Behold the Beauty of $100,000 Bongs

An outlandish pipe by Scott Deppe
An outlandish pipe by Scott Deppe

Guaranteed to add style and class to your weed-covered coffee table, The Evolution of the Glass Pipe and Its Artists is the definitive art-history book of the functional glass movement. It's an offshoot of marijuana culture that has produced functional objects of such originality and beauty that they increasingly achieve fine-art status — and prices. These luxury objects are about as far from an apple and some tin foil as a fancy stoner can get. But would you smoke out of a $100,000 bong?

As co-publisher Nicholas Fahey recalls, the project marinated over the course of “numerous conversations” with his partner on the book. “What really got me excited was the fact that the glass scene now has so much in common with the stories my father, David, has told me about the early days of the photography world.” Fahey is part of L.A.'s renowned Fahey/Klein Gallery, one of the world’s leading modern and contemporary photo galleries, and he has his own eclectic background in both art-book publishing and marijuana’s broader cultural evolution. “As many people know,” he continues, “photography was not always held in the highest regard in the art world. Yet a group of dedicated collectors helped develop a passionate market and art-world recognition.” Fahey says the same thing is happening right now in the world of high-end glass pipes, and he’s in the perfect position to weave all these threads together in this lavish, trippy publication. 

A finely made example of Buck's unique combination of "skeletal structure" technique in service of his nature trail–inspired Oregon styleEXPAND
A finely made example of Buck's unique combination of "skeletal structure" technique in service of his nature trail–inspired Oregon style

“When I started hearing about Venetian glass blowers,” says Fahey, “whose traditions date back to the 13th century, coming to the Pacific Northwest to learn new techniques, I knew something exciting was happening — and that it needed to be documented.” The book covers some 50 of the functional glass world’s best known artists, represented by their most iconic works, biographies and personal stories — along the way defining the classical terms and techniques they study and reinvent.

For example, the artist known simply as Buck lives a Thoreau-approved, outdoorsy life in the forests of Oregon, where he is directly inspired by fishing the wooded lakes and generally being immersed in nature. He frequently making pipes in finely detailed, sculpturally realistic shapes and scenes right out of L.L. Bean. It turns out he’s a master of a technique called “skeletal structure,” wherein certain kinds of fine glass lines are placed to mimic anatomy in a way much akin to line drawing, taking into account various viewpoints and angles.

Pipes by AK, a true master of a multitude of these traditional techniquesEXPAND
Pipes by AK, a true master of a multitude of these traditional techniques

Of course, the book starts with Bob Snodgrass — considered the godfather of the modern fine art glass movement, and a multitalented, generous artist who would teach anyone what he knew. He gets a lot of credit for moving the whole scene forward over the last 25 years. Indeed, the scene has moved forward, with artists such as the cheeky, Star Wars–inspired pop culturalist Clinton Roman and the crossover appeal of indie hero Banjo's urban-inspired work getting the attention not only of collectors but also a new generation of street art–influenced, counterculture aficionados. Banjo is preparing for a solo exhibition at Chinatown’s Gregorio Escalante Gallery this fall.

Don't worry about the logistics of smoking this.EXPAND
Don't worry about the logistics of smoking this.
Nick Fahey

Scott Deppe is described in the book as “the fountainhead for many techniques and forms within the borosilicate glass community.” Creating intricate visions in his head and working tirelessly to complete them for months on end sounds like something most artists do, but this was very alien to pipemaking at the time and is still shied away from in favor of "safer" forms that can be produced again and again for consumers. The results are so elaborate and impressive that it’s hard to believe you’re allowed to touch them, much less that you could actually cook something in them. Deppe is an example of the new kind of couture approach that makes this era in the genre so photogenic.

The terms, techniques and vocabulary provided in the book ground the work in an art-historical framework, often reminiscent of the expressive names for snowboarding tricks that had to be invented when it became an Olympic sport. Millefiori, for example, is a combination of the Italian words “mille” (thousand) and “fiori” (flowers) and you know it when you see it. Other terms, such as “cold work” and “disk flips,” are less poetic, but metallic-smoke fuming, latticino and dichro have more flair. The old-school style of psychedelic inside-out pipework is one of the most influential and classic movements, but for many this style has died off. With a focus on millefiori, Arik “AK” Krunk still employs many of these vintage techniques. In fact a great many of these artists operate on this foundation of tradition, which places not only their design practices in the realms of fine art but also in the maker-culture zeitgeist of honoring the singular, attentively crafted, truly special object.

Pop Culture pipes by Clinton RomanEXPAND
Pop Culture pipes by Clinton Roman
Example of the "cold work" style of glass machining as an alternative to molten blowing. Think "best shop class ever."EXPAND
Example of the "cold work" style of glass machining as an alternative to molten blowing. Think "best shop class ever."

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