Ben's Lens: An Interview with Egon Glass

Ben's Lens: An Interview with Egon Glass

May 13, 2020

I first caught wind of Adam’s work a few years ago when a renter in my studio named Chase brought up his former shopmate to me. Chase spent a few months working in my studio after relocating to Vail from Virginia, where he had worked with Adam previously. I think Adam and I exchanged brief hellos in the DM around that time, and not much more transpired for a while. Sometimes it takes a few tries to connect with someone new, especially over the internet. Most of the artists that I work with I have met in person on a handful of occasions and can connect a face with their work. Some artists post plenty of pictures of themselves, so that even when we haven’t met in person we have an idea of who we are talking with on the other end. I also utilize video chat as often as possible to connect with new artists on a deeper level and to ensure that we are on the same page. Communication is a huge part of what I do to keep this train rolling, and on most days I would guess that I communicate with 50-100 people.

Eventually, something I can’t put my finger on got Adam and I back in touch online. Sometime within the last year he sent me a very large box or two full of cups. The first batch was entirely flame worked borosilicate glass, and his more recent second batch includes both borosilicate cups and furnace made hot shop cups. Almost the entirety of the release featured twisty optic scalloped cups that are very difficult to capture in photographs. It took me a while to get them shot, and even longer to get edits I was happy with. There have been multiple reshoots and we are still dialing it in. As with anything this is a big work in progress, with lots of moving parts.

As a person constantly looking at cups, I come across a lot of twisty cups. Its a pretty classic cup style for glass blowers to tackle, and while they appear simple they are anything but. Making a cup by hand, or even with a lathe manually is not the same as an automated machine nor a mold. These objects are free handed and every single one is unique and different in even the smallest way. These "maker's marks" are what differentiate these products from those made by automated machines. Adam has refined these “simple” cups into an elegant and consistent product. He shared with me that some were lost during the last step as they cracked from the punty holding the bottom from stress induction due to uneven heating. The entire process of blowing glass is a series of actions taken to create balance in the thermal dynamics of the object being created. If the bottom of the cup cools down while the flame is focused on opening the lip at the top, and then the bottom gets flashed by the flame the entire piece is at risk for cracking. This can all happen a few minutes into a piece, or it can happen hours in. Sometimes these cracks can be healed in the flame, but other times it means lost time and materials. It happens to even the best flameworkers, and a true test is how an artist proceeds once an inevitable crack occurs.

The second batch of Adam’s twisty cups feature a wig wag design instead of a consistent spiral one direction. This creates a fun new optic in the cup, bringing it to life as it rotates and engaging the brain in a psychedelic and reflective way. I’ve added one of the new ones to my personal collection thanks to Adam’s generosity and look forward to putting it in the rotation!


BB: So enough from me; Please introduce yourself.
AC: I am Adam Childress (@egonglass) from Charlottesville VA. I have been working with glass since 2004 and I am currently living in Richmond, VA working in the flame and the furnace.

Where does your moniker come from?
My buddy Andrew Morris (AKM, @pipemaker) called me Egon a few times to poke fun at my nerdy nature. We went on a sales run together and after the store cut me a check they asked what people called me. I told them some folks call me Egon, and it stuck.

How did you get turned on to glass?
Roots Rock Reggae in Charlottesville run at the time by Lloyd Mechum and his son Seth Mechum (@elksthatrun) and it was a gallery of wonders. It was the first place I saw heady glass. We had some local bad asses working around town, so as soon as I graduated high school I made a point to seek out anyone willing to share information. In 2004 I met one of the local pipe makers named Tony Holder. I convinced him to teach me marbles. He eventually let me work for him making spoons and bubblers and production “decoration” for his tube line at the time. I then moved shops to learn from another friend Andrew Groner. In 2007 I moved to Richmond from Charlottesville to study under Emilio Santini who was teaching flameworking at Virginia Commonwealth University. He introduced Me to Kiara Pellisier and encouraged me to take her class in the furnace. That is also where I first met most of the community that I continue to work with, including Rye (@ryeglass) who was my roommate for most of the time I was in school.

You’re another crossover artist, experienced both on the torch and in the hot shop. Which do you prefer?
I truly love both environments for different reasons. It is all glass, and has an incredible amount of crossover, but what you can do in each space is totally unique. I love my community of lamp workers that I work with and I also love being in the hot shop working closely with a team. They are both equally as important to me right now.

For sure. Borosilicate glass is typically worked independently, while the hot shop is almost always a team activity. Tell us about your current flame working setup at Influence. What kind of torch do you run? Do you have a favorite tool?
I run a GTT Mirage and I have a Smith mini hand torch. I also use a huge and ancient surface mix Bethlehem burner called a poly mix that Andrew gave to me so I could do my Murrine Roll ups that I have been exploring for a few years now. I use a lot of traditional tools from the hot shop when I flamework. I utilize Carlo Dona tools for the most part these days. I use my Jacks and sheers a lot. Also love pushing cups on the traditional fin molds. I believe less is more sometimes. I love my tools but I also love the idea that “a warrior fights with any weapon” I cherish my tools and process but I also do not hold them to be sacred. I encourage folks to do what they can with what they have. There is a sick Litton lathe right behind me when I work. I have been encouraged to use it but just never have. Maybe that will be the next tool I mess around with.

You know I’m a lathe guy! Hit me up if you ever need pointers, although I’m sure you have it covered with your shopmates. Which hot shops are you working with and with which other artists?
I currently work with Chris skibbe at the Glass Spot in Richmond. I also work with Kiara Pellisier who was my first instructor in the furnace back in 2007. I work with Michael Martin to produce most of my own work in the furnace and I assist him as well with his. Like you said, the hot shop requires teamwork. I started working with Grant and Erin Garmezy at the Glass Spot, although they have since built a small studio at their home outside of the city and I continue to work with them often. I have traveled with Grant and Chris to some pretty amazing facilities around the country (and Murano) to work, learn, and teach in the last twelve years or so.

