High Country: Bong-making with Spiro Lyon Glass
From cannabis accouterments to glassware to ornaments, learn from the gaffers at the Roaring Fork Valley’s own glassblowing studio.
Watching more Netflix this year than is probably healthy, I was late to the game when I discovered “Blown Away” — a “Top Chef”-style reality competition series for glassblowers — over the summer. For lack of better lingo, I was blown away and watched all 10 episodes in one sitting (don’t judge, they’re only 23 minutes).
So when I got a client update for the season from PR pro Lea Tucker last month that listed Spiro Lyon Glass on her roster, I was thrilled to learn that they were technically the only glassblowing studio in the Roaring Fork Valley (Colorado Rocky Mountain School operates one for students only). Naturally, my high mind replied inquiring if they’ve ever made any cannabis-friendly accouterments or might be open to the idea for a hands-on workshop (Spiro Lyon Glass offers private and group classes with its staff of professional artisans).
I received a reply that they were “very open to it” and set up a solo bong-making session for the following week. Located in Carbondale, Spiro Lyon Glass is not only a hot shop, but also home to co-founders and artists Jacqueline Spiro Balderson and Dylan Balderson; the longtime local husband-and-wife team built their live-work compound in 2000. Since then, they’ve completed countless architectural commissions, sculptures and artwork that’s found globally from the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art to private collections.
Upon entering, I was first greeted by a rush of heat — compliments of Spiro Lyon Glass’ recently reconstructed kiln. During the first cold six weeks of 2020, the Baldersons built a new, energy-efficient glass furnace capable of melting 350 pounds of glass at temperatures as hot as 2,300 degrees. Equipment was sourced from famed Vermont glass artist John Chiles, who provides molds and additional support for the extremely complex, three-furnace system.
Jacq and Dylan were joined by TJ Ossola, who all gave me almost as warm of a welcome into their space. After a quick safety overview (I was given a heads-up in advance to wear cotton long sleeves/pants and not fleece or flammable clothing with closed-toe shoes and to bring my own safety/ sunglasses).
In 1997, TJ, a Glenwood Springs native, decided to travel to Seattle for a class at Pilchuck Glass School where Jacq happened to be his teacher (along with her late mentor Lee Lyon). When he got home, he started as an apprentice for Jacq until an acceptance came from the Canberra School of Art in Australia where he received a BA in Visual Arts in Glass with Honours. After a few years traveling the world from New Zealand to Italy furthering his studies, he returned to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2017 to join Spiro Lyon Glass full-time.
My lesson officially started when I was asked to draw my design vision with chalk on the concrete floor, which was an embarrassingly elementary depiction of the classic smoking device. TJ took a second pass to refine the direction while Jacq took me over to the color wall to make a tough choice — close to 100 recycled Talenti containers are filled with ground glass varying in size from rock salt to sugar in every shade of the rainbow.
It was go time. With the furnaces roaring, the trio assumed position — glassblowing is truly a group effort with “gaffers” (official term for glassblowers) moving in chaotic yet choreographed symphony. As a first-timer, I was on standby until TJ handed me a “blowpipe” (long iron rod) that holds the molten glass on its tip. Much heavier than I expected, it goes back and forth from the “glory hole” (small oven where glass is reheated throughout the process) to the “marver” (stainless steel surface to shape the glass and dip it into color) with constant rotation required in between.
As Jacq told me, “In glass blowing, gravity is not your friend.”
We then took it to the “bench” (glassblower’s workstation) and with TJ securely seated, I was instructed to slowly and gently blow air into the “blowpipe” to create a bubble for the bong base. After a few puffs with TJ using ladle-like wood blocks soaked in water to continue shaping, the most nerve-racking part of glassblowing occurs — breaking the piece off the “punty” (a separate iron rod) to allow for the opening of a mouthpiece. Full disclosure: I was given the tool to tap it apart and broke the “bridge” (connection between tool and glass), so my ever-patient teachers had to start all over again! The next round went much quicker and was a success.
With the fully formed bong ready, it went into the “annealer” (sealed box where glassworks cool down). Once set overnight, Dylan added a hole in the base for the downstem. Students are responsible for supplying the bowl and slide (easy to order from online head shop 420 Science in various sizes), which Dylan shaped to fit.
With my beautiful bong (I’ve named her Bambina Blu in honor of glassblowing’s ancient Italian origins) now living on my desk, having a hand in crafting smokable art of my own … it just hits different.
3 hours, $400
3 hours, $150/per person (4 person maximum)
MAKE A GLASS
30 minutes, $75
MAKE AN ORNAMENT
20 minutes, $50
Shop for holiday gifts in the gallery (by appointment only) including the just-released Aspen Leaf Blown Glass Series, plus wine glasses, vases, candle holders in commissionable designs, sizes, shapes and colors.
SPIRO LYON GLASS
17283 CO-82, Carbondale
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