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What the Fume: A Glass Blower’s Take on Fuming and Bob Snodgrass

As a glass blower and pipemaker, I have been endlessly enamored with fuming and find myself constantly returning to it in my own work to chase its elusive beauty. Most enthusiasts are familiar with Bob Snodgrass and his renowned contributions to the forms and techniques used in modern glassblowing. Some might even consider him a legend. A fresh wave of artists have taken his concepts and expanded on them, advancing fume technique to new levels.  

What is fuming and how does it work?

“Fuming is a glass blowing technique in which lampworkers vaporize silver, gold, or platinum in front of their flame. This releases fumes that travel up the flame and bind to the surface of the glass,” (SmokeCartel.com). This technique can be seen in many glass items like coffee cups or red wine glasses, but there is not much that compares to filling in a fume pipe.

How did fumed glass originate?

The act of fuming and vaporizing heavy metals onto glass is a centuries-old technique. Its appearance in glass pipe making was largely dependent on the innovations of Snodgrass and his subsequent apprentices, striking and inspiring flame workers across the country and the globe. Snodgrass says, ‘"The glass I work with is actually a spin-off of scientific glass. In that process, I found that silver and gold could be blended and sprayed into the glass. A new technique of spraying metals into glass changed the parameters of color possibilities," (Snodgrass Family Glass).’ What an artist can achieve with a little bit of precious metals are seemingly endless.

Fumed glass will aesthetically stand the test of time, while being a cornerstone in representing the pipe making movement that has become a mainstay in the larger world of glass art. This staying power can be entirely attributed back to Bob Snodgrass and his family of apprentices working out of Eugene, Oregon. This group of glassmakers made Eugene a hub for glass, and fueled a renaissance within lampworking that has carried the industry to the present day and will continue to fuel it into the future (and of course, we can’t forget to thank the then-growing Grateful Dead movement for providing a consistent customer and fan base!). 
 
When vaporizing metals onto glass, factors like elevation, type of torch, flame chemistry, quality of metal, type of clear or colored glass, what size shoe you are, approach to laying down the metals, and any other possible variable, have profound effects on the outcome of any piece. Snodgrass says, of himself and the vastness of possibilities working with glass: ‘“I am an inventor. I got stuck in glassblowing because there are so many things to invent in it,” (Snodgrass Family Glass).’ Every fume piece is unique in its spectrum of visible colors, and capturing as many colors as possible creates the coveted fume fade. This coloring is achieved by using partitioned sections of color that reflect light differently. The silver creates bluish tones (that one might familiarize with fume), while gold creates the orange or gold hues. Then, all of the intermediary sections, containing both silver and gold in different amounts, is what creates the more green and yellow hues in glass work. By strategically (or not - we are strong believers that sometimes the best work happens by accident!) placing these different sections on a piece, the possibilities are almost, quite literally, endless.
 
Blue and teal fumed pipe work by Bob Snodgrass, on black background
(Instagram post by Cam Tower Glass Appreciation)

Fuming is also a beautiful testament to the open-sourced (and Grateful Dead inspired) approach that Bob Snodgrass took to his glassmaking. His passion for sharing his techniques with others is the reason we see such a diverse array of glass pipes being made today, as before him, the practice had been a closely guarded secret. Without Bob and his amiable spirit, it is hard to imagine how the current landscape of glass pipes and flameworking would have evolved. 

The interactivity of fume is something that cannot go without mention. Due to the different tones of the metals captured in the glass, a pipe’s color will change with use as it is filled in with a dark background from resin. “Many smokers and shops refer to fumed glass pipes as ‘color changing’ pieces, characteristic of the glass’s lustrous quality,” (SmokeCartel.com).

The connection between a fume pipe and its owner evolves over time, as the colors and patterns slowly darken with each use and the depth of the technique reveals itself.

This color changing effect is largely how Snodgrass claimed his notoriety on Grateful Dead lots, and it continues to perplex collectors all over the world to this day. These pipes are objects to be interacted with and fume aids in that interaction and dynamic between object and user. Without fume, this industry could not have possibly seen as meteoric a rise as it has; it has cemented itself aesthetically within the industry that it forged, and will remain a symbol of the pipe movement for generations of glassmakers to come. 

 
Vintage picture of people, concertgoers or glass enthusiasts, crowding around a bus with a sign that reads Glass by Snodgrass

(source @snodgrassglass_official)

 

Many contemporary artists continue their experimentation with fume, which I see as a testament to the complexity of the technique. With so many factors coming into play with fume work, artists have been able to successfully establish unique styles and voices within the technique; propelling their work to new heights, all while paying homage to those that came before them. These artists that continue to raise the bar with their fume work have created a timeless aesthetic for all flame workers now and beyond to tap into for themselves.
 
Be sure to check out Stoked CT’s virtual show “Extra-Galactic,” featuring new fume work from the indomitable Nathan Miers AKA N8 (click for N8 Instagram / N8 website). N8 has been going super hard on a whole spread of new solo work featuring his signature Space Tech, as well as a long list of collaborations with some of the industry’s top artists including Eusheen, Elbo, Trevy Metal, Lyons, Elks That Run, Steve Bates, Piper Dan, Blitzkriega, Muller, T-Funk, and many, many more. This virtual show will also include a demo from N8 himself! So be sure to tune in at 4:20 EST on July 11th at the Stoked CT Instagram. Virtual shows like this one could be a small glimpse into the future of our glass industry, and I can’t wait to see all of the incredible pieces that will be assembled for this show. 

VIP tickets are available and VIP showing will take place at 7:10 EST on July 10th. Be sure to drop a line to Stoked CT on Instagram or check their website with any questions or concerns. 

While you’re there, take some time to check out some of their ONLY remaining available work from the last virtual show that featured Matt 2000. Matt is a Massachusetts native and incredibly talented young flame worker who specializes in…. you guessed it… fume. Matt’s fume fades stand up with the best of them. His work is incredibly consistent across the board, while always offering affordable items for someone looking to get something heady. Matt continues to push himself to make better and better fume, and never ceases to impress the entire Stoked staff with each new order that arrives. One piece from his show is definitely still available, and more work from him is likely inbound soon. Be sure to keep an eye and ear to Stoked on social media for the next drop. With fume’s timeless aesthetic, no heady glass collection can truly be complete without it, so if your fume game needs reinforcement, Stoked will have you covered. 
 
We very seriously encourage you to check out the work of Bob Snodgrass! Credits and love to: Snodgrass.net!
 
Written by Catfish Jawn, and the Stoked Team 💙

 

Featured image source: leafly.com


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