Wow! What are major differences to you between the hot shops and the flame worked scene?
It is my understanding that traditionally those two communities remained largely separate and often the differences between style, motivation, skills, and information lineage were held up as barriers between those communities. I am very fortunate to have worked in both disciplines at a time when I feel that those barriers are being lowered and reconsidered. I feel that there is a great and growing respect among furnace workers for flame workers and also respect for furnace work from flame workers. I feel lucky to be working during a Renaissance of glass and an opening up and reconstitution of communities. The amount of information available now compared even to when I started flame working is unbelievable. I think often, when pursuing craft and art, the most determined adversary is the Ego. As we relax and become more comfortable in our work and more informed about process, the scenes are indeed merging in a really helpful and healthy way.

I haven’t been to Murano Italy yet, but I know you have made a few trips over there. What has that experience been like?
Being invited to work on Murano by Chris Skibbe and Davide Fuin has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. The opportunity has changed my understanding of glass, history, and my place in this world as a glass maker. I encourage anyone to go and see the island and if possible to work there. It is incredibly humbling to exist in that space and to participate in a tradition that has such a strong foundation in that community. Murano really is like nowhere else on Earth. I consider it a privilege and an honor to connect with a culture that has maintained a craft tradition for so many generations.

Who is your favorite cup maker?
Davide Fuin.

Solid selection! If you could pick any cup off my website for a daily driver, which would it be?
That is a trick question. Every cup has a place at a table or in a hand. Your mission to collect and distribute drinking vessels captures that perfectly. With all the shapes, sizes, patterns and decoration there is sure to be a cup that is suited for any mood or occasion. I often prefer a clean and simple cup. If I had to choose one to use for the rest of time I would probably prefer a simple tumbler.

Touché! What’s your drink?
I love a bitter Spritz (Campari and Prosecco over a little ice, a splash of seltzer water and a generous slice of lemon with two olives).

Any cup collaborations on the horizon with your shop mates at Influence? Admittedly, I’m geeking over the pendant I just saw from Rye (@ryeglass) and Justin Carter (@justincarterglass) Ram Dass is a huge inspiration in my life.

Absolutely. They killed it with that one. I have had the opportunity to make several cups with the shop mates. All of them with their own character and flare of course. I have yet to make a vessel for Rye to carve, but that is definitely on the agenda. I can’t wait! Do you have a favorite film?
One film I really liked was “City of God” 2002 directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund.

What about a favorite book?

I read non fiction mostly, however I do like a good short story, and I remember really liking Kerouac’s “On The Road” when I read it.

I need to revisit that one soon. What kind of music do you like to listen to in the studio? Does your taste differ outside the shop?
When I say all kinds I mean it. We are six in the shop so we play a lot of different music. I usually prefer something funky, downbeat, or country, hiphop, or jazz. I’m also into Reggae, classic rock, and progressive rock. Honestly I tend to listen to a lot of NPR.

What about a guilty pleasure sonically… anything the shop mates make you turn off?
No one makes me turn anything off. I just offer to change the NPR sometimes because I know I am about the only person who likes it.

Play any instruments? I find that a lot of glass artists crossover to different mediums often. Do you?
Some strings in a very amateur way. I will pick up a guitar, banjo, or bass. Usually not in front of people, and usually not for very long.

Tell us about a day in the life.
Often I start in the hot shop. I usually head out of the house earliest to get started down there. Often times I take a decent break for a meal. Then finish up in the flame studio, often working into the evening and sometimes very late or into the morning. Every day is different. I keep a flexible schedule. I work a lot but I try to break it up to stay motivated and fresh. If I can get out on the canoe or get out to go camping I will often take a day off for that. That’s mostly on the weekends if I don’t have work to do.

Coffee or Tea?
A lot of coffee and a bit of Kombucha.

How’s your cup collection?
It’s doing fine, thanks for asking. It consists mostly of seconds of my own work in my cabinet to be honest. I have a few special cups that were gifted to me. Between me and my friends we have probably accidentally broken more hand made cups over the years than many folks have ever owned. Its a privilege and a curse. It’s fun to enjoy them and sometimes hard to see them go. Sometimes I lose a nice one that I am attached to.

Do you collect other art at all?
Not really, mostly just stuff that was given to me by friends.

If I were to host an artist to artist cup swap would you want in? What would be the ideal price point?
Sure. Hard to say. I guess a hundred bucks?

Any up and comers on your radar?
There are a ton! I would say give everyone an equal evaluation. Be careful not to count peoples ability by the number of followers they collect on Instagram. There are a ton of amazing makers out there. I say support local, some folks have not found a voice or a platform to gain exposure. Do the work to get out and find an artist you like and want to support. Especially support those who show promise. Buying an unrefined object in order to support and encourage refinement can be the most meaningful gesture that a collector can make.

Absolutely well put! I try to keep it balanced in both my personal collection as well as the DV collection. Anything else we should know?
Many of my mentors have echoed a common sentiment; Find balance in your life. Glass and craft are incredible things to be passionate about, but the difference between passion and obsession can be a fine line. Don’t forget to find passion in other aspects of life, and don't forget to look outside of glass to find inspiration for your work. After all, we are here for a good time and not for a long time. The glass is just the glass.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and supplying me with cups! It has been awesome getting to know you over the last few months of working together online, and I look forward to getting together one day to melt some glass and hopefully collaborate! I can’t wait to see what else you come up with, and I’ll always look forward to getting to open your packages “mystery box” style. I enjoy being on the receiving end sometimes not knowing what I’m getting, because you’re first two batches have been exquisite!--

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