“Nobody in the country is doing high-end glass exclusively. This is really the only place in the world you can go…”
High-end smokable glass has traditionally been sold as an afterthought at music festivals and in head shops. In culture stores throughout the U.S., bongs and pipes costing more than $100 are typically relegated to a single dusty display case that sits among a significantly larger selection of inexpensive production pipes.
Unhappy with how premium “functional” (smokable) glass takes a backseat to five dollar throwaway pieces, Reed Berger decided to do something novel. In March 2015, he opened a boutique retail environment for glass in Arcata, California under the moniker of the Emerald Glass Gallery.
“This art gets lost in the head shop atmosphere, in the tradeshow atmosphere, and in the production atmosphere that’s predominantly represented nationwide. I always wanted to open a place that focuses specifically on the high end,” said Berger.
Most pieces at the gallery, which is open every Saturday and by appointment, are priced between $1,000 and $250,000.
Emerald Glass Gallery has showcased some of the top names in functional glass art, many of whom are local. One notable featured artist is Humboldt-based blowing legend Banjo. “He’s taught a lot of artists in the area who reverberate his style,” said Berger.
Other popular master glass artists who have been featured at the progressive gallery include Jared DeLong, Tristan Hodges, Darby Holm, and Scott Rosinski (Mr. Gray Glass).
Emerald Glass Gallery is not only unique, but — according to Berger — the only premium functional glass gallery of its kind in the world. “This is the only place you can go to find just high-end, artsy, functional glass,” said Berger during an exclusive interview with the Emerald Magazine. Here’s what he had to say:
Emerald Magazine: “What is the state of the high-end glass market on the West Coast?”
Reed Berger: “Locally, there’s five or six artists who really hold it down. Regionally, there’s a heavy concentration of artists between San Francisco and Seattle. But there’s just no representation in Northern California. That’s why I opened a shop in San Francisco, in addition to this one in Arcata.
There’s plenty of glass shops in Seattle and a handful in Oregon that sell production stuff and a few heady pieces. But there’s really nothing in Humboldt.”
EM: “Are there any galleries in the U.S., other than yours, that are dealing exclusively in premium-quality smokable glass in a boutique environment?”
RB: “Nobody in the country is doing high-end glass exclusively. This is really the only place in the world you can go…other than my shop, The City Gallery, in San Francisco…to experience such an environment. Elsewhere you’re going to find low-end glass, sneakers, clothes, jewelry….”
EM: “Why does $1,500 heady glass sit beside $20 t-shirts and black light posters in most retail environments?”
RB: “It’s because our culture is so underground. Which is why I opened the gallery. I wanted to create a business and do this publicly, in a retail space, so people know what’s going on… so it doesn’t just continue to perpetuate the underground.
“Before I had a gallery, I was just supporting the whole hush-hush aspect of it. Customers didn’t want to talk about prices or what they bought. It’s the opposite now: people are posting everything online. Today, they’re trying to buy and sell everything publicly and it’s very open. Things are definitely changing.”
EM: “The current wave of cannabis legalization across the U.S. seems to be helping artists and entrepreneurs like yourself do their thing above ground, out in the open.”
RB: “Acceptance. It’s really about acceptance.”
EM: “Do you host glass shows that feature non-smokable pieces?”
RB: “My last show in San Francisco was for high-end bottles…wine decanters, whiskey decanters… that kind of stuff. Most glass pipe artists will tell you that, if they could, they would also make non-pipe pieces. It would be nice to be able to do both and have it all sell. Pipes are just such an easy thing for a lot of glass artists… I think it’s why they don’t stray away from them.
“But I stray. I try to sell as much non-pipe art as I can…it just doesn’t seem to pay the bills. Not that the market isn’t there. I think the group of people who are buying very expensive high-end, non-functional glass art aren’t necessarily the type of people who feel comfortable at my gallery with my other clientele. So it’s a bit of a cross contamination issue.”
EM: “Aside from your love of high-end glass and the obvious desire to make a living, what motivated you to open your gallery?”
RB: “What I’m doing here…and the whole Humboldt scene for glass…follows Jared DeLong and Lost Coast, an appointment-only gallery in Trinidad, California. Jared is, without a doubt, the original pioneer of hosting functional glass art shows in Humboldt County. He’s the first one to bring public awareness to what’s happening on the glass scene in Humboldt.
“Talk about underground…most people don’t even know Lost Coast Gallery exists. But Jared is the inspiration for this space and what I’m doing. He’s my favorite glass artist in Humboldt County, and possibly the [entire] country. The style he brings to glass is unlike what anyone else is doing.”
EM: “Do you think we’re at the beginning of a resurgence of smokable glass in the U.S.?”
RB: “Well, for high-end specifically, I don’t know if it’s a resurgence, because I don’t know if it was ever really there.”
EM: “Do you think we’re witnessing the emergence of a new market for high-end functional glass?”
RB: “It would be a new thing. When I got into glass, the most expensive piece you could purchase was a couple grand. And that was completely insane. Nothing was five, six, seven thousand dollars. That was just not even a thing. Today, seven thousand dollars won’t even get you in the door with a lot of glass artists.”
Written by GOOEY RABINSKI