There's a large community of people who think of head shops as art galleries. They walk in to find tobacco rolling products like Swisher Sweets and Backwoods, but it's the hand-blown pipes and water pipes that catch their eyes, like blinding jewels.
Whether they're visiting the head shop to purchase their first pipe or their 10th, shoppers find endless excitement in finding the piece that best expresses who they are as smokers.
What these shoppers may not know is that some of the pipes they are purchasing are made from Dallas artists. Lodi Glass and A. South Glass make pipes from Lodi’s shop and distribute their artwork into a plethora of head shops in North Texas.
Glassblowing pipes is not exactly a culturally accepted means of employment in Texas, and because of the negative stigma that surrounds the craft, Lodi and A. South prefer not to use their real names or disclose the location of their shop. They are known and recognized by their “superhero” names.
It's 6 a.m. and 75 degrees, but in the shop, standing over a propane blowtorch twisting, pushing and shaping glass, Lodi and A. South are feeling twice that temperature and, the longer they work, the hotter it gets. They keep a smooth '90s hip-hop playlist playing in the background as a cool atmosphere mixes in with the 900-degree flame emitting from the torch.
“My beard hair stays steadily trimmed by the flame,” Lodi says. “If you would have told me when I was 18 years old that I’d be awake at 6 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday working for myself I would have told you that you were crazy."
Lodi and A. South built everything in their shop themselves. From the work benches to the custom ventilation system that probably works better than any standard apartment's A/C unit. Lodi started blowing glass in 2006, after watching someone make a pipe on YouTube. He has never taken a class or had any formal training. And after his first couple of years of blowing glass out of a house in Plano, he met and taught A. South. Now they sell their artwork wholesale.
“I just kind of started messing with it and got hooked like it was a drug," Lodi says. "It was a way to make money doing something creative.” Now Lodi blows glass for a living while A. South continues to balance the demand they have created for their artwork while maintaining his day job.
Glass blowing can be a profitable business. Just for reference, Illuzion Glass Galleries is currently selling a piece on their website called “The Throne” that is listed at $1,000,000. Imagine how devastating it would be to break that thing by knocking it over the side of your coffee table.
Dallas head shops most commonly carry pipes that range between $20 and $500. Lodi and A. South can make pipes that cost as much as new cars too, but they understand the market and know that the cheaper stuff is what sells.
“We do more production type (pipes)," Lodi says."Stuff me and you can go in and afford or somebody that waits tables for a living can go in and afford. Stuff the Average Joe smoker can purchase.”
While the production of pipes is legal, as is owning them, once the device is used for illegal purposes, the glass is then considered drug paraphernalia.
Times are changing fast with the legalization of CBD, but Lodi and A. South will continue to remain mostly anonymous. You could compare them with the kind of songwriters who write hits for popular artists — nobody knows the songwriter, but everyone enjoys the final product.
The duo has fans who own multiple pieces of their artwork. Some people are dedicated pipe collectors. A. South used to collect himself and says he has more than enough glass at his house that he purchased before he started blowing glass.
The hand-crafted creations require such skill and detail that knowledgeable consumers appreciate and support. “I’ve met people that have collections of pipes that would rival some classic car collections as far as value,” Lodi says.
The type of glass the pair use primarily is borosilicate glass, the same kind of glass that science beakers are made of. Their creativity in the art of glassblowing goes beyond pipes, and they often make sculptural work, shot glasses, stained glass, pendants and practically anything that can be crafted out of glass.
The technique the pair uses to manipulate the glass is called “lampworking,” which is a bit different from actual glassblowing. Lodi says that glassblowing in general comes from the scientific industry.
“In the 1940s, '50, '60s, this was like a big thing," Lodi says of the technique. "If you had a place that did chemical processing or something like that, you had an onsite glass blower to maintain your lab ware."
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There are an estimated 30 professional glassblowers between Dallas and Fort Worth, and Lodi believes that fewer than five of them live in Dallas. The glassblowers recognize each other and they all have individual styles, but they're united by a passion for the art form.
“For the most part, everybody in the glass industry is pretty cool,” Lodi says.
Just like any painter or musician, Lodi and A. South had to get out in the streets to market themselves. It took time and dedication to get to where they are now, but they enjoy the process, their industry and everything else that comes with it.
“We are the literal definition of a starving artist," Lodi says. "You can catch me one day, I might have $50 in my pocket, you catch me another day I’ve got five grand. I’m maybe not the richest guy on the block, but I’m definitely one of the happiest.”