Collecting art and selling one-off items at auctions is something we often tie to a level of wealth and hierarchy. When we think of bongs and glass used to smoke marijuana, they usually don’t fall into the same category — until recently. In 2010, Ben Belgrad, founder of Bat Country Studios, won a beautifully made bong in a 4/20 raffle while he was a sophomore at Indiana University. Infatuated with the extreme level of talent that was put into the piece and the opportunity to learn from the creator, Belgrad tapped into a level of creativity, connecting him to the underground art world, made mostly of glass.
Pipe makers historically had to fight through a myriad of legal limitations to get their art in front of buyers. From selling their art pieces, some of which take weeks and months to make, out of the back of their Subaru at the lot of a Grateful Dead show to now having pieces go to auction for $250,000, there was, and is, no easy jump. When talking to Belgrad about the progression of borosilicate glass blowing going from paraphernalia to art, he was not short on anecdotes applicable to the growth.
“20 years ago, my contemporaries were afraid to be in the car with the marijuana pipes they made on the way to the shops to sell them,” shares Belgrad. “If they got pulled over, they could go to jail. Now, you have this situation where these pieces are in museums and being auctioned at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and these pieces are achieving a level of art appreciation that just was not there under the criminalization and illegality of marijuana.”
With marijuana becoming recreationally legal in varying states across the United States, the secretive element of pipe making was able to break its way into mainstream art.
Borosilicate glassblowing is tedious, hot and requires lots of patience. Through the use of a high-powered propane torch and a supply of oxygen, glass artists are able to mold and manipulate borosilicate glass, usually with graphite tools and often a massive lathe. After the creation has been molded to the specifications of the artist, it is put into a kiln and heated to 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit slowly, then dropped back down to room temperature in an eight-hour, molecularly-scientific process. The road doesn’t end there, some pieces require cold working or manipulating the medium after it has been fired. This process takes copious amounts of artistic dedication.
What if there was a way to physically bridge the gap between the pipe maker and the traditional art collector? Belgrad and his comrades are paving the way in doing just that with his project, Drinking Vessels, and events like the Vail Cup Collectors Club.
“Through Drinking Vessels I’ve created a marketplace for these pipe artists to translate the pipe art patterns and imagery into the shape of a cup, decanter, flask or shot glass, and it’s created a way for this art to be shared, maybe with people who don’t smoke weed or who aren’t interested in buying pipes but may love the artwork that they’re seeing through this movement,” Belgrad explains.
These cups aren’t your usual handblown glass pieces; they are weird, funky and stunningly beautiful, endowed with the imaginative gems of the pipe artists. By lifting the limitations of the traditional art created by pipe makers, enthusiasts can interact with functional art within the community.
Sure, this form of glass blowing originates with a connection to cannabis, but with the fresh element of Drinking Vessels, a taboo craft is now increasingly more accessible and desirable to art lovers everywhere.
Learn more at drinkingvessels.com.
Use code JAUNT for 15% off at checkout on drinkingvessels.com
Photos courtesy of Ben Belgrad/Drinking Vessels.
Originally published in Winter + Spring 2022-23 issue.
Laura is currently the Community Engagement Manager for Jaunt Media Collective and finds immense joy contributing to our print publication when she’s not elbow-deep in digital marketing. Whether she’s on the beaches of Maine or adventuring in the White Mountains, her border collie mix Fern, can be found by her side.