Dicronix - Functional Glass & Art Gallery

Functional Glass & Art Gallery

Glass Art

Why You Should Avoid China Glass at All Costs

Glass ArtJordan Stella

With medical and recreational legalization sweeping across the country, cannabis culture is on the rise and so too is the functional glass art market! This is great news for local artisan glass blowers and glass art galleries like Dicronix, or at least it should be, right?

Not exactly.

While there’s no doubt that there are more consumers in the market for a new piece of functional glass art, not everyone is ready to invest in a high end piece of glass just yet. When you purchase a piece of glass art, you’re purchasing more than just an object. You’re purchasing a piece that is completely unique and represents hours of hard work and determination that a specific individual has created. As a result, it’s no surprise that the price of a locally-blown piece of functional glass art can come at a relatively high price point when compared to the cheaper, lower-quality alternatives.

What is China Glass?

The functional glass market is saturated with poorly-made and sometimes dangerous products that generally come from overseas factories. The majority of these factories are located in China and Southeast Asia where labor regulations are lax and safety testing policies even more so. Chinese wholesale sites like Alibaba and DHGate further exacerbate the issue by allowing sellers to market these products as if they were their authentic American counterparts. It’s for this reason that the term “china glass” has caught on as a catch-all term for any piece of functional glass art that’s low in quality. That’s not to say that there aren’t talented glass artists in China, but rather that the majority of Chinese glass art exports are made with cost-cutting manufacturing methods and sub-par materials, in the hopes to recreate an “American-made” quality.

Here at Dicronix, our disdain for china glass stems not from the fact that it costs us business, but from the fact that it’s impossible to verify the quality. Beyond anything else, we value the safety and happiness of our customers. As well as happy customers, buying American made glass, allows us to work closely with the artists and support our local artists. Selling poor quality merchandise that could be potentially harmful to our customers health goes directly against that belief, which is why you’ll never find china glass on our shelves or on our site. At Dicronix, we stock exclusively American-made glass so that we can personally vouch for the craftsmanship and quality of our products.

Poor Quality Materials

The most pressing concern when it comes to china glass is the utter lack of regulation in the manufacturing facilities where the pieces are made. American glass artists utilize pure borosilicate glass in their work. Borosilicate glass, or “boro” as it’s commonly known, is more durable than other types of glass and is 100% safe for human use even after having been repeatedly heated. For overseas manufacturers looking to churn out mass quantities of similar pipes, borosilicate is not an ideal material as it takes time and skill to properly form. Instead, many Chinese glass factories use soft glass, which lacks durability; additionally, there are countless reports of these factories painting transparent glass rather than utilizing true colored glass, which is very concerning to one’s health. These products almost never include descriptions of the exact materials used in their production, so verifying the quality of the glass is almost impossible strictly by eye.

Potential Health Concerns

Painted glass is a major health concern, especially for those purchasing functional glass art for smoking purposes. While colored borosilicate won’t give off any harmful fumes or toxins when heated, painted glass likely will. Many of the paints used in these factories emit harmful gases that are inhaled along with the smoke, potentially leading to harmful diseases like cancer. Even if the paint is on an interior area of the pipe that is not directly heated, there is still the risk of paint chips flaking off and being inhaled directly.

Beyond painted glass, a major health concern with overseas glass is the presence of glass dust in pieces that have been worked on at room temperature. Most American glass artists create slits on percolators or holes in bowl pieces while the glass is still hot. The final step of the glassblowing process is to anneal the finished piece, which then solidifies the glass and ensures sturdiness. Kilns can be expensive to acquire and operate, so many Chinese factories skip the annealing process altogether in favor of adding these features later once the glass has cooled. A hole in a spoon may be drilled out using power tools, percolators may be cut into with a band saw, and the piece will continue to move on down the assembly line and into shipping. This practice not only leads to fragile pieces that contain micro stress fractures around the cut/drill point, but also leaves microscopic particles of glass dust within the glass itself. If a piece is not washed out by the consumer before use, these particles can be inhaled leading to diseases like mesothelioma.  

Hurts Small Business Owners

Last but not least, china glass hurts the community of dedicated glass artists that depend on their work to provide for their families. While it might be great to save money and have a piece that looks cool, many of the pipes and other types of functional glass art you’ll find on sites like Alibaba and DHGate are blatant counterfeit knockoffs of unique designs. Not only does china glass potentially endanger your health, it takes money out of the hands of hardworking people just like you. When it comes time to purchase your next everyday piece of functional glass art, don’t waste your cash; stop by Dicronix and support local American glass artists!

An Interview with Glass-Artist-In-Residence Tyson Thornwall

Interview, Glass ArtJordan Stella

Here at Dicronix, we’re passionate about supporting local artists. In the past, we’ve done this by putting on events, stocking exclusively American-made glass art, and helping connect artists together to inspire great works. Recently, we’ve been blessed with the ability to convert our backyard garage space into a fully-compliant and functional glass blowing studio. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, our team has spent many long hours working to get that space ready for the next evolution of Dicronix, and now we’re ready to unveil it to you all.

Today, we’re excited to announce that Tyson Thornwall, aka TysonLikeTheChicken, is our first official glass artist-in-residence. You may have seen Tyson’s face in the shop as he’s been setting up and getting familiar with things over the last month or two.

