For Alaska artists, the legalization of cannabis has provided new avenues for creativity, and this is especially true for those who specialize in artistically rendered functional items. Supplying consumers with attractive pipes and bongs is a niche market that offers opportunities for anyone with a few good ideas and the skills to bring them into being.
Both Fairbanks potter Jessica Morse and Seward glassblower Ron Telposky have applied talents acquired earlier in their lives to the fine art of creating smoking devices that are unique and practical at the same time. As Morse explained, regarding her work, “I’m a functional potter. You’ve got to be able to use things. For my normal pottery, you’ve got to be able to just throw that in the dishwasher. I’m functionality first, but it’s also got to look pretty. It’s got to also be a piece of art. Because I’m an artist.”
For Morse, making pipes and bongs is a sideline to her larger pottery business, operated under the name Cold Spot Studio. And while she has spun her share of bongs from a potter’s wheel, her most popular item is what she refers to as a beans and greens mug. The idea, she said, originated with customers.
“I have some smoker friends, and they wanted a wake-and-bake mug,” she explained. “It’s a mug that you can also smoke out of.”
These mugs have a bowl protruding from the bottom that the marijuana is loaded into. A thin ceramic straw snakes up from there along the bottom of the cup portion of the mug, then into a hollow handle. At the crest of the handle’s curve is the mouthpiece. For those who crave both coffee and cannabis, it’s the perfect item.
Telposky works from his Seward Hot Glass studio, crafting glass pipes that are colorful and eye catching. While he has produced a wide range of items, he said his biggest seller is his salmon chillum, a glass pipe in the shape and color of Alaska’s most iconic fish.
“I’ll mix the colors and then I’ll coil it around itself,” he explained. “And then separate the sections, the green in the front, the green in the back, and the red in the middle. Then you apply the fins and such after the fact. Up here, they’re really popular.”
Both Morse and Telposky took up their respective arts around the turn of the millennium, although in different places and ways.
Morse was born and raised in Fairbanks, and discovered ceramics as a teenager. “When I got into high school there was a great pottery program,” she said. “I latched on to that and did that all throughout high school.”
She went to college at the University of Alaska, attending both the Fairbanks and Anchorage campuses. Her degree is in broadcast journalism, but she minored in ceramics. Afterward, she said, “I kind of pursued one vastly over the other.”
Telposky started blowing glass in Chicago, where he grew up. In 2000, he was working in a machine shop, where a friend and coworker introduced him to the art form. “I would go over to his house and watch him, and one day I decided that I was going to try it out,” he recalled.
Telposky’s friend quit his well-paying job in the shop and headed out on the national music festival circuit, selling glasswork along the way. “That was kind of my incentive to do my own thing,” Telposky said. He watched his friend make a living and decided this beat punching a clock. “Instead of working every day for somebody else, I might as well do it for myself.”
Telposky moved to Seward in 2013, not long before the successful legalization vote. He started making pipes and hasn’t looked back. His pieces are available in a number of dispensaries, including Good Buds in Seward, AlaskaBuds in Anchorage, and Green Jar in Wasilla.
Morse has only sold a handful of items through dispensaries and head shops since she began making smoking devices. She said her main focus is on other creations, especially yarn bowls for knitters, which she ships to customers throughout America and overseas. And while her beans and greens mug is popular, she only makes them to order, and she’s busy enough with other work that it can take time for her to get them out. “I just have a backlog of about three months of special orders. So when I do these offshoots for people, it’s going to take awhile,” she said.
For Telposky, smoking devices are his primary products, and he makes some that are basic and others that are more ornate. “There’s a mix of customers. Some people want a nice piece and some people, they know they’re perhaps clumsier and just want a regular piece. I provide all of that,” he said, adding, “I try to keep it old school. A lot of new glass has a lot of flare to it. Big pieces, a lot of decorations. I keep my shapes traditional.”
Telposky doesn’t have a lathe, and thus doesn’t make bongs, while Morse does. But both said that in their respective arts, functionality is easily blended with creativity to offer things that cannabis consumers will enjoy both using and looking at. “I like my stuff to look aesthetically pleasing and not like pipes and bongs and things,” Morse explained. But it also needs to be simple and easily used and cared for. “If you can’t throw it in the dishwasher or use it daily, then what’s the point,” she asked.
Functionality is also important to Telposky. This includes not just design, but source materials as well. “It’s the same glass as Pyrex,” he sad. “It can handle repeated hot stress, heats and cool downs.”
From there, he added, the only limitation is imagination. “You can just build and build and build on these things. It’s an incredible material. Fun to play with,” he enthused. As for where his ideas come from, he said, “I’ll just sit down. I know my colors, and I don’t know where it comes from. It just comes from the ether I guess. It doesn’t come from me, it comes through me.”
Whether it’s clay or glass, both artists follow their muses, creating items that are useful and attractive, and trusting their abilities to make something cannabis consumers will want.
“As long as it’s appealing to me,” Telposky said, “then I think it’s going to be widely accepted.”
David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.