I started blowing glass pipes in Ithaca, New York, in the spring of 1997. At the time, there wasn’t a single shop in the area that sold hand-blown glass pipes. They had metal bowls and acrylic bongs, but hand- blown glass was only available in mystical places, like concert parking lots and festivals. Cannabis wasn’t legal anywhere in the United States, not even medicinally, and to be honest, back in the 90s, legalization was nothing but a pipe dream.
The kind of people that got into glass pipes were “heads.” People that grew weed, sold weed, and wanted to smoke “kind bud out of clean glass.” Remember, back then there was no Internet, cellular phones, social media, or anything like that from which to get information.
It was all underground, and the types of people who got involved in the craft were outlaws. I got my first glass piece in 1994 from an Ithaca local named Josh Norman. I remembered he drilled the bowl hole out with a diamond bit. I was growing and selling weed when I started. Ezra, the guy that got me into it, was one of my main weed suppliers. He moved out West to Oregon and met a couple other guys making pipes named Marcel and Pedro, and they began to send me glass bubblers in Upstate New York, where I then sold them to all the college kids I knew through word of mouth. I knew one other guy in town who was also getting glass pipes sent in from Oregon made by a guy named Snodgrass.
In 1995, I bought a ’78 VW bus and drove to San Francisco to visit my mom who had recently moved there. I ended up in town right when Jerry died, and so I attended his memorial celebration at Golden Gate Park. Afterward, I journeyed to Haight Street for my first time and saw glass pipes in the headshops there. I had never seen them for sale like that before and bought a really ugly chillum to bring back East.
In August of 1997, I went to a big Phish show and sold every one-hitter and spoon I had made, which gave me the confidence to quit my job at a restaurant and make pipes my full-time gig. Most of the glass I made, I sold to college students or in the Phish parking lot. We hustled pipes much like we hustled drugs. I didn’t even think about headshops or middlemen at first. The art of hustling was a major part of it.
Pat Kiefer, DWRECK, and I got invited to move out West to work with Ezra and a crew of bad ass dudes he had assembled in Seattle. We made a pile of glass and hit the Phish lot hard on a fall tour in 1997 and hustled until we had enough money to drive out West. We made up a company name, “Molten Imagination,” and handed out business cards with our beeper number on them. Once in Seattle, we mostly sold cases of glass to ballers who sold weed. They would sell pieces to their friends and clients. Sometimes festival/tour kids would come by, too, and buy a gun case full of pieces to “work the lot” for the summer. Jason Lee and I used to stock pile pieces and follow Phish all summer in the 90s, selling glass in the lot to fund our acid fueled adventures.
I really never thought of it as a career. Nor did I have any ambition to make much money. It was more about freedom. Freedom to look how you want, be as stoned as you want, and to take off and travel whenever the fuck you want. Only certain types of personalities are cut out for such a lifestyle.
Twenty years later, some things stay the same, but most things have changed. First off, weed is legal all over the country! With that, the whole outlaw status of making pipes and cannabis is disappearing, attracting a whole new mainstream audience of collectors and makers. You used to have to go out of your way to even find glass pieces for sale when
I first started. Now you can shop online or contact artists directly on social media. It kind of loses
its edge when anybody can just watch videos on YouTube and order all the equipment online to make pipes in their parents’ garage. It used to be drug dealers and growers who were making pipes; now it’s art school kids and scientific glassblowers with degrees. No one showed outsiders techniques back then. Now you can pay to take classes with a lot of the best makers out there.
Most of all, we didn’t have anyone to look up to who made a successful career as a pipe maker. We are the first generation, which is why those times were so gangster. It was federally illegal, and the government reminded us of that in 2003. Most sensible people I knew quit after that. An already tricky lifestyle had
gotten a lot harder, and many people turned back to selling and growing weed or getting legit jobs. I was depressed myself, wondering what I was doing and how I was going to continue making a living when I decided to make a movie about it. Instead of rejecting our weird place in society, I thought the best thing to do was to celebrate being “degenerates”!
Today, the pieces being made blow my mind! The caliber of work and skill level of craftspeople has
sky rocketed way beyond any vision I initially had when I was first enamored by simple color-changing pipes. The new scene has been multiplying in epic proportions. The tools and materials available to artists today have elevated the work. Artists and collectors are spreading to other countries like Japan and Europe. Pipe makers are paying taxes and feeding their families, and it’s inspiring young people to take the craft more seriously than ever.
For me, pipes always have been, and always will be, a symbol of my love for the ganja plant. I always looked at pipe-making as an artistic expression of the legalization movement. Now that marijuana is more accepted socially and legally, it will be interesting to see the different directions the medium takes. Furthermore, one day I think glass pipes made during prohibition times will be recognized as true symbols of an underground movement to promote this benign natural substance that has been demonized for way too long.