Passion into profit: the glass blowers of Fort Collins

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Photos taken by Eliott Foust.

It was tradition in 13th century Italy for glass makers to learn the trade secrets of glass making while residing on the Venetian island of Murano. Glass blowers were forced to remain on the island or risk having their hands cut off to make it impossible for those secrets to be taught to outsiders.

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Since then, the secrets of glass blowing have become less and less protected with today’s glass blowers encouraging a sense of community and shared knowledge.

Skye Perry and Theresa Norton of Glass Antixx are among the Fort Collins glass blowing community and have been for 13 years.

The two met in 2001 and have made a living out of this once-heavily-protected trade.

Perry was first introduced to glass blowing while following the Grateful Dead on tour and traveling around the country. His inspiration comes from nature or looking at a pile of materials, while Norton enjoys making pieces that make her laugh, such as mushrooms, pit-bull heads and replicas of throwback toys from the ’80s.

Perry and Norton were married in 2006, about five years after they met and started blowing glass. Their relationship enhances their art.

“At the end of the night we could be done working, but we might still have ideas to talk about,” Norton said. “If you want to do a big project that takes more than one person, it’s nice to be like ‘Well, I have a partner right here.’”

“I don’t think I had the vision, at first, seeing it as something that could be full time and solitary income,” Norton said. “He came in with this grand vision of ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’”

This grand vision of being full-time glass blowers was not an easy one. The couple took odd jobs, selling newspapers over the phone and flying a sign on the highway that said “Starving artists, need material, please help,” in order to scrounge up enough money to buy a torch and the little bit of equipment and materials they needed.

Now, Perry and Norton are their own bosses, blowing glass six days a week and creating a variety of pipes, sculptures, beads, pendants and gifts.

Glass blowing as an outlet for creativity is what has kept Norton near the torch for so long.

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“When you nail something it’s so fun,” Norton said. “I think just by nature we’re all creative people. There is an undeniable need to create something.”

The couple, like many artists of different mediums, thrive on the joy their artwork instills in others.

“I think the one thing that I get the most out of my glass is when my friends come over and almost tackle me because I made them a piece and they’re so excited when they see it,” Perry said. “That’s what I get out of it, it’s that joy that I just made somebody that happy with something that I made.”

The two have competed together, which Norton compares to Iron Chef competitions. Perry has placed in several, receiving first place three years ago in the best glass category of the High Times Medical Cannabis, now simply called the Cannabis Cup due to recent legislation and acceptance of the culture.

“The industry is spiking, it’s developing, it’s becoming accepted, it’s becoming legal,” said Morgan Lindskog, owner of The Joint, of the marijuana and glass making culture.

This resurgence in the demand for glass pieces as collector’s items has allowed Perry, Norton and other glass blowers to turn their passion into profit.

“It’s almost like a weird hippie status thing with the hippie kids these days,” Perry said. “Back in the day it was like ‘Hey man I got a hole in my shoes.’”

This additional demand does not come without increased competition among glass blowers, but Perry does not mind.

“As an artist, it keeps me fresh,” Perry said. “It keeps my mind moving so I have to think of new ideas.”

Mitch Shallemburger, another local glass blower, describes his love of glass blowing as more than just a passion.

“It’s become an addiction, I can’t get away from it,” Shallemburger said.

Glass blowing has experienced a lot of change within the last couple years: an explosion of available colors, the high demand for rig pieces used for smoking dabs and the increased artistry and detail that goes into more creative pipes.

“What’s cool, though, about a pipe is you can do anything, you can do any shape,” Norton said. “You can get as ornate and as detailed and as sculptural as you want with a pipe, just because it has a bowl and a mouth piece, it’s still functional.”

Collegian Green Beat Reporter Laren Cyphers can be reached at news@collegian.com.