4/20 is a time honored celebration in Austin, Texas. As a teenager, I remember attending my first Bob Marley Reggae festival, eyeing a hookah for the first time beneath a makeshift tent, jamming to the Killer Bees, and smoking on the hillside of the Palmer Auditorium Shores. Imagine my delight when fifteen years later as an adult working in the glass world, Glassroots Art Show synced up with Reggae Fest down the road from my old stomping grounds. I was thrilled to welcome shop owners and glass artists alike for the first industry show deep in the heart of Texas.
Let me start by saying Glassroots is not a typical trade show. Nick Deviley, the founder of Glassroots, had a vision to fill a hall with 90% Glass, all being American made. He explains that, “the money goes back into the communities that create the art.” Since the first Madison, Wisconsin Glassroots in 2010, Deviley has sought out the most innovative glass artists, collectives, and companies. He is a collector at heart and although he would’ve liked the entire show to be open to the public,
business owners were adamant about having a closed show. Out of loyalty to the shop owners in attendance, Deviley conceded to only allow fellow flameworkers in. Waldo from Green Side Up Gallery out of Allston, Massachusetts declares that “from getting to meet the glassblowers that you look up to or studios that set the standards higher every day, you will only find this at Glassroots.”
After 2 years of planning and cutting through the red tape, Deviley had an Austin show and a contingent of artists vying to present their work. Once the dates were announced, head shop owners started planning to accommodate the show and a little R & R in ATX. One of the main reasons shop owners choose Glassroots when faced with the slew of trade shows out there is the responsive and familiar sentiment behind it. Deviley also has a knack for choosing gorgeous settings. Both Madison and Austin are thriving cities with plenty of restaurants, bars, and natural getaways within the city. Austin is known for its lush greenbelt along the lake and plenty of outdoor adventures for those who included extra time in their trip. Linus from Vapor Brothers documented his escapades via Instagram of eclectic shopping, bike trails, and spring-fed pools. Sometimes it takes visitors to remind me how spectacular Austin is.
The celebration kicked off Friday afternoon with the Armadillo Art Glass Initiative, organized and founded by Craig Lewis. Since flameworking was not approved inside the Palmer Event Center, Lewis wanted to ensure that glassblowers could show off their skills. In addition, local Austin smoke shops were allowed to exhibit their wares alongside a silent auction benefitting a local charity. Austin favorites including Salt, Jay Mass, Snic, and Stoke along with veterans such as Dellene Peralta and Bob Snodgrass worked the fire side-by-side Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the open pavilion neighboring Lady Bird Lake. AAGI managed to pull off its own vibe and draw crowds over from the Bob Marley Reggae Fest across the street, while also raising over $15,000 for Meals on Wheels and More (mealsonwheelsandmore.org). It was the perfect introduction to a week of homegrown fun and epic glass.
Sunday night, Glassroots rolled out the “red carpet” for the Buyer’s Preview where early bird buyers were invited for drinks, hors ‘doeuvres, and first dibs on the best glass in the house. Tito Bern of Bern Gallery in Burlington, Vermont insists the hospitality was supreme stating, “It’s nice to see pipemakers so respected. This show treats everyone like family.”
While over 80% of the shop owners at Austin Glassroots were Texan, the buyers from out-of state hailed from as far reaching as Oregon and Massachusetts. Shaggy from the Hot Box in Beaverton, Oregon feels it’s important to attend shows outside his region to “bring that energy” back to his shop. Nathan Adami of Adami Glass Designs vows to return to Austin despite the travel cost. He feels being at the booth lends to developing a personal relationship with shop owners. “In return I find myself having a lot of repeat customers”, says Adami.
A few attendees that acted as both exhibitors and buyers let me know about some curious purchasing trends at the show. Local shops were buying up glass from artists outside of their region and vice versa. Scuba Steve, who represents 22 Texas glass artists including Aymie McKesson and Blockhead, took the opportunity to introduce his best customers to some of his favorite vendors at the show. He gave props to the artists displayed at Chesterfield Glass and St. Elmo’s Fire. Another main attraction was Cherry Glass, known for their whimsical creations featuring electroformed bugs. Hailing from Cherry, Minnesota, Scot Bennett agrees the travel time was worth it. “The show is promoted well to the stores, and we will definitely be back next year.”
On Monday night, AAGI orchestrated an event that included dinner and a viewing of the film ‘1050 Toronto’ by Max Tubman at the Flamingo Cantina, an Austin landmark for good times. While Austin is no Vegas dripping with glitz and glamour, the city is known for its night life. I ended up sitting in front of Josh Opdenaker aka JOP, one of the stars in the film. He let me know it was the first time he had watched the film with an audience, which was “extremely fulfilling.” The film is about 3 flameworkers (JOP, Kurt B, and Chad G) trekking their way up to Canada for an international flame off and the hurdles they encounter. “The film breathes emotion, which mimics the feelings artists try to put into every piece,” recalls Opdenaker. The party that ensued was brimming with celebratory vapors and a toast to the hidden victories behind failures.
On the last day of the show, I heard about the changes some attendees would want to see at next year’s show. Shaggy’s only complaint was that the show dates were on his “holiest of holidays” in terms of both sales and traffic. Chuck Husary from The Cave in San Mateo, California shared this sentiment, saying “This is by far the busiest time of year for shops like ours, so we had to scramble and make costly arrangements to attend this show.” Nevertheless, Husary still felt that Austin was a great location. In response to this feedback, Deviley has scheduled the next Austin Glassroots to take place after the 4/20 holiday. He also plans on increasing artistic representation by 25%, while reducing scientific glass at the next Austin show.
There’s no doubt that Austin has one of the fastest growing glass communities in the country. Cooperatives and businesses such as Flameworks, Pioneer Pipes, Grav Labs, and St. Elmo’s Fire have put Austin on the map. Deviley chose Austin for this reason in addition to the incredible buying power throughout Texas. Despite the recent recession, Texas has shown particular resilience and prosperity in the smoke shop industry. The verdict is still out on why this industry is booming within Texas, but the fact remains that it is and Glassroots is here to stay.
*Kiki Box is a regular contributor to Hot Breath Magazine and the H.R. Director for Grav Labs in Austin, TX. Please contact Nick Deviley at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the upcoming Glassroots Art Shows in Madison and Austin.
Armadillo Art Glass Initiative: May 10-11, 2014
Glassroots Art Show: May 11-13th
– Article by Kiki Box