Per Glass

“In this age where most products are made in factories using automated processes, often in another country, I get a kick out of actually making things. Even though glass can be fragile, I get a sense of permanence from the finished pieces.”

The field of glassblowing is growing in demand — at the top of the profession are skilled, custom glassblowers who can take ideas and turn them into complex pieces of art.

Per Tillisch, owner and operator of Per Glass — a Humboldt County grown business, is one of those glassblowers. Per’s fascination with glass began with his childhood marble collection. This captivation, he explains, only grew after moving to Humboldt County and watching the glassblowing process for the first time.

“That was when I realized it was something I wanted to do.”

Sixteen years ago, while living in an apartment complex in Arcata, California, Per got his first lesson in the building’s laundry room, “on top of the dryer. [The glassblower] gave me the classic mushroom pendant tutorial.”

“A humble beginning, but I was hooked,” he explains.

Like many glassblowers, it took time for Per to refine his passion into a skill. He began making glass full-time in 2004 and opened a glassblowing studio. Since then, he has done it almost every day — gathering more than 34,000 hours of glassblowing and counting.

“I started making glass as a hobby, but soon realized that the expenses required that it produce some income. I slowly started treating it more as a career as time went on.”

In 2013, he launched Per Glass — an online retail hand-blown glass company. Though his work is sold in shops throughout the county and other states, his business is now based primarily online, which allows for a global customer base.

        From didgeridoos to marbles, Per’s glass inventory is diverse; vases, pendants, wine glasses, jars and bottles. He incorporates a variety of materials, colors and styles to deliver a distinct collection of handmade glassware that’s just as beautiful as it is durable. Per’s pieces feature a little bit of everything; fuming, sandblasting and calcedonio, which “mimics stone by the use of organic swirls of different colors of glass,” he explains. Lately, “I’ve been liking styles that have a textural quality such as sandcarving, hobnails, large surface frit and optic molds.” Different textures and material cause different effects, something that brings character to his work and sets his art apart from the rest of the glassware on any shelf. He puts a lot of aesthetic considerations such as proportion, visual balance and color combinations into even his most simple designs. In terms of glassblowing methods, Per is a lampworker. “This means I use a torch to melt the glass,” he explains, because the heat source is more precise, the details in the results are more precise. Per is drawn to create, and is inspired by the materials he uses. “I try to let the glass do what it wants to do. This can be very different from one color, thickness, diameter or application to another and may not become apparent until the process has begun.”

He works with a type of glass called borosilicate. “It [was] primarily used for laboratory glassware due to its ability to handle rapid temperature changes and chemical resistance but has become popular for creative uses,” Per explains. “I also do some work with fused quartz, which is almost pure silica.”

His design process usually encompasses multiple prototypes and customer feedback. He wants his customers to enjoy his glass as much as he enjoys making it. The technical nature of glassblowing, its instruments and working with his hands also drive his passion. “An understanding of the chemistry and physics happening in the glass [are essential],” he adds, “often because the tools must be modified or built from scratch.”

“In this age where most products are made in factories using automated screenshot-2016-11-02-16-10-59processes, often in another country, I get a kick out of actually making things. Even though glass can be fragile, I get a sense of permanence from the finished pieces.”

His glassware is created with cost and utility in mind. “Most of the things I make are functional in some way and I try to use that functionality as the guiding [point] rather than an afterthought.” Affordability is also important; “often I’m trying to make original designs without pricing them out of the reach of the average customer,” a difficult balance, he says. Since launching his business he has learned that some items are surprisingly more popular than others.  His best selling products include his handmade wick-holders, jars and perfume bottles. Primarily, he focuses on producing non-cannabis related glassware because of the nature of his web-based business. Though he notes, the cannabis industry influences his sales.

“Even though I don’t sell any pipes online I’ve found that the majority of my sales are still for cannabis related items,” he says. “I sell jars that could be used for any purpose and are not marketed as a cannabis specific product but I frequently have customers that contact me asking about my ‘stash jars.’”

One item that has sold surprisingly well is cremation urns. “People really appreciate getting some handmade glass for such an important purpose without being overcharged just because of the nature of the product.” 

Niche products like this, says Per, are successful because of an ever-expanding market. The rapid changes in the cannabis industry are driving glassblowers toward technical innovation. It is also influencing manufacturers to innovate raw materials and tools. The general acceptance of the legitimacy of the industry has allowed many glassblowers, especially pipe makers, Per explains, to operate more publicly than before — thanks to social media, trade shows and art galleries. As this acceptance grows, so does the awareness and “the big picture of glass, both contemporary and historical,” he says. Without the strong cannabis culture of Humboldt County, this may not be possible.

Written by Melissa Hutsell

For more information about Per Glass, visit PerGlass.com. Pick up his work at these local businesses; Smoking Caterpillar, Schatzi’s Hidden Treasures, Humboldt Clothing Company, Pacific Paradise, Stuff N’ Things, and The Humboldt County Collective.

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