On Sunday’s I reflect.
I drank alcohol since my last blog. I was too busy with my show last weekend to write. We have a lot to catch up on.
I wonder if I can still run the Central Park 6 Mile Loop in under an hour. We’ll find out soon. My long overdue return to NYC is on the horizon. Since 2014, the year I accidentally lived in NYC I have made an annual return for my birthday to celebrate amongst friends. 2020 ended that temporarily as Vail resorts closed the day before my birthday that year and subsequently the rest of the world seemed to shut down. That was a weird birthday. Last year was also anticlimactic turning 31 after my 30th birthday was such a curveball and 2021 was still full of fear and uncertainty.
You probably want to hear about the Vail Cup Collectors Club last weekend. I will certainly share that experience in today’s essay. For now I have other things to write about.
The last two months have been NONSTOP.
Finally I have some time and space to breathe. I’m still working every day, but yesterday all of my work was done from the comfort of my bedroom.
I have committed to make two solo fully worked composition notebook cups for other galleries hosting cup shows. I also have an order of chillums to make for a friend’s shop that placed an order with me at Glass Vegas and immediately reordered a large amount upon receiving the first batch. Typically I make a few chillums every day I get on the torch as a warmup. I haven’t exactly been on the torch much lately. Of course it’s been snowing in Vail so I have to balance the work with snowboarding.
After the last two months, and what I mean by that is the last five years which have been nonstop; I am finally forcing myself to take a step back.
Five years was the amount of time people told me it would take. If you asked me what the last five years of my life looked like all I would talk about is my work, the glass pipe movement, the niche of borosilicate cups made primarily by pipe makers. I’ve spent some time with family and friends. I snowboard and that is about the only part of my life that is completely unrelated to work in any way. A lot of people up here ride twice as many days a season as I do. A lot of people up here ride four times as many days a season as I do. I force myself to put work on hold when it snows most of the time. The last five years have been nonstop work.
That’s a pretty short paragraph to describe five years.
I put my head down for five years to build our cup community and cup culture along with countless friends, artists, photographers, assistants, volunteers, supporters, collectors, shops and galleries. Every day I scoured the internet in attempt to be familiar with every cup ever made by a pipe maker. At first this was a pretty small niche to focus in on. Most of the cups being made by pipe makers at that time weren’t even photographed much less posted on social media. Still, friends of mine in the scene would always send things my way when they came across them whether in the back corner of some head shop somewhere in the country or maybe at the parent’s house of some of the artists who had made them as gifts years ago. Today there are more borosilicate cups being made than I can keep up with.
It became an obsession, obviously.
And I have all these other ideas literally every minute of every day. If you know me you know what I mean. It’s like my brain is going too fast and I can’t keep up. Nonstop.
But I put almost all of those ideas aside for the last five years. Every day from the time I woke up until the time I went to sleep was spent committed to cups in one form or another. My assistant Marta will tell you that she sees when I wake up to make a post on Instagram, often before 6AM. I show up to the studio around 10AM already hours deep in work conversations and often on my bluetooth communicating with Marta only via nods and hand signals. This can go on for hours until around 2 or 3PM when I hit a wall and I am forced to eat food. Up until then I’m running on a smoothie which is why they call me the smoothie king.
I eat my meals at my desk often on phone calls or at least on my computer communicating and looking on the internet for cups. Sometimes they come to me like this week when a client tagged me in a post offering to sell his 2017 SALT x Sleek x Voorhees mug which of course I could not pass on. Sometimes I find them through hashtags. Sometimes artists I know send me cups their friends or shop mates are making. Sometimes I’m scrolling Instagram and see a cup I have to have. Sometimes these are made by artists I know personally and sometimes by people who have no idea who I am.
Then I have to figure out how to pay for these cups that come up “out of thin air”. I don’t have another job, and when I started this company I was couch surfing with virtually no assets. How easy it would have been to get this off the ground if I had the funds to just purchase any cup I came across. So with help from my friend Seth and a group of collectors I purchase as many cups as I can. I take even more on consignment. I want to provide a space where enthusiasts can see all the options and makers have a support system in place allowing them to focus on making.
My brother helped me start this company, and throughout the years has always been my rock and has also always had a different full time job like a mature responsible adult. Very quickly my needs exceeded what he was capable of contributing. I had no budget to hire an assistant, and a lot of debt to a friend who loaned me the money to get my studio off the ground. Literally, I was sleeping on the ground of his basement on a mattress with tupperware bins full of bubble wrapped cups when he helped me obtain the studio.
