St. Elmo’s Studio Spotlight
After visiting with my grandson Lincoln in Round Rock for a few days, it was time to head down Interstate 35 to southern Austin on a sweltering hot and muggy day. The warehouse building where St. Elmo’s Studio is located was discreet and unassuming. Walking in, I noticed the vast 4,800 square feet two-level area that is the workshop for eleven glass blowers. The space was one of the largest, most well-planned and laid out studios I’ve seen. One could tell there was plenty of thought in the flow of the main workspace and the surrounding individual rooms. These artists were here to stay.
St. Elmo’s Crew
Salt • Snic • JMass • Kind • Chris Carlson • Lift • Tron • Rude Boy Glass • C. Dot • Mr. Smith • Shawn Jawn • Justin • Sarah
Where are you from and how long have you been a glass artist?
What’s up? I’m Salt and I’m from Austin, Texas. I’ve been blowing glass since May 2001, so it’s been thirteen years now.
What has influenced your work?
A lot of different stuff influences my work currently and in the past. In the beginning when I decided to become Salt and make pipes again, I was trying to do anything but what was already happening in the pipe world. I felt that a lot of people were being influenced by only other pipes, thus many pieces looked very similar. I have always been compelled to make these sorts of creatures. Within my own imagination I created an entire world. I start out making one type of thing and as the ideas progress, it evolves into something else. I let the ideas grow, being influenced by the natural progression and the ideas of evolution. I imagine in my mind that these pieces are real. I imagine what they eat, how they move, and how they would evolve on the longer timeline. That has been my compass. Currently I’m definitely influenced by my good friends in the pipe game. My business partner Snic and I are always bouncing ideas off of each other. The Joe P’s, the Elbo’s and the Banjo’s of the world definitely influenced my desire and what I want to make. I feel like the up-and-comers who are making new and exciting things and shifting the paradigm influence my work as well. I am intrigued by the idea of coming up with something new and innovative and I feel that will always have an influence.
How do you think your philosophy differs from that of other glass artists?
Do you mean my personal philosophy in relation to other artists’ philosophy? First of all, I want to make as much work as possible because I feel each piece I make is a chance to connect with another human being or maybe multiple beings. My calling is to make these objects and have them create relationships and conversations between people. Going back to the idea of evolution, in the beginning I made a combination of my aesthetic and what was within my capability. I was limited to that realm. Now I have used different products and the techniques that I was putting into those to teach myself what I really wanted to be able to do. By testing, trying, and making them work, my skills have evolved through the evolution of my product. I am not limited by those skills, I’m just able to really tap into what I want to make. So in essence I use one aspect of the pipe making process“production”in order to allow me to make more elaborate things that are more like passion projects. I believe in working hard and taking things to the next level in every way that I can, both in making my own product, creating value for the shop and building a good business relationship with clients. That is my philosophy. Innovation, growth, and creating value.
How has the 2012 release of Degenerate Art affected Austin’s glass community?
I’m not sure that I could characterize how the release of Degenerate Art in 2012 affected the local community, but this one time I was sitting at lunch in Penland School of Craft in North Carolina(which is a major crafts school) and a lady who I didn’t know at all was there for a weaving class. She was talking about watching documentaries with her husband on Netflix and mentioned this one about flame working and pipe making and asked if I had heard of Degenerate Art. I had this funny moment where I got to tell her that I was in the movie and she asked a bunch of questions. The point here is, she probably would have never known about us without the movie.
Why is preserving the glass art culture important to you?
That’s a good question. It’s easier to tell you what the glass art culture means to me. I think the answer is obvious in that it is my source of income and my creative outlet. It’s the way I’ve connected with a lot of the people I’m closest to. It’s a catharsis for me to be able to get on the torch and a lot of what I do is to put whatever is bothering me or what’s going on in my life into my work. It’s kind of like therapy in a way. I really love it, and I think it’s something which I’m really proud to be a part of. I feel lucky to live in the age where I can make these amazing things out of glass that I love so much and that other people like too. In essence, it represents my connection and my contribution to the world at large. It is utterly important.
Does the piece give birth to the story or does the story give birth to the piece?
It’s the chicken or the egg, right? It’s hard to say because there’s no single answer. A lot of times it’s sort of happening at the same time. I think that whatever I’m making and the way that I make it, I just let the idea flow through me. It’s going to be what it is and sometimes the story occurs to me before or after, or sometimes even during. It doesn’t really matter. The story and the piece are parts of a single thought.
How have you changed or streamlined your process from the time when you began?
I’ve changed a lot of the things that I do and the way that I do them since I began. There are too many to really count. The way that I work is a constant process of evolution within the technique, the product and the ways I move forward with it. I’m always trying new things. Better, more efficient and faster ways of creating pieces. I strive to make things that are more detailed in order to stay interested and fresh.
How do you feed your creativity when you reach a pause in the creative process?
Whenever I’m feeling blocked, the best thing for me is to slow down and take some time off and get in touch with what’s really important to me, what I want and what I decide to make. I have the tools and skills now to make almost anything happen. I just have to be honest with myself about what I really want to make. Sometimes I’m just getting in my own way and need to step back.
How does working on a collaboration with other artists transcend the outcome of the piece?
Collaboration is an interesting aspect of the pipe game that is really not a part of any other medium that I’m aware of other than maybe music. Our inclination and ability to come together and mix our styles lends itself to a different sort of thing. It’s not just making something. It’s the interaction with that other person, what you learn from them and vice versa, plus how working on one piece of glass directly influences your style. The overall outlook is hitched on to their trailer as well as theirs to yours for the duration of that piece, which changes you hopefully for the better as an artist and craftsman. The camaraderie and sense of community speak to the special nature of our movement and it’s chosen medium, thus transcending the concept and aesthetic of the object.
What special meaning does the Armadillo Art Glass Initiative have for you?
Armadillo Art Glass Initiative is awesome because it’s one of these new programs within the glass community that’s designed to help us give back. It’s located in my hometown and is run by one of my best friends, Joe Blow, his girlfriend Sarah and other locals all who make it happen. I feel more personally connected to it and made a strong effort the last couple of years to help raise as much as possible for the charity. It feels good to give back and for me, this type of effort reveals the overall identity of our movement.
To what do you attribute your success in the glass art culture?
It’s a combination of things, namely timing, hard work, innovation, creativity and the desire to make a connection with people. I try to create value for the people I’m working with and I think all of this comes together giving people reasons to buy my pieces. That, and I love it. It’s easy to go to work when you love your job.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming glass artists?
Pay your fucking taxes so the government will legitimize us and leaves us the fuck alone. It’s not that bad, so hire an accountant and get it done.