Ben's Lens: An Interview with Schmitz Glass

Ben's Lens: An Interview with Schmitz Glass

July 22, 2020

Holy Shit - Schmitz

He’s back! 

There are a few artists who are directly responsible for my ability to have brought Drinking Vessels to where it is today. Erik Schmitz is high on that list. We are from the same area in the Chicago Suburbs, and got connected during my days as a vagabond with nowhere else to go. I can’t even remember how we got directly connected, and at the time I was only peripherally familiar with his work. We became good friends all those years ago, and he has been one of my favorite artists since.

[BB] Any recollection what year we met?

[Schmitz] I think it was 2016.

I was basically homeless traveling the country in circles to wherever I could get on a lathe. Every time I ended up at my parents for a holiday or between gigs you would let me come over to work and we always got at least one collaboration in too. I will never be able to thank you enough for that. What year did you start blowing glass?

I got started in 2003.

How did you get into it?

I got into it when I was attending art school at Southern Illinois University.

Tell us a little about your day job in the scientific world.

I get to assist in engineering for the process and use of fixtures for making glass components for vacuum tubes such as glass molds, x-ray tubes, relay tubes and rectifiers and they are all high voltage.

Wild! What kind of setup do you run? Lathe, Torch? Home vs. Work studios?

A GTT Torch and a Litton lathe in my home studio.

Got a favorite tool?

My micro jewelers torch is my favorite tool.

What about a favorite borosilicate color?

Chartreuse Crayon from Glass Alchemy is my favorite color.

What about a favorite food? You live in Sandwich Illinois after all lol.

Rueben Sandwich, of course!

Which other glass artists inspire you?

Mike Gnann @merge_scientific and Jason Lee @jasonleeglass

Anything from your personal collection that stands out?

Steve Sizelove @steve_sizelove cups from 2007.

Some gems! Who is your favorite cup maker?

Micah Evans @micahglass

I finally just got his work in my hands recently and it is truly amazing! If you could take a private class from any artist who would it be?

Jason Lee for glass art and Mike Gnann for scientific.

I got to take a class with Mike and Jay Gordon @evolempireglass that totally opened my eyes a few years ago. Mike is one of the most impressive glass workers I have ever gotten to watch work. Do you have a favorite cup on the site currently?

Seed of Life Rainbow Pint by Matty B! 

Glass blowers know how much work is in that cup! Tell us about the evolution of your drinkware - It feels like I have been waiting almost five years for this release to come to life!

To apply Graal technique through linework has been the exploration that has consumed my time outside of work. There were many failures along the way to come up with the nine cups I sent you, and so many more hours of research and exploration than the already dozens of hours in each individual cup.

And how many hours of experimenting with the Graal technique to get here?

I worked on it almost every weekend over the past 18 months, because I do scientific glass full time during the week. 

What is the most challenging part of blowing glass for you?

Cold work specifically the Graal technique. It requires precision and patience.

What is the most fun part of blowing glass for you?

Putting a finished piece in the kiln.

Ain’t that the truth! Can you tell us about some of those early goblets on your Instagram?

I would attempt to follow Italian influenced shapes back then. A lot of that has translated into my work today in roundabout ways.

I have seen you and your work published a few times. What is your proudest achievement in your career with glass?

Getting recognition through Glass Aficionado 3rd Edition which was designed by Don from Toke City. Those were the best times of the glass industry, in my opinion. Also helping engineer and design a new mold for glass bulb making was really cool from my scientific job!

Any advice to the up and comers in the glass scene?

Go to college and get degree first. It's a lot to go all in on glass (or anything else) without that experience first.

Any up and comers on your radar that we should look out for?

Shayla Windstar @windstar_glass is new on my radar and her work is amazing!

Who else have you collaborated with over the years?

You Ben. That’s it for the last few years. I have been so consumed with my day job and refining the Graal technique that I have not put out much art for the last few years but it feels really good to be back into it.

Have you worked in any group shops?

I worked at the Mausoleum in Aurora Illinois before it was opened to the public. It has been closed since 2017.

A legendary studio! Got any other hobbies besides glass?

Being in my boat on the river.

What kind of music do you enjoy?

80’s and 90’s Punk.

Do you listen to music while you work?

No, I love the sound of the fan while I work. 

Is there a cause or an organization that is important to you?

THORN organization started by Ashton Kutcher to stop child trafficking.

Anything else we should know about you or your work?

I am always looking for designs that are colorful with intricate patterns.

Where else can people find your work?

Sight N Sound @sightnsoundwestmont in Westmont IL (I love those guys) and other shops across the US that were distributed to by C&G Wholesale.

Back when we met, Willie "Cadillac Daddy" bought almost all of our collaborations. That was often my only sale for a week or more. You let me use your lathe to assemble collaborations with artists from around the country who had trusted me with their prep. I was often too intimidated to take on the projects I had gotten myself into and you would guide me through. In contrast to those days, I shipped 14 boxes out the other day accounting for a day and a half of sales. I would not be here without your support. Thank you so much.

We still have one of our collaborations available on the website from 2017 but both of us have been tempted to keep it in our personal collections over the years.

It is such an honor to have this release available on my site. I am not exaggerating when I say I have been dreaming of the day Schmitz would finally send me these cups. The amount of hours in each cup is so apparent to me as a glass artist, and I hope that I can share that with our audience through pictures or in the live streams. Each piece goes through multiple kiln cycles of heating and cooling with coldwork (sandblasting) in between stages. The cups are flame polished in the last step to bring back the smooth feel instead of the roughness that sandblasting creates. I was told by Schmitz that he lost multiple cups on the last steps (something I am all too familiar with).

Willie already purchased the largest mug from this batch, as he had claimed dibs years ago and has been very patiently waiting to add a Schmitz solo to his assortment of our collaborations. My other client who might be the only other person to own a collaboration that I made with Schmitz scooped a mini mug from this batch too. My brother who has a very discerning eye for glass has also added a mini mug to his personal collection, and I will be adding something to my own personal collection but for now you can see what is available here: Schmitz Glass

Thanks for tuning in, and hopefully we will have more artist interviews soon!


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