Tyson showing the littlest members of the Dicronix team how to blow glass

Tyson showing the littlest members of the Dicronix team how to blow glass

We sat down with Tyson this week to dive deeper into his glass blowing career and the personal experiences that have brought him to where he is today.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, I’m 38 years old. I’ve always been into art. From a young age, I used to do oil paintings. I did a little graffiti for a bit. I actually ended up winning an award from MTV and was able to move from Wausau, WI out to San Francisco to go to art school. I ended up dropping out of that school after I had a child. Even before then I was realizing that the type of art we were learning about in school as mostly computer-based, graphic design, corporate stuff. I just couldn’t picture myself doing that kind of work for the rest of my life. I wanted to make what I wanted to make, do what I wanted to do.

Tyson Thornwall aka TysonLikeTheChicken

Tyson Thornwall aka TysonLikeTheChicken

So, what did you do after that?

I started a drywall painting business, ran that for ten years. We had some great clientele, did some great work, but ultimately, when the market crashed and everyone lost money, it more or less crippled my business and wreaked havoc on the construction industry as a whole.

Is that when you got into glass blowing?

I actually got into glassblowing in 2002, when I was still running my business. I met a fella at a Halloween party, Ryan Whitmore, and he gave me a pipe that he had made. I thought that was really cool so, you know, I told him “let’s hook up!” and I started to watch him blow glass every now and then. He ended up moving into a shop that we built together in my garage, which gave me a lot more exposure. I started making marbles and getting my feet wet.

Fast forward a year or two, my business had collapsed and I had moved to Madison, WI. I happened to run into Ryan again and he asked me to come pull prep for him. The rest is history.

Tyson working on a new piece in the official Dicronix glass studio

Tyson working on a new piece in the official Dicronix glass studio

What attracted you to glass?

To be honest, I had always watched it on the weekends back in the day when we had just an antenna on our television and the only thing on in the middle of the day, you know, on Sunday would be some show on PBS or whatever. There was this weird glass show and I think that was what inspired my first initial love for glass.

Was it more lampworking or…?

A lot of it was scientific stuff, if I remember correctly, beakers and stuff like that. They had Chihuly on quite a bit with the soft glass and that was pretty cool.

What is the most challenging aspect of working with glass?

Gravity. I tell everyone that’s the first lesson and the last lesson. Learn how to keep the molten glass on the stick. I also think that cracking is the other big issue. You have to know how to keep the glass hot, control the temperature, heat it up slowly without cracking because borosilicate has a tendency to crack while you’re working it if it’s too thick or if there’s a negative angle or things of that nature.

Up close and personal with Tyson Thornwall, aka TysonLikeTheChicken ,on the torch

Up close and personal with Tyson Thornwall, aka TysonLikeTheChicken ,on the torch

How do you come up with ideas for new pieces?

Oh man. It’s everywhere! When it hits me, I’ve learned to just do it. Right now, I’m making these aliens that ride on the back of a T-rex and it’s a fully functional rig. I’d wanted to do it for awhile and I made a T-rex one day and thought “you can do it, just take it to the next level”.

Slum bums were my first sculpture project. I was broke and all I had left was some amber purple tubing and I just said “screw it”. I ended up coming up with that design and it ended up paying the bills that month. Most of my ideas come to me like that, on a whim.

Tyson working on a heady chicken rig.

Tyson working on a heady chicken rig.

What’s your favorite color of glass right now?

That’s tough. This new experimental 90 is pretty cool. It’s a CFL reactive color that turns turquoise to aqua to purple. Not many CFL colors have a three-way shift like that and it’s got a really nice base to it. It’s still brand new so we’ll see if it remains a favorite.

I also really dig sunset slyme. It’s a CFL reactive color that changes from pink to green slyme.

A CFL knuckle dragger and slum bum, two of Tyson’s signature sculpted styles.

A CFL knuckle dragger and slum bum, two of Tyson’s signature sculpted styles.

What’s your favorite piece you’ve ever made?

I would have to say my Ghost collab that I did this past summer on my Midwest Free Range Chicken Tour. I worked with Ghost, Ryan Green, and we made a pretty sweet chicken with T-rex feet. It was crazy shit.

Who’s your favorite glassblower? Other than yourself, of course!

It’s so hard to pick just one. I’ve got a lot of friends and colleagues that I look up to and admire. Joe Howe, Jeremiah Kearne, Burtoni Glass, there are a ton of glass artists whose work I really like.

If I had to pick just one, I’d have to say Ghost, my buddy Ryan Green. His sculpting skills are just through the roof and that’s what I really aspire to be, someone who is known for really creative sculpture work.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get into glassblowing?

Go hard. It’s going to be a struggle. You’re going to lose money. It’s going to be tough and you’re going to have to just work hard. Always be at it. Be your own boss and just grind. It’s a lifestyle, not a job. You know?

Fully-functional dab rig inspired by Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT

Fully-functional dab rig inspired by Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT

We’re extremely excited to welcome Tyson to the Dicronix team and we can’t wait for you all to see the work he has planned. Keep an eye out for more of Tyson’s work on our shelves and on our site!