Pipe Dreams :: Underground Art of Glass Blowing Comes Out

On 1/22/13 at 7pm, at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre, Glassphemy of Pullman will present a free public screening of Degenerate Art: The Art and Culture of Glass Pipes.

Admission is absolutely free, you can contact Willow at 509-332-1971 for more info. about this event.

The Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre is located at: 

508 S Main Street

Moscow, ID 83843


Neither Operation Pipe Dreams nor the recession were enough to put the glass pipe industry out of business.
On Tuesday in Moscow, Glassphemy, a Pullman business that makes and sells blown glass pipes, is sponsoring a documentary film that aims to inform the general public about the history and culture that surrounds this “underground” industry.
“Degenerate Art: The Art and Culture of Glass Pipes,” a featured film at last year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, focuses on the art, culture and growth of the glass pipe industry in the United States and offers audiences a peek at an underground art world, economy and cultural movement.
The event also will feature an exhibition of works by local and nationally recognized glass artists.
Operation Pipe Dreams was a federal crackdown on the glass pipe industry in 2003 that resulted in about 55 arrests nationwide, the most notable one being Tommy Chong, half of the former comedy duo Cheech and Chong, who was sentenced to nine months in federal prison.
“That kind of scared a lot of people,” said Willow Falcon, co-owner of Glassphemy with her husband, Mike Porter, a glass blower.
Also, the high-end glass pipe business, like the rest of the art world in general, “took a dive” as a result of the recession, Falcon said.
Operation Pipe Dreams and the recession definitely did take a toll on the glass pipe industry, but now, local vendors say, something of a resurgence is under way in the field.
Part of that is because no matter what one might think about glass pipes, or what their supposed or actual intended use might be, it’s difficult to deny that many are works of art. Each one, whether it sells for $5 or $20,000, is hand-made, often by a single artist, sometimes as a collaborative effort with several artists.
“In some places, it’s more underground,” Falcon said. “A lot of the artists use pseudonyms.”
It is about to become a lot less “underground” in Washington and Colorado. When recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and older was approved in those states in the November election, the sale of glass pipes for marijuana use also became legal in the state.
The owners of Glassphemy are waiting until more details of the regulation of marijuana and paraphernalia are worked out by the state before advertising that use for their pipes. That is supposed to be done by the end of this year.
“We haven’t changed the format of our store,” Falcon said. “We still sell tobacco pipes.”
While some glassblowers are well known in their field and have regular customers who know their names and products, it’s not much different than any other artist who is trying to build a name for himself.
“Most of the glass blowers, their motivation is to make money,” Falcon said. “They make something and cross their fingers and hope someone buys it.”
Being successful — or at least steady — in the glass pipe business requires a “balance between aesthetics and function,” said Porter, who started making glass pipes 10 years ago in Lewiston.
There are “bread and butter items and there are times we feel we need to push our limits,” he said.
Porter said the great thing about making blown glass pipes is that new techniques and even new colors of glass are being introduced in the field almost constantly.
For the person willing to put up with “a lot of cuts, a lot of burns,” as Porter did when he was first learning the craft, there is no limit to what kind of creations can be made.
“There’s no top end. You can always get better,” he said. “It’s pretty fascinating. It’s a young art, and there’s a lot of room for innovation.”
“Degenerate Art” showcases outstanding glass artists, but it also discusses Operation Pipe Dreams and other paraphernalia- and marijuana-related issues — and that’s something the country needs more of, Falcon said.
The film “doesn’t answer all the questions, but it does shed some light,” she said.
WHAT: “Degenerate Art: The Art and Culture of Glass Pipes”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre, 508 S. Main St., Moscow
COST: Free
INFO: (509) 332-1971

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