Customers visiting Muse OBX Original gallery in Kitty Hawk stand in front of an interior window that looks into the glass blowing studio of David Pipkin. Visitors can watch the 37- year- old Outer Banks artist create hand-blown art that is for sale in the gallery.
He has set up a space that is just right to hold all his equipment in order to create both utilitarian and decorative objects. His specialty is a red wine aerator decanter that separates the wine as it is poured into the vessel. “You want it to breathe,” says Pipkin. “It runs down the walls and it opens it up.” The decanter was the joint idea of his and gallery owner Ami Hill. “I saw the showerhead design in another piece of his and says ‘we need to put this into a wine decanter,” says Hill. “I drew it out for him an he went to work. I love when he brings my ideas to life, but he has a lot of his own ideas that are really amazing.”
The decanter with the built-in diffuser is beautiful featuring designs on the spout and in the neck just below the funnel, which is also adorned with a multicolored glass design. Some patterns on his glassware are called Raticello — a series of connecting and overlapping spirals. Two color patterns spin in opposite directions. “It’s an implosion,” says Pipkin. “It collapses on itself.” These exquisite vessels stand as works of art as well as useful items a red wine connoisseur shouldn’t live without.
Pipkin handcrafts blown glass using a variety of techniques to create drinking glasses, sea life sculptures, terrariums, guitar slides, fish pendants, honey dippers and whatever else he is called upon to make. Customers that come into the shop can buy an item off the shelf, or have something custom crafted and finished with personal designs, names and/or logos. “So, I stay really busy with the creative aspect of it,” he says. “I do different things so as not to limit it to just one thing and get burnt out on it.” He also does big shapes that some glass blowers don’t do. “I do it all,” says Pipkin.
Pipkin comes from a varied work background that includes cleaning pools and construction. He gained skills doing construction that played a major role in building his comfortable and user-friendly studio that is tiny but workable. It contains heavy machinery including a lathe, kiln, sandblasting box, vinyl etcher and plenty of shelves to hold equipment. Several pieces of equipment are on wheels so he can move them about the studio whenever he needs them to take center stage — such as his Bunsen burners, which he uses to melt glass to make designs that he uses to embellish his objects.
Watching him create a cordial glass was an exciting experience as he deftly used the lathe, blowing tube, paddles, and hand-held torches to shape, melt, fuse, and balance the tiny glass.
While it cooled, he created stencils — a seahorse and two logos (the shop logo and his own logo) — using a vinyl cutter and a sharp blade. He masked off the glass with tape so that the sand blaster would only hit the areas to be etched. Fitting his hands in gloves that allow him to hold the glass in the blaster, he turns on the machine and particles sand blast the object as he turns it.
Once finished, he peels off the tape and stencil and then carefully cleans the stemware to reveal a delicate design on a glass made sturdy through the annealing process.
“Everything I make goes in the kiln because I have to anneal all of them,” he says.
The designs etched on the glass vary. He’s made flying ducks, marlin, turtles, lighthouse, deer, trout, flounder, puppy drum, and a variety of business logos, to name a few.
The room can get up to 100 degrees as he works his magic. Wearing board shorts helps. He is working on getting air conditioning to bring the temperatures down to 75 degrees.
“Glass has to come to 2,000 degrees before it becomes molten, and that’s blowing off a lot of heat, says Pipkin. “It can probably jump up to 130 degrees, if you don’t have the right ventilation.”
It is physically demanding work due to the heat, but in a different way from construction and pool cleaning, so he doesn’t get as much pure exercise, but you definitely have to have steady hands, good vision, a room that is properly ventilated and be able to move carefully in the small space.
To watch the spectacle of glass blowing is awesome. Special glasses are needed so you don’t injure your eyes. The glasses allow you to see details of the designs coming to life rather than just a brilliant flame that can harm your vision like staring at the sun.
Pipkin uses borasilicate, or hard glass. He does lampworking with patterned glass to make his designs. He came to glass making when he began working at Island Dyes Head Shop and learned how to make water pipes. He watched people shape glass in a production facility and took videos before being allowed to go hands on.
“I look at glass blowers from all over the world,” he says. YouTube videos, and trial and error were also teaching tools. “I definitely had some rough spots,” says Pipkin. “But with anything, you have that.”
He bought his equipment and branched out on his own eventually going from pipes to wine glasses. He makes them with and without stems.
“You have to know flame chemistry,” says Pipkin. Varying heat is used to make a variety of items. And you have to be able to do multiple things in one setting, such as heating, tamping down, blowing, turning and having an understanding of gravity and angles.
The work is satisfying, says Pipkin. “It’s always nice to work for yourself,” he says. “It’s a good creative outlet and constant progression, especially when I’ve made something that I haven’t made before. There are always new ideas from people, too. I should have an idea board.”
It’s been nine years since Pipkin began working with glass. He dreams about having a traveling studio. “I could go on the road and make it happen,” he says. So far, he’s earned a reputation for sturdy and well-built pieces. And, “Everything I make, I put some love into it.”
A future endeavor at the shop may be offering glass blowing classes. “But’s that progression down the road,” he says. At the studio today, ”We’re trying to create something that’s not really offered that much.”