Most people know what a glass pipe is. Few know that there is a thriving and vibrant community of artists who are crafting beautiful glass sculpture pipes making upwards of $200k a year fueling a billion dollar industry globally while developing the most fascinating subculture of art since the graffiti movement in the 1970s.
Raleigh artist Andrew Sartori is one of these glass sculptors who majestically wields fire and bends glass. He opened the door and let us in on the inner workings of this burgeoning subculture. “This is a relatively new art form but the scene is growing. Twenty years ago there were maybe a few hundred glass blowers. Now there are thousands.”
Mentorship is a critical pillar within many of the recent art subculture booms including graffiti art and tattooing. The glass piping art culture is no different. Andrew got his start by apprenticing with a friend who took him under his wing. “I would come out to his house a few times a week and he would show me the basics. I fell in love with the art quickly.” Soon Andrew would be working his first gig with Zephyr Glass doing mostly prep work while trading services for shop space. Any spare time he could find was spent researching the craft. “I would read books, watch videos and scan the internet for as much information as I could consume on the art.” One of Zephyr’s distributors, Joint Forces, took notice of Andrew’s work and began selling some of his pieces across their network. As money came in Andrew invested it right back into his craft allowing him to improve, grow quickly and set up a studio in Raleigh within Capital Smoke on Martin Street.
While Andrew presently distributes across the United States he tells us that some artists have reached counter culture celebrity status. Many have become household names amongst fans of the art. Names like Snodgrass, Banjo, Germ and el Hefe may mean nothing to the layperson but are legends in this community.
While the art form is growing fast and the subculture is finding stronger footing in the marketplace Andrew is quick to note that the glass pipe art form carries a notable stigma. “This used to be illegal. The government went after glass blowers through the early 90’s so artists began creating nom de plumes and pen names to hide their true identity.” Even though the legal pressures have relented identifying your work through a different name within the culture still exists. The most popular artists in the game today are known simply by names like Salt, Snic and Bandhu. Andrew goes by Logi which means “the personification of fire”. Again, the similarities regarding pen names and the graffiti scene are noteworthy.
I continue to draw parallels with the graffiti subculture because I have an affection for authentically American-born art forms that grow organically and are self-driven purely by creative competition. As the glass blowing subculture continues to grow and explore notoriety through channels like magazines, websites and national expos it will be fascinating to observe how an art once perceived only as the work of degenerates merges into the lane of the modern art gallery. Truth-be-told glass blowing is a craft that takes just as much commitment as any other high-grade method of creative expression. Years of practice and hefty investment are required to make a mark. Just ask Andrew Sartori. He is clearly making his right here in Oak City.