Smoking Trees: Foster Glass' Functional Art

Cannabis naturally lends itself to a culture of art, which is why there are so many beautiful, handmade means of partaking.

Following up on last month’s Arts Issue, we wanted to take a look at the unique, formerly somewhat taboo art of crafting cannabis paraphernalia. One local artist with a following is Dan Foster of Kalamazoo, who’s been glassblowing since he was 18 and has recently found success with his Birch line.

We talked with Foster about how he got into the field, his current approach, and what he loves about it.

How did you get started working with glass, and what drew you to it?

I started taking classes in furnace style glassblowing when I was 18. I knew I wanted to learn a trade rather than going to college. I had seen a PBS program about hot glass art and that was the most interesting thing I’d seen or heard of. A couple years into glass, another student at the glass school Ox Bow brought his torch and was able to try flameworking. I loved how much detail was achievable. I went straight home and spent my savings on a small torch setup.

What do you find unique about glass as a medium?

I love the challenge of sculpting something without even being able to touch it. Also, the fact that what I make has the possibility of lasting for countless lifetimes.

How did you get started with bowls/pipes/etc.?

I spent years trying to figure out how to make glass pipes working in my home studio at the time. There was very little info out there in the early 2000s on the subject—lots of trial and error and broken pipes! Eventually connected with some other pipe makers like Jake Shaff of Kzoo Glassworks, and was able to learn new tricks and techniques which helped me develop my skill set and style.

Revue Oct23 Cannabis IG

Can you tell us about your birch style? Is that all glass?

The glass birch tree style has definitely been of my most widely and well received work. Yes, they are 100% glass. I use all solid colored glass, utilizing different techniques to achieve the desired birch tree outcome.

What would you say are your artistic influences?

I’ve tried really hard to be original in a medium where just about everything has already been done. I spent years making new designs every week so I would always have something new to offer the local shops. I grew up in the Michigan woods around birch trees, and one day I decided to make a nature scene with a tree house in birch, with a bunch of animals. Soon after, the birch line took off and I was able to focus on a consistent body of work.

Your previous work was really inventive and beautiful too. Do you still mess around with that?

I do still work on all fine manner of other glass items too. Marbles, pendants and drinkware to name a few. Lately, I’ve been doing a bit of scientific glassblowing, repairing and fabricating laboratory apparatus. I love the technical challenge in that side of glass.

You’ve released a few “splash cylinders.” Can you tell us more about those? 

The splash cylinders are a collaboration between another local artist Ryan Ferris @ferriglass. We wanted to make something new and exciting and it turned out great, which isn’t always the way it goes with glass on a first attempt. They are a double-walled bong, where the smoke goes between the layers and has the sculpture inside, so it doesn’t get in contact with smoke or water. It looks like a large air volume piece, but actually isn’t. 

Anything else our readers should know?

You can find myself and my work in the Park Trades Center downtown Kalamazoo or @fosterglass on Instagram.