Monday, January 21st, 2019

A passion for glass creation

Sam Hill | The Free Press

Posted on April 20, 2015 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

Sam Hill | The Free Press
Sarah Mosby, co-owner at 33rd Street Arts, heats glass with high temperatures up to 2,732 degrees fahrenheit.
Sam Hill | The Free Press
Sarah Mosby, co-owner at 33rd Street Arts, heats glass with high temperatures up to 2,732 degrees fahrenheit.
Sam Hill | The Free Press
Sam Hill | The Free Press
Sam Hill | The Free Press
Sam Hill | The Free Press
Sam Hill | The Free Press

By: Dora Thompson

Pipes are everywhere, especially in the city of Portland. They rest in smoke shop windows, and displayed in art shows, and hidden in the dorm rooms of college students. Portland has a large community of glass artists who create their own pipes, yet still many buyers are not aware of where their piece came from. 33rd Street Arts aims to change this.

Two local artists, Sarah Mobsby, or “Marblesbee,” as Mobsby goes by in the art community, and Brian Owoc, or “KGB Glass,” have combined their talents to create 33rd Street Arts, a studio where they eventually hope to host glass blowing lessons. Mobsby makes small hand pipes and water pipes, along with jewelry, cribbage pegs and her true passion, marbles. Brian Owoc’s signature design is his famous glass donuts. He crafts pendants, sliders and pipes, all shaped like the sweet breakfast pastry. His donut pieces are in high demand across the country, propelling his reputation forward in the glass industry. He has worked with some of the best artists in the U.S.A., such as Mr. Gray and Steve Bates. They sell their work to shops around the country and on their personal websites.

33rd Street Arts was a decrepit old building 6 months ago, until Mobsby and Owoc changed it into a place of creation. Graffiti covers the walls, depicting Portland’s skyline, with plenty of references to donuts and marbles. Inside, the studio is equipped with a ping pong table, a stereo and an expansive work-space where the glass molding magic happens.

The couple explained that making pipes is no harder than anything else they create, but there is a higher demand for them. Owoc said he’s more likely to sell a pipe than non-functional glass art.

“Portland’s always had a really solid glass pipe art scene,” said Owoc. “There’s always been an underground presence here. A lot of amazing artists have come from this area.”

The couple observed that consumers seem more interested in and appreciative of local art lately. The couple has been known to spend weeks working on a single piece. When they set a price for a piece, they factor in time, cost of materials, rarity of the object and the overall dedication required to run a glass art studio. The couple deals with huge amounts of liquid oxygen, liquid propane and their large and necessary ventilation system. Glass blowing is an expensive business for them, but it seems like it’s been paying off.

“It’s on an up and up right now,” said Mobsby. “There’s been growth. People are starting to see this as more as a business.”

Sometimes artists who create pipes have to deal with stereotypes. Mobsby explained that she is sometimes hesitant to tell people what she does for a living. Some visitors to the shop expressed disappointment when they learned that the colorful, creative pieces of glass art could also function as drug paraphernalia.

“People judge,” said Owoc. “But in the end, it’s just art.”

They both expect that in time, people will become more and more accepting of the practice of making glass bowls and bongs.

Due to society’s reluctance to embrace the art form, the underground culture of glassblowing is rich and close knit. When Owoc first blew glass 15 years ago, there were virtually no classes offered in glassblowing, let alone pipe making. The artists had to teach each other. Owoc met some people in the craft while traveling, and learned the art  through them.

“The community was very open with knowledge,” said Owoc. “When you see another glass artist it’s like instant family. You’re going through the same thing and you’re eager to advance art.”

Local artists also often do collaboration work, so you may find a pipe with Owoc’s donuts on it, with another artist’s blown glass waffles.

Mobsby is a USM alumnus, with a degree in small business and entrepreneurship. She was the manager of Blazin’ Aces, another local smoke shop. Before that she started by selling her work at farmer’s markets.

The pair encourages buyers to purchase locally. They explain that many glassblowing industries don’t have proper safety equipment or air ventilation systems, and workers operate in dangerous conditions.

“You should care where your money is going,” said Owoc. “If you do have the choice, you should support local artists.”

Being a glass artist is no cakewalk. The couple spends ridiculous hours in the studio working every day. They say the hardest part about their job is the lack of benefits and paid vacations. Mobsby confessed that they had to bring their houseplants to the studio because they were getting neglected at home. However, the glassblowing power couple still enjoys showing up to work.

“I love glassblowing because I love puzzles and things that make my mind turn,” said Mobsby. “For me it’s a puzzle that’s never going to end because I’m always learning something.”

Owoc said he loves his job because he can be the master of his own destiny. Success depends solely on how hard he can work and how creative he can get.

For some people, stopping in to 33rd Street Arts inevitably leads one to lighting one up in honor of a highly functional and still beautiful art form.

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