- Daniel Jitchaku
lass artist Shayla Behrman of Windstar Glass is a young woman in a male-dominated field.
At 27, she works full-time from her home studio in Pueblo, which she built from scratch. She's been blowing glass for only 31/2 years, but since it's how she supports herself and her child, she feels she's learned more in that time than most hobbyists typically do on a part-time basis.
There are a few female glassblowers like Behrman on the national scene (five in a field of 40 competed in this past July's "Glass Games" at the CHAMPS counterculture trade show). Blowing glass is hard and dirty industrial work that requires a lot of strength, and being behind a torch and around hot flame can result in accidental burns. In fact, Behrman has recently taken on an apprentice to help her with some of the heavier work, like "pulling tubing," which has to be churned constantly to keep it from hardening.
"It's just a very male-run industry; there's maybe two to three women for every 40 or 50 men out there," Behrman says.
Still, these factors don't deter her or her 3-year-old daughter, who wants to follow in her mom's footsteps when she grows up. And Behrman says that while she may be in the minority, "The industry's actually very welcoming as far as it goes ... I love what I do and I do it because it's an art, so it's a passion for me."
Behrman also stands apart because she uses the uncommon "stringer technique," also known as "surface work," which is made by "painting hot glass on hot glass." It is then fused in a kiln. Her final pieces have intricate drawings on them, like a purple Prince pipe that she made to commemorate the music legend's passing. Each pipe is a one-of-a-kind creation.
Windstar pieces aren't very prevalent in Colorado because she wholesales her work through an agent, who places her glass in headshops across Canada and America. Many pieces are sold in Hawaii, Oregon and New York, and in cities like Vancouver, B.C., and Berkeley, California. They generally retail in the $400 to $800 range.
Behrman is very busy, booked six months out. Though she does occasionally take custom orders, often through trade shows. In Colorado Springs there is a small inventory of Windstar spoon pipes — less expensive than her standing pieces — at Elev8 glass store downtown.
Behrman has always been an artist, and she's not afraid to experiment. She comes from an unusual artistic and business-oriented family that was mostly nomadic when she was growing up, living on a bus and traveling around to various festivals selling homemade crafts, like hemp necklaces and macramé. During the family's travels, Colorado was always home base, and now they have put down roots in the state. Both of her parents own their own businesses today, so it's not surprising that Behrman also has entrepreneurial abilities. The name of her company, "Windstar," is a Native American name given to her as a child.
When she first started blowing glass, Behrman worked at Starphyre Studios in Pueblo with three or four other blowers. There she learned the basics and perfected them through repetition. After leaving, she started her own glassblowing business at her home. Keenly aware that as a single parent she needed a good-paying profession to support her daughter, she felt that glassblowing offered her the greatest income potential — if she could get her business off the ground and get the recognition she needed in the field.
- Daniel Jitchaku
"It was really, really scary for about the first year," she says. "It was really rough, I was just getting my feet wet."
Using more than $5,000 of her savings, Behrman built a freestanding studio next to her house, which she's still improving. She knew enough about the glassblowing business to realize that she needed a production line, which she designed with five types of pipes that are affordable and consistent. Between her production line, a few good shops carrying her pieces, and her passion for the craft, Behrman was able to get established.
Working in her studio in a small community like Pueblo can be isolating, and Behrman says she's enjoyed collaborating with other glass artists in her studio on projects. She has two spaces for blowing glass in her studio, one of which she currently rents to a glass artist from Pennsylvania, who was eager to move to a state with more-enlightened laws.
Behrman also networks on the national scene by competing regularly in the CHAMPS Glass Games, which she's done for the past 21/2 years. She's won several awards and entered the Masters competition held in February in Las Vegas. That competition is for winners of the Glass Games from the five CHAMPS trade shows held around the country. The challenge is fun, and she enjoys the professional benefit of networking with other artists.
In the 2016 Masters competition, she was given the theme "Blue" and used it to design a piece honoring painter Vincent Van Gogh, based on his famous "Starry Night" painting. Very elaborate, with filigree pieces attached that hold a glass portrait of Van Gogh, it was harder to make than she anticipated in the 16 hours that she was allowed to work. The different climate, along with the effect of air conditioning, led to disaster. Moisture accumulated in the downstem of her pipe, and the whole bottom crashed to the ground when she moved it to the kiln.
"It was absolutely devastating," Behrman says. "... I didn't know what I was going to do, and I had a lot of really good friends and mentors jump in and say I had to keep going."
- Daniel Jitchaku
In the remaining seven hours after the pipe broke, Behrman tried again, this time with good results. Despite the production issues, her blue pipe still placed sixth in the competition. "It was a really good growing and learning experience," she says.
At this year's Summer Glass Games, Behrman was a first-place winner. The category was "Smoke and Float," which challenged her to make a floating water pipe. Using a buoy as a model, she blew an unusual piece with a seaside theme that resembled a lighthouse. Behrman's Instagram page recently featured a photo of her Lighthouse pipe bobbing on Lake Pueblo.
But Behrman doesn't just have to compete with other American glassblowers. There's also plenty of mass-produced, cheap glass coming into the marketplace from China. Those products push prices down, she says, since they're ubiquitous in head shops and dispensaries. But, it's manageable for artists like Behrman since, as in any industry, lots of customers want to support local glassblowers.
Behrman says her key to success is to "keep it unique and recognizable."