Korey Cotnam: Glass-Scene Legend
Korey Cotnam is one of Canada’s legendary glass blowers and his work is well known in the cannabis scene. From the quiet streets of small-town Ontario to overcoming a destructive fire, here’s his story.
From bamboo water pipes in Asia to chalices in Africa and clay pipes in Europe, humans have utilized tools to help them smoke across many different civilizations throughout the millennia. As the way we cultivate, process, and consume our cannabis continues to evolve, so has the intricacies of the pipes we use.
About 21 years ago, Korey Cotnam was getting into the regular shenanigans a young kid would get up to in small town Ontario. As Cotnam grew into his teenage years, he and his friends began to find a love for snowboarding, which quickly introduced the youngsters to weed. While black hash was more readily available than buds, the coveted weed grown in British Columbia, known as B.C. Bud, would occasionally make its way to their neck of the woods. After experiencing the flavor, potency, and effects of B.C. Bud, Cotnam set his eyes on moving to the west coast.
After finishing high school, Cotnam packed his bags and headed to the land of milk and honey for any cannabis enthusiast — British Columbia — searching for dank weed. With the more prevalent weed in B.C. came more cannabis culture, including glass pipes and bongs. Vancouver had already been a hub for cannabis culture for decades, with Canada’s first head shop opening up on East 4th St. in the mid-1960s. By the early 2000s, the glass scene had come a long way from spoon pipes, