where you are creating art. Another misconception is when people – I’ve had it happen a countless number of times – when people are like, “Oh what do you do?” and you say you are a glassblower and the first thing that runs through their mind is that I’m making crack pipes or stuff like that. People sometimes don’t understand that these are really cool, artistic, one-of-a-kind pieces. Also, a lot of people think that this is only for stoners. “Oh, you blow glass, you must be a stoner.” And that’s not immediately true. There are a lot of glassblowers out there that are straightedge or vary in lifestyle.
How is spending money on local vs. imported glass a political statement?
Beale: I spent 23 days in China in a factory over there. I tried to see if any processes or parts were worth working with … Everybody’s been really weirded out about the foreign market, and rightfully so. It’s been deemed a huge threat to us … I spent a lot of time in the office talking numbers and picking brains. I realized that by buying foreign glass, you are empowering a Chinese government that doesn’t always see to the best interests of their people. People in the factories aren’t making what they should be, and there isn’t really anything but lateral movement for employees. They don’t get a fair earning for their skill. To see the amount of siphoning off of profit and the heartlessness of international trade at that level … All that profit is going somewhere you might not like.
Righter: If someone’s able to sell a piece that cheap, it probably came from an assembly line where people are not liking their jobs and getting paid next to nothing. I think there is a morality to it.
Rowthorn: Imports are a way of getting around child labor laws, and/or minimum wage laws. If morality is your thing, buying local will guarantee you’re supporting fair labor. You have to be 18 to work with torches here in the U.S., and individual blowers set their own prices according to what they think is fair or makes sense, and U.S.-based glassblowing companies have to follow labor laws such as minimum wages and overtime pay and all that.
Hess: With all the passion on the political stage, I think the best thing we can do as a community is to be as self-sufficient as possible. We see the most change when we give and receive the support of our neighbors and friends.
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.
Note: Cloud 9 Head Shop will be relocating to 831 Main Ave., Suite 201 & 202.By Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer