Heady Tech: How Puffco’s Glassmakers Contest Advanced the Artform
In the modern age of smart rigs and pocket vaporizers, what becomes of the underground art of glass bong-making? When does technology silence culture?
This question prompted upscale vaporizer manufacturer Puffco to collaborate with popular independent glassmakers such as Ryan Fitt, Josh Ford, and Joachim to apply their vision and talent to the Peak, a portable dab rig, by incorporating and honoring the vivid glass culture that paved the way for new modes of consumption.
Puffco has been making a serious impression on cannabis users with the Peak smart rig — a state-of-the-art electronic rig, also known as an e-rig, with a sleek, conal design. The glass chimney piece captured the imagination of glass artists who saw how the simple, transparent cone could be replaced with more vivid and imaginative interpretations.
“When the company was designing [the Peak], we had high hopes that the glass world would latch onto it like they did,” Kevin Chapman, Puffco events and production director, told Marijuana.com. While at a trade show in Las Vegas in February 2018, the Puffco team came across an Instagram post of a custom-made Peak attachment by glass artist SOLO.
“The whole team’s kind of dancing around, just excited that an artist had done on his own what we had hoped for,” Chapman said. “There was no commissioning of this piece or anything. He had just seen this as a new, very cool way to consume and something that he wanted his piece on top of.”
As a result, Puffco started the Glass Open, a creative competition for glass artists to submit photos of a custom-made glass piece that would attach to the Peak vaporizer base. “We kind of found it in ourselves to want them to put out their best product for the world to see,” Chapman said.
According to the contest rules, entries were judged according to one criterion: Who made the most “creative use” of the Puffco peak vaporizer.
Puffco’s webpage of 2018 Glass Open winners shows the diversity and striking variety of entries that emerged from the open-ended contest criteria.
“It was great to see not just one particular type of thing, but completely different things, and shine a light on everybody’s hard work,” said Chapman. “We didn’t want to limit anybody to any kind of bounds or restraints.”
Online votes piled in from all over the world for the inaugural contest. Glass artist Ryan Fitt took first place with a glass attachment that stayed true to the Peak’s signature conal shape, infusing it with intricately layered electro-formed metalwork and custom-cut opals.
Glassmakers Enter a Whole New World of Vaporizers
It was actually the Peak’s signature conal shape that made Fitt aware of Puffco in the first place.
Glassmaker Fitt is considered a veteran master of the craft of heady glass, a type of hand-blown, high-end, intricately designed bongs and pipes. Collectors know Fitt as a bonafide mascot of the artform and the community.
Among Fitt’s most well-known heady glass designs are his cone-shaped pipes called kužels (a Czech word for “cone”). As the Peak’s popularity rose online, friends in the heady glass community alerted Fitt to the striking similarity between the Peak and his own kužels. For Fitt, the similarity was an opportunity to collaborate with Puffco on a design that could be championed by the technology and culture of cannabis.
“The Glass Open popped up shortly after that, and I contacted them and said, ‘Hey I’m gonna make a piece for the show,’ and just kind of went for it,” Fitt told Marijuana.com. “And that was really it. I didn’t have any grand desires or any angles or anything like that. I was like, I know how to make a cone. I’ll go ahead and do this.”
The end product echoes Fitt’s attitude of welcoming new consumption technologies into the independent glassmaking world. Fitt’s winning piece, which he describes as a “tron design,” blends his intricate glass and metal layering work neatly into the latest cannabis innovation.
“We have a glass piece of art on top of the modern technology that’s starting to pop up more and more within cannabis use. It was really that simple. It just made sense,” Fitt said.
Now that he’s won the Glass Open and continues to receive orders for his work from around the world, Fitt says the whole experience convinced him that the new wave of cannabis technology also has room for artists and innovators who have driven the cannabis movement for decades.
“It has the potential for being symbiotic. We don’t have to shun everything that happens. It’s going to change. You keep changing with the times,” Fitt said. “If this is a way that industries move, we get to have an opportunity to have a voice and display what we’re doing alongside of them.”
Fitt also believes that other vaporizer makers will see the way Puffco has tapped the existing heady glass artists in the community to drive business and marketing, and follow suit. “For us, that just means we keep moving forward,” Fitt said.
Fitt and several other artists from the Glass Open have continued to make custom Peak attachments to sell independently. SOLO, the creator of the first custom Peak attachment, has made a fully functional Peak helmet. Several heady artists who didn’t participate in the glass open are now applying their signature designs to the Peak. A movement seems to have begun, as artists showcase and sell their work online to a generation of collectors who appreciate not just high-tech new ways to consume, but also the old-world skill to make the experience beautiful.
For winning first place in the Glass Open, Fitt took home a gold-accented Peak base for which he immediately made another immaculate glass attachment — this time with 24-karat gold plating from 657 Productions, a small New York-based metal-plating operation that has done high-end work for awards shows. Fitt sold the piece to Puffco CEO Roger Volodarsky, who is also the proud owner of Glass Open entries from Joachim and Tammy Baller. According to Fitt, high-end custom pieces like his 24-karat gold Peak attachment represent just one end of a wide range of prices and products that independent glassmakers can work with and profit from to keep the community thriving.
Post-Glass Open, Puffco continues to advocate for community-rooted industry with its first two Puffco Art Shows, one held July 31, 2018, in Los Angeles (the Brooklyn-born Puffco’s new home) and the second on Oct. 20, 2018, in Denver. Both events showcased the work of more than 25 independent glass artists, as well as some newly released products from Puffco. Chapman said the company would like to travel with events like these to “give different cities around America an opportunity to have this in their backyard and bring out their friends to have a fun time with the Puffco team.”
For Fitt, events like these have given him the opportunity to see firsthand the communal influence heady glass can have: “You look at the history of the pipe and it goes all the way back into early social relationships between humans. This a vessel that we all get to interact with as a group of people. It’s become a social thing that gets people together and they remember it. That physical action and that interaction is something that binds people together.”