For five years every day I figured out a way to make it work, and I never would have been able to have made it work without the support from my team. My friends (who were strangers at the time) painted my walls with beautiful murals. My brother helped create the website. Graham and Skinny and others before them shot photos. I paid models chillums and free drinks to create the content you see all over my pages. Artists consigned me cups I couldn’t afford to buy and trusted me to find them homes and document them through photos and other content. Interns and assistants put in way more than I could compensate them for.
Now for almost two years Marta has been by my side 5 if not 7 days a week at Bat Country Studios. She could run my company without me if I died or couldn’t function. She knows everything in and out. She is the only other person I know that spends every day working with and thinking about cups in this capacity, not including artists who make cups full time. She knows the market in and out and can tell you what a cup is worth within a reasonable range. Without her support this company never would have been able to evolve into what it has.
And that leads us to the Vail Cup Collectors Club.
Five years ago I knew I needed to throw an event for my studio to stay alive and have a place on the map. Obviously (to me) that event would be the gathering of artists and collectors to create art and ski/snowboard. The first VCCC was probably less than ten people in attendance. My brother was for sure there along with Gina and Jensen. Log bought a ticket to attend before we had ever met. Maybe two collectors came and a few other artists and friends like Bard and Matty B. Mark from Kirby Cosmo’s sponsored the event with food and ABR also sponsored with some color maybe. It felt like a failure to me at the time, but a very special client The Little Glass Gallery flew me to California and rented me a Porsche to deliver him most of the show. He took me out for a nice dinner and then paid for my hotel before I flew out the next morning. Without him I am not sure there would have been a second VCCC.
The event has evolved over the years, but finally this year we actually have the space to host such an event. Our expansion next door “The Annex” made all the difference in the event’s success and was noticed by anyone who attended previous events. This provided a much more professional atmosphere for showing the work, separate from my office and normal inventory and separate from the studio itself. Even people tuning in on live streams could see the difference. We spent three months preparing The Annex and I appreciate everyone who helped because we all know I did’t have the time nor the skills.
Last week more than 100 people came through the doors to attend and participate in our 5th Annual VCCC. It was so busy I honestly didn’t even get to talk to everyone, including close friends who traveled from as far as Mexico to be there. Before I go any further I want to name as many people as I can who specifically showed up to support and help produce the event itself. Marta is the obvious MVP as conveyed to me by almost every person in attendance. The artists on the lineup: Stephan Peirce, Boots, SALT, Frit, Northern Waters, Snic, Certo, Jake C, Bard, Matty B, Log, Egon, Jessica Ivy, OLDGREED, and Wigged Out Art all went above and beyond with their submissions and contributions. Bebe Beyer, Dylan’s wife and our good friend was Marta’s savior between running to pick up our catering to taking any task off Marta’s hands that she was capable of all weekend. Chris and Claire of Polar Provisions cooked dinner for everyone Friday night and provided freeze-dried snacks for all of our artists and VIP collectors. OLDGREED helped paint the walls before the show and Dylan WOA put down the finishing touches the day before the show. Alex Turner from Taglia Tool hooked up every artist with fresh tools and bought some absolute heaters from the show. He also delivered our glass from another sponsor ABR Imagery driven straight to my door from Bloomington Indiana where it all began for me. Dave and Ross at ABR hooked us up with a bunch of vac stack tubing from Boro Batch that artists got to use during the show. Thanks to Vinscent Van Grow, Weed Shanty, and D’s Trees we had a weed buffet for everyone in attendance. That part was literally my 15 year old self’s dream come true. A new friend Stella who makes stained glass came by and helped roll joints all day for everyone. She and I will be collaborating on projects in the near future. Graham shot photos all weekend along with a very special collector The Spanish Olive Hunter who created the video I shared today summarizing the event. Jensen even showed up to hang and lend a hand. Isaiah InnerForce was around to help all weekend. I guarantee I am forgetting some of the people who helped out but there is an important note here. The paragraph of gratitude is three times as long as the earlier paragraph summarizing my last five years. I am overflowing with gratitude for my team and for our community. Thank you immensely for being a part of this.
History was made at the 5th VCCC last weekend. It kind of started a few weeks ago at Glass Vegas with a new level of excitement and representation for cups that was noticed by people other than me who have been following over the last few years. The prices that people are valuing these items at has greatly appreciated over the last few years. Almost all of my investments over the last few years in this industry have been high risk gambles. The amount of work I committed to purchase from this show was the most I have ever committed to at once, and I have never had less fear in my life. Then the collectors proved me right with their purchases.
Mark VandenBerg, a soft glass artist from Detroit who I have long admired and a very talented cup maker happened to be visiting a friend in Vail and found his way to my event later in the evening. I was shocked to see him, and probably completely fan-boyed him to the point that he will never come back (just kidding). He was there five and six years ago when I slept on a couch in the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit Michigan just to be able to attend the Michigan Glass Project and volunteer. At the time, people were laughing at me for pricing one tenth what cups sold for in last weeks show. The difference is that last week multiple people were in line to purchase cups at today’s prices if previous VIP’s had not selected them in the show. At the end of the night after a group photo I told the story of where I was just five years ago sleeping on a couch in the hallway of the Russell and cried publicly (just a little bit) as I poured my heart out to the people who came out to support this year’s show and who have been supporting me for so many years. Sometimes the support was as simple as someone believing that the vision I had would become a reality, and it did. Sometimes it was physical help at the studio. Sometimes it was money to pay bills when I had no other way.
Last week’s show was everything I could have ever imagined and more. It was the best day of my life, and the most fun I have ever had. There were challenges that we met with laughter. I almost had a breakdown when attempting to hang the signs but then another unmentioned VIP saved the day. Special thanks to Peter who showed up with his partner Jessica Ivy, an old friend of mine and painter in the show. Little did he know that he would be in charge of the VIP bags AND hanging not one but two ten foot signs outside with string and a few assistants (and a ladder and a half). Thankfully Peter is a tall dude.
I finally created the event that I myself would want to attend as a cup (and snowboarding) enthusiast. Sunday a group of us met at Vail to ride all day, which an even smaller group of us concluded with a run out the side country infamous Minturn Mile. It’s a lot longer than a mile, and a hell of a workout on my first real hangover in a few years. Nevertheless we all had a blast riding together after what was certainly the most successful event I have ever pulled off.
I remember that first show that only one collector showed up to. I remember a show in Long Beach around that time in which my only sale was a $20 hand burned DV coaster that I hooked a collector up with for $10. I probably spent that $10 on something from that gallery that hosted me so long ago and also believed in me. That gallery was Func Art Gallery in Long Beach, which is why it is such an honor to be making a fully worked cup for Lifted Cups 2 at Lifted Veil Gallery run by Cody and Steve who originally ran that gallery in Long Beach.
I think we’ve all seen at least a few of the things that sold in last week’s show. We can safely assume I did better than $10 in sales.
But I’ll never forget the obstacles I had to overcome to get here, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop working to push through whatever lies ahead.
After the show last weekend I almost immediately flew to DC to deliver to some of the VIP collectors along with a few others who purchased some very special cups just before the show. A client of mine who happens to be the first person to ever checkout on the website picked me up from the airport and joined for the entire evening. He has been buying my work at least five years and we never met in person until this week. We talk at least once a week in the DM or our group chat on WhatsApp for cup collectors. For like five years. It was a real privilege to spend time with him after all these years. We met up with some brand new cup collectors Weed Wookie and BagHead along with legendary cup collectors The Heady Hoarders for one of the headiest cup seshes of my life followed by an incredible Italian dinner. I think I got through 40 of the 50 layers of short rib lasagna I ordered! But that was just the beginning as after dinner we headed an hour outside the city arriving at another clients home. There we met up with Egon for whom I had a special delivery but then he had to turn around and get home to Richmond a few hours later. We stayed up until 3AM talking about cups and again I got to meet another person who has been supporting and collecting my work specifically for years. We had never met in person and he welcomed me into his home along with the first collector with whom he had also conversed with in our group chat. We enjoyed his collection of cups, which consumed an entire dining table and then some. I gave his wife some quick demonstrations on the torch in their home studio where she is exploring glass. Then just two hours later I woke up at 5AM to get a ride to the airport and head home. 12 hours in DC and it was definitely a whirlwind.
I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm for cups. I am trying to convey it through the anecdotes above, but I don’t know if I have done a good job. While I did not sell a cup for $10,000 in my show specifically, $10,000 cups are not out of the realm of reality and it would take more than two hands to count the $10,000 cups that have been selling over the last few months. I held at least one in DC from a private collection and it was one I had been waiting to see in person. Out of respect for the collectors who own these items and their privacy I am not going to go further into detail about which cups cost $10,000 and more but I will say that number used to be completely out of the conversation and it wasn’t that long ago.
I’ve been listening to Gouge Away by the Pixies on repeat for a few days.
The level of work going into these cups has reached another level as well.
SALT wrote “I honestly didn’t know I could make a cup this size by hand” in his Instagram post about the 20 oz. water cup he brought to life for the show.
Stephan Peirce wrote “I’m in love with the recent collab work I’ve done with Rooster” referring to two of his submissions for the show.
Jake C. had to text me a hand drawn diagram for me to understand the process, and even then it took a while for me to wrap my head around how he accomplished such a cup.
Artists are spending multiple days creating these cups, and have been for a while. The market is starting to catch on and appreciate what’s going on and for that on behalf of my team and all of the artists I work with I want to extend my sincerest gratitude for all of the support.
Marta said to me “I bought the ticket, thanks for the ride” yesterday, an homage to the late great Hunter S Thompson. All around my studio you can see reference to the Doctor of Journalism. Gonzo. Bat Country Studios is an obvious reference to the fact that “we can’t stop here, this is Bat Country!” Just a few hours from Owl Farm at Woody Creek I take great influence and inspiration from a man who changed the course of history.
The next few weeks of my life will be about re-centering myself. I’ll turn 32. I’ll put work on hold to some degree. I’ll spend less time on social media, and more time on yoga and working out. I have a pile of books, articles and magazines to read. I have things to make in the studio. I have more powder to ride before this season ends, now without distractions like Glass Vegas and my show taking my mind away from here now. I have friends to see in person after years of being unable to do so. I have friends to call that I was too busy for these last five years. I have a trip planned to spend time with my family in Miami. I plan to have my phone off for the duration of that trip besides a meeting I have already set up in Miami for the day before I join the family for the weekend.
When I do yoga I disappear. Some of you remember that one from the early days. I am a creature of habit, just trying to choose good ones. I wear the same clothes every day and eat the same food. (I do my laundry I just have every piece of clothing in multiple colors). I hate change. When I was young my parents sold our house and bought a bigger one. I threatened to sue them. So I listen to one song on repeat for a few hours or a few days and cruise through life. It doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges, but when I was young I used to get real easily bent out of shape. Today I try to let it all slide. Resistance is futile.
I wish I had the bandwidth to make a commentary on what has been happening over the last few years with the world at large. I haven’t been able to pay mind to much outside the tunnel vision of cup life. Moving forward I am going to be committed to reading more and educating myself more than I have been over the last few years in areas other than my small niche. One statement I can definitively make is that my heart breaks for those facing oppression all across the world. When I started this company it was built on a philanthropy project of donating money to different charity organizations for different color themed collaborative cups I was making. Of the years I haven’t given up on the project but it certainly took a back seat once I borrowed money and had debt over my head for the first time in my life to create Bat Country Studios.
I often ask myself “Why is what I am doing important?” and I tell myself its because I am helping provide support to artists and a movement that means so much to all of us. In the big picture this does not feel like enough to me. The philanthropy project will come back with full energy as a part of this company as soon as I can find a person to join the team and help with sales, marketing, and digital media. Currently this consumes most of my time and because it is not how I want to spend my time it drains energy from other areas of my life. Once I can overcome that obstacle I am excited to get back to giving back.
With that I gotta say I am pretty burnt out and need to eat some breakfast. I have been out of smoothie supplies and haven’t had the time or energy to get to the grocery.
I don’t have the words to thank each and every one of you enough. Without you I couldn’t do what I do. I consider this to be a great privilege, which is why I take my work so seriously.
Thank you and enjoy your Sunday! Maybe I’ll make it to the studio for Sunday Specials this afternoon.
Adendum: I forgot to mention how absolutely incredible it feels to have sold so much of my composition notebook fully worked pieces between Glass Vegas and the VCCC. There are a few still available from the series, but it is an incredible feeling to have people purchase art that I made when I consider everything else on the table to be something I would rather purchase and own myself. I’m truly honored for your support. Thank you again.
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