Glass Artists Profile: The CHAMPS Summer Show Glass Games

A look at some of the top trending artists at the CHAMPS Summer Show

This Article Original Appeared In MRR’s Accessory Quarterly Special Report

Nathan Fritz | Natrix Glass | Mesa, Arizona

“An old friend of mine used to call me ‘Natriatics’ back in the day, so Natrix it’s kind of a spinoff of that.

“I’ve been in the deejay industry since 2006. A friend of mine in the industry told me about glassblowing and piqued my interest. I had to look it up and research glass. Then I went over to his house and made my first pipe. Two months later I quit my job and started doing it full-time. That was about six years ago. 

“I fell in love with glass. But I stayed in the industry because of the community. It’s awesome. It makes it easy to travel and get around. Everybody’s pretty much accepting. All the bad eggs pretty much weed themselves out pretty quick. I believe this will be my fourth year competing—about six Glass Games. 

“As an artist, I’m kind of all over the place, because I do a lot of functional stuff. I might step outside of my comfort zone as much as possible, but I just like to build big things, too. I’ve made pretty big rigs—22 inches. I like going big as much as I can, but I like the complexity of building a lot of different parts on something too. I don’t keep anything that I make. I’d rather share it with somebody else than keep it for myself. 

“The art and the intensity that we bring to different pieces is constantly evolving. With glass, there’s always going to be many different progressions and many different ways and stuff, but nobody can reach our level of the glass-making until you put the time in. Copycats can only go so far. It was maybe two, three years ago that I had like a true understanding of what was going on and how glass art was moving. People that are really doing it every day and putting the time in on the torch—it really shows.”

Aly Bryer | Mama’s Glass | Ouray County, Colorado  

“I wanted to start blowing glass sooner than I did, but I got pregnant with my daughter. So I waited until just after that. I’ve been doing this since my daughter was born in August 2007. 

“My daughter’s father, who has passed, died when my daughter was about five. We were high school sweethearts. I was with him from 13 until almost 20-years-old. His dad owned a little smoke shop, which had cheap glass in there. I convinced Maya’s grandfather to open up a little glass company. I learned basic things. Anyway, I left and went back to working at a hospital to save money and saved up quite a chunk. It took maybe a year and a half, but I bought my own torch, my own kiln and told the 9-to-5 life to kindly kick rocks.

“I’ve always loved art, but I was never very good at drawing. In fact, my high school art teacher pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, some people just have a knack. Art might not be the thing for you.’ I went back and saw him after the first summer when I’d won my award. I was ‘Hey, remember me?’ He said: “Hey, how’s it going? How’s life?” I pulled my medal out of my pocket. He asked, “What’s that?” I said, “An award, for an art competition. Thanks, have a good day.” And I walked out.

“I never really had any help or much support as a single mother. But I’d take my pipes to shops to sell and take my daughter Maya with me. She’d point out all the glass in the cases that were mine, and say: ‘That’s my mama’s glass!’ I was like ‘Oh my gosh! That’s smart! You got it.” That’s when I started my company—Mama’s Glass. 

“Art is therapy for me. It’s a way for me to express myself. I’m really lucky to be able to make money at something that I love so much and be able to show my kids that you don’t have to just go work at a Walmart or a bank or be a doctor. You don’t have to do those things. You can do whatever you want, as long as you put your mind to it. But you have to work hard. Because without hard work, there’s no reward.

“I’ve been in every single Glass Games, except for one year. I took that year off due to some health reasons. I’ve placed one time in a Masters Tournament and I’ve never walked away from a Summer Game without a medal. You can mark my words on that one!”

Jon Boley | Shaggy | Southern Oregon

“I lived in Missouri until I was 14-years-old, then a little bit in Illinois. I’ve traveled and lived all over the country, but I’ve been in southern Oregon for more than 20 years now. I got the name Shaggy because I used to have extremely long hair, like dreadlocks down past my belt. 

“I used to play music on stage with a lot of different bands. And I used to perform with the Merry Pranksters before Ken Kesey died back in the day. I was also a jeweler and a gemstone dealer for a large number of years. I was in Eugene for about two years and was involved in the music scene and the arts scene there. I just happened to meet Bob Snodgrass and all kinds of other people. A couple friends let me watch them at work, back when people weren’t really doing that. I randomly moved to southern Oregon randomly. I had friends who had a studio set up out in the woods. I’d already done lampworking before. One day I just walked in and started working the glass.

“I moved to Florida within three or four months. This was just before I started to do boro pipes. There were only a couple people there who knew more than I did and had more experience on the torch. But right away, I felt I had something. I realized I had a lot more control than I thought I did over the glass. 

“I’ve participated in about 32 glass competitions, probably more than anyone else. I have probably 50 medals from all of those. I’ve been to 13 CHAMPS Glass Games, every one except for two of them. I wasn’t in two of the Masters Games, but I’ve been in all the other Masters and every regular Glass Games in Vegas. Plus, I’ve done Denver and Atlantic City. I’ve won 15 medals overall at CHAMPS.

“For me, glass allows me to create whatever I see in my head. I do every form of art, from painting to sculpting stone. Usually, if I can see it in my head, I can make it happen in glass. For gallery shows and the main Masters events, I try to make a statement with my art that affects the way people think and see life, in general—psychological art!”

Anthony Smith | Smitty Glass | Oregon

“I was born in Las Vegas and lived all over Nevada for the first 14 years of my life. I moved to Oregon in 1995. There were too many Tonys in my high school, so I kind of got handed the name of Smitty.

“One day, one of my high school peers, Tony Hernandez, brought in some glass beads. They really inspired me. I was already an artist. I liked to draw comic book-type stuff when I was younger. But glass stood out to me because instead of just drawing on a piece of paper, you had a three-dimensional medium that you can pretty much do anything with, as long as you follow the rules. Furthermore, sculpturally, you can make anything. It seemed to push the boundaries for art. 

“I wasn’t able to work with glass until about two years later. A friend of mine at the skate park asked me, ‘Hey do you want to go blow some glass?’ I was like, ‘All right! Yeah! 

“I think the reason he asked is that he was just starting out. He knew I’d been watching Tony Hernandez blow glass for a couple of years already. So he probably wanted to run some things by me. I went over to the shop and started working and never stopped.

“I’ve been in the industry since 1998. It’s been a long journey. It took me about six months before I jumped in completely. At the time, I‘d dropped out of school and gotten a job. I was 17-years-old. In about six months, I had enough money to buy my own stuff—barely. I quit because I realized I could make spoons all day with a pipe and sell them for 20 bucks and it’ll only take me 20 minutes to do it. Why the hell would I be washing dishes at a restaurant?

“My first Glass Games was in 2017. So far, I’ve won third place twice in the preliminaries at Vegas, and gone to the Masters twice. So this will be my third preliminary attendance. I try to do things that I’ve never done before, to keep things fresh. That means I’m constantly occupied. I don’t feel like I’ll get burned out as long as I don’t keep doing the same thing.”

Heather Sharp | Flame Princess | Menifee, California

“I’m a big fan of the animated series ‘Adventure Time. There’s a character named ‘Flame Princess.’ I first fell in love with her when I saw the episode where she goes on a date with Finn the Human. He asks her for date suggestions and everything that she suggested were setting things on fire or watching things burn. That resonated very well with my personality. So I adopted Flame Princess as my doppelganger. I don’t think I’m the Flame Princess; I just like the character from ‘Adventure Time.’

“I actually didn’t even know pipes were made by hand. I was unaware of this entire industry. A friend happened to be working for a glassblower and was supposed to work a CHAMPS booth for him, but she wasn’t 21 or older yet. So she brought me so I could check her in to her hotel room. I went to CHAMPS, which ended up being the Masters of 2013. I was completely blown away!

““I’ve always made things—pottery, purses, clothes—all kinds of stuff. They were fun to do, but I never felt a strong passion. I also didn’t think I’d be able to make a living and feed myself from these sorts of things. But I’ve always desired a job like that, so I ended up getting a job at Silika, putting labels on bongs. At night, I was an apprentice for a glassblower. I’d make little nails and domes and bowls while learning the basics. A few months after doing that, I felt confident enough to move out on my own and started renting studio space. 

“I did my first CHAMPS, where I showed my own stuff, at the very first CHAMPS Trade Show in, Denver. I just happened to get really lucky with my booth placement. It was right at the end of where the Glass Games were being held. I sold out. Essentially, thanks to CHAMPS, I’ve been pretty much sold out and busy ever since. I’ve never really had a day off since then and I really wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m just blown away by how well my pieces did and how everything kind of fell together.

“I’ll be celebrating my sixth year of blowing glass next month, and I’m really excited. I’m still super-new to the industry and super-grateful for everyone who came before me and paved the way, those who dealt with Operation Pipe Dreams [the federal government’s attempt to dismantle the glass pipe industry in 2003]. All of their hard work made it easier for the newer generation.

“I believe this is my seventh Glass Games. I‘ve placed and done the Masters. I’ve also done the Glass Games after already placing for a slot in the Masters, too. I still feel like I’m practicing every day. There’s just so much I have to learn and I’ve just started to like my own work recently. I’m a really hard critic on myself. If you execute it and if you put all your blood, sweat and tears into something, your hard work pays off. Once I’ve been doing it for 20 years like my heroes, hopefully I’ll be of a better caliber. It’s something I strive towards.”

Joe Gomez | Hex Glass | Eugene, Oregon

“The unicursal hexagram is a symbol of self-divinity. I guess I had low self esteem problems. I kinda took the name of ‘Hex’ as a persona to help me encourage myself.

“I was a journeyman, working construction, doing stucco and stuff. I was in a union. I was only 28-years-old and I’d already reached journeyman status. I was like, ‘Well, I still have a lot of time to goof around.’ 

“As a kid, I watched the glassblowers at Disneyland and thought it was really neat. I did like a lot of Dead tour and Phish tour stuff. I was into the whole ‘grow your own’ scene and I was really interested in glass pipes. They’d just come out and were becoming more and more popular. I thought, ‘Here I am slaving away in the hot sun and these kids are smoking pot all day and hanging out.’ One day, I decided to quit my job. I thought I’d take the summer off and make glass pipes. It turned into 18 years! But I instantly started making money. At the time, I thought it was just going to be an easy ride. It turned out to be a hard-working job.

“My first eight years I had side jobs. I did sound and lighting. I reached a point where I had to choose whether to go with glass or go with the sound and lighting. They started to conflict with each other. I chose glass ten years ago and haven’t had a job since. I don’t have any other side incomes or trust funds. I don’t sell drugs. I don’t grow weed. It’s 100 percent glass income only now.

“I lived through Operation Pipe Dreams and made it through. That’s when I changed my name to Hex. No one wanted to go by their names. We thought that if we had nicknames, the Feds wouldn’t figure out who we were [laughing]. I was younger, you know.

“Glass has become my whole life. It’s more than a job. It’s a life that we live. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long. You immerse yourself into the glass, but it’s freedom. That’s what it means to me. It means freedom. Like I said, before my glass career, I was a journeyman. I made decent money doing the stucco, but I was a slave to showing up to work at a certain time and answering to somebody. And now, you know, I have the freedom to do what I want, with and by myself, and I enjoy that.

“I’ve been in the industry for 18 years and participated in nine Glass Games events. It’s been a lot of fun. The glass community is a giant family. We get to see each other year after year. We watch each other through the media. We see everybody grow as artists. It’s a bond we have. When something happens, people are willing to contribute to help others. That’s the reason why I moved to Eugene, Oregon. There are hundreds of glassblowers here and the glass community is super strong. It’s really nice to have the support of the community.” 

Karl Taylor | Grimm Glass | Tucson, Arizona

“Grimm is actually short for ‘Grimoire,’ which is a witch or wizard’s codex, a comprehensive collection of knowledge would be another translation. But who’s going to remember all that? So, Grimm seemed a little bit more appropriate.

“I’ve always done art. My dad was an art teacher. I was hustling art at craft shows at the age of seven. So I’d already been doing art a lot for most of my life when I got started with glass. It seemed like a really entertaining version of art. I remember those old-school pipes, staring at them for hours and smoking out of them, or just trapping smoke in them to try and get them to change color faster. I definitely was into the whole scene. I met a guy and paid him for the lessons and he ran off with my money. So in 2000, I went out and bought a basic set-up and taught myself for two or three years.

“It takes a while before you can just take something that’s in your head and turn it into a piece of glass. It was four or five years for me. Things were on a different time scale back then. Kids these days come up really quick. But back then there wasn’t even the base information.

“I’m a very slow worker. I do things that require months of prep for weeks of assembly. For me, glass is about pursuing the borders, the boundaries, pushing the medium as close to the breaking limit as I can and seeing what I can make it do. That’s where I get into such extended working-time projects. It’s about trying to push it. 

 “I’ve participated in six or seven Glass Games—I don’t remember the exact count. Trying to crunch down most of my better stuff into something that I can fit into sixteen hours of competitions is definitely a challenge. I’m definitely a specialist. The competitions are very much the antithesis of my working style. 

“But I have a long history with flame offs. I taught at Sonoran Glass School here in Tucson. They’re one of the originators of the flame off. I ran the tech side of the school’s flame off for seven or eight years. After having done all that tech, it’s nice to get to hop in and do the competition side.”

Shayla Behrman | Windstar Glass | Pueblo, Colorado

“I was given the name of ‘Windstar’ when I was about six months old in a Native American naming ceremony. My mother’s side of the family is from the Blackfoot tribe. We’ve always been very spiritually minded.

“I’ve been in the industry for five years, six months, 29 days. [laughing] I started out working in a production studio and a headshot called Mary Jane’s Glass Haberdashery here in town. I did production spins for them for about a year and a half. Now I’m doing it on my own.

“Art and glass is the opportunity to play with a medium that completely has no boundaries, other than those that you set for yourself. It’s also my livelihood that supports my daughter and my life and my family. It allows me to follow my dreams of being an artist. That means a lot.”

“Being in the glass world, it’s really hard to call yourself an artist. I do a lot of production, which is very repetitive, not exactly what I consider art. The Glass Games give me the opportunity to break out of my norm and do what I’d like to call ‘art,’ which is doing something new, stretching techniques and boundaries—learning, evolving. I guess I’m still struggling with whether I’m an artist or not.

“I’ve participated in a lot of Glass Games—over ten. The last couple of years I’ve done really well in the Glass Games. I placed in pretty much every event I went to last year and then at the Masters in February, I placed three times. So, it’s pretty dope.”

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