- Casey Bradley Gent
fter the Black Forest Fire, Dylan Kelley, co-owner of DBK Glass Creations, welcomed his most unusual return customer.
The man had bought one of Kelley's very-difficult-to-destroy "inside out spoon pipes." While a little distorted, it was still usable. The customer explained to Kelley that he found the pipe while sorting through the ashes of his home, which was a total loss.
He brought the pipe to show to Kelley, and to buy a replacement.
Kelley, who is 35 and has been blowing glass for 15 years, says his best-selling spoon pipes have been tested before. Kelley and his wife and shop co-owner Merry, once held a contest where customers guessed how many throws it would take to break one of the sturdy pipes. They threw it hard against the door, over and over again — it even went through the window and bounced down the steps into the parking lot — but it still did not break until they reached 1,361 throws. (Naturally, the whole thing is memorialized on YouTube.)
Still, that pipe from the fire was astonishing. "For that to be the only thing that actually survived — like the only thing they were able to recover from their entire house — that was pretty impressive," he says.
Located off Fillmore Street, at 2833 N. El Paso St., the DBK shop has both production and retail space. Not only does Kelley have his studio there, but spaces are rented out to other glassblowers. Customers can see them at work through the window from the retail shop, where all glassblowers at the studio display their creations.
While Kelley is busy blowing glass, Merry serves as the shop's business manager and photographer, and keeps the website up and running, while posting to social media like Facebook and Instagram — essential platforms for today's glassblowers. The Kelleys do all of this while raising two little boys.
"It's crazy," Kelley says, noting that the couple is working with a financial planner and looking into franchising the business at some point. "I mean we have a lot on our plates right now, and we kind of grew a little quicker than we expected to, and we're actually trying to organize it and make it a little more functional for us, because it is a lot."
Kelley started blowing glass pipes right around the time the marijuana legalization movement really took off. As the son of an art teacher, he's artistically inclined and was originally a sculptor, working at Van Briggle Pottery in Colorado Springs before it closed in 2012.
- Daniel Jitchaku
He got started with glass by experimenting with a friend's small glassblowing kit and learned a few different techniques from another friend. After that, he honed his skills on his own. Illuzion Glass Galleries in Denver helped to promote Kelley's work, offering his pipes for sale in their retail store, which carries very high-end glass products and has a good reputation. From Illuzion and other retail outlets, customers all over the state, and country, learned about DBK pipes.
Today, DBK offers a wide range of products, from "the world's smallest water pipes" to playful, smiling monster pieces and cartoon characters, to the aforementioned spoon pipes, to cremation products that memorialize a loved one, to artistic "heady glass" creations that are truly breathtaking. Kelley is accomplished in a variety of glassblowing techniques and has a vast repertoire, which is somewhat unusual for glassblowers. Because it's a difficult craft, they usually focus on one thing they have mastered and mass produce that product.
Return customers fuel DBK's business — once a person has owned a DBK piece, Kelley says, they like the quality and come back for more, perhaps adding new components to their base piece or upgrading to more intricate art glass. Kelley's best-sellers are his spoon pipes, which are affordable, durable and pretty.
Kelley is attuned to aesthetics in addition to functionality. He's partial to the "inside-out" technique, where the color and design of the pipe are placed on the inside and then melted until the color implodes into the clear glass, lending a 3D effect. "Honeycomb" is another intricate technique Kelley uses to create a pleasing, dappled pattern, often on the front of the bowl. When blown correctly, the result looks very similar to its namesake.
- Daniel Jitchaku
He also blows new types of glass that are in demand these days, including "CFL reactive glass" which changes color when moved from indoor to outdoor light, and "UV reactive glass," which is very popular because it glows when displayed under black light. Also known as "Vaseline" or "uranium" glass when it was used in household glassware before the Cold War, according to the website Smoke Cartel, UV glass is experiencing something of a revival in today's glassblowing industry.
"[While] there has always been heady glass, it evolved immensely since I started," Kelley says in an email. "The glass scene has made leaps and bounds since then. There are many more tools and materials to work with now. The industry and the art form is being driven forward at a breakneck speed due to the increase in competition, collaborations and technology."
The Kelleys are into giving back, too. In addition to encouraging new artists through lessons and space rental, the couple hosted a "Pipe and Chili Cook-Off" glass competition last fall, inviting 35 fellow glassblowers to come make a piece to be sold via online auction to benefit the Institute for Research on Cannabinoids (IROC). According to its website, IROC's work includes participating in a National Football League (NFL) study, When the Bright Lights Fade, to explore how the use of cannabinoids can help treat and prevent the onset of symptoms associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and traumatic brain injury, both of which are common in the sport. The charity event raised about $4,000 for the IROC, so the couple are planning similar events for the future.
Kelley says he and Merry have done other charity events in the past, starting with a fundraiser in Manitou Springs for the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers years back. The couple threw that one as a personal, rather than a business, event, he says. But that event too had ties to medical marijuana — tragic ones for the Kelleys.
"My father — him and my brother — got the ninth and tenth medical marijuana cards in the state," he explains. "[My father] got colon cancer when I was 19 years old and passed away a few years later."