The delicate, and sometimes dangerous, art of glass blowing

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So what makes a good bong anyway? Besides the obvious

Down a gravel road and into a desolate rural community, tucked away under the winds of the cold Saskatchewan winter and completely hidden “because nobody is out in their snowmobile suit looking for them,” one might find a collective of artists and artisans and like-minded folks. They have woken up early in the morning and are meeting in the communal kitchen where a pot of strong and well-brewed coffee awaits them to inspire and jump-start their day. They exchange pleasantries and then, before the sun comes up, they disperse. It is time to get to work.

Among this collective is a glass blower. His studio consists of three tables, a kiln, a chair, a torch and a pair of heavily tinted sunglasses. His pitted hands skillfully rotating a molten-hot piece of glass, he is creating a bong. But not just any bong, it’s a well-designed and well-crafted piece of art. Working in a corner that is only four feet by four feet wide, this is all Sean O’Reilly requires to birth his delicate, dope-smoking intricacies.

“One time I put my finger down on a piece of glass that was so hot, that my finger cracked,” he recalls. “It didn’t just burn it, but when I touched it I heard my skin crack. ‘Oh god! I don’t wanna look at that!’”

He rolls up his sleeves and proceeds to show me his battle wounds. Tell-tale scars of someone who has been working in a craft long enough to start showing physical signs. He points to a crescent moon on his forearm. It’s an impressive skin crater.

“That’s just from me bumping the kiln,” he says. “Simply opening the door and putting something in.”

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His work station is an array of long cylindrical glass tubes and various glass orbs of swirling bright colour. Many of the tubes look like exaggerated pencil-crayons. Every hue imaginable is strewn across the table.

“I like any colour that doesn’t have the word crayon in it’s name,” says Sean. “All the crayon colours, they are very bright and they boil easily. The working temperature range on them is really small. You have to get them hot enough to melt, but not so hot they start to boil. Besides that I like any colour that oxidizes. You can take a single color and bring a whole variety of colors out of it depending on how the metals start showing up on the surface of the glass.”

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He starts up the torch and grabs a clear tube and put its directly over the flame. Sean is working with a torch that is around 3500 degrees. The glass itself, he says, stops being inert at around 950 degrees but won’t start to flow until it is much hotter than that. He starts rotating the tube inside the flame.

“It all depend on the metals in it,” he explains. “Different colours require different metals and change the thermal conductivity and will then require more heat before it becomes viscous.”

The kiln he is working with is around 1050 degrees. That’s about twice as hot as your oven needs to be to make your pizza.

It’s also hot enough that if you try to put your hand into it, it burns all the hair off, he says.

“You open up the front doors and the wave of heat that comes out is just staggering. If you get the heat in your eyes, your eyes just kinda momentarily stop working.”

When asked what was his main inspiration for getting into the art form was, he chuckles and replies, “paraphernalia.”

About ten years ago he signed up to take a few classes at a studio, which turned out to become the same space he currently works out of. He was taught some very basic traditional Venetian-style glass blowing and found himself to be a natural. He bought his own equipment and decided to teach himself through the daunting task of trial and error.

“I am primarily self-taught,” he says. “YouTube is also great,” he laughs.

bong bong

So what makes a good bong anyway? Besides the obvious.

“Size, flow, and shouldn’t get water in your mouth,” says Sean. “What I been typically making lately are oil rigs. That’s the most popular thing, they are typically smaller, often times fancier.”

But he doesn’t just make bongs and pipes.

Sean has hand-crafted pretty much everything; from kitchen cups to wine glasses to fertility pendants. He also makes magical glass balls you could hang from a string in your kitchen window to totally bliss out to as you do your dishes.

Sean goes under the moniker UEHEN glass, which is a very visually pleasing palindrome if you point the two E’s inward toward the H and make the N lower case. Now flip it upside down (go ahead and try it!). You can follow him on instragram where he posts most of his current body of work as it comes out of the kiln. His work can be found all over the city, some for sale and some in art shows.

“There are some shops that carry my stuff. Handmade House on Broadway carries cups, pendants and orbs. Steep-hill Co-op and D’lish by Tish.”

Also, if you are in the mood, The Joint, Jupiter, and Vinyl Exchange have a huge selection.

Sean’s art will be featured at a show this Saturday (GlassArt15). Reception is at 7:00 at the Galleria.

– Contributed by staff writer Victoria Allbright, who loves pizza more than you could ever know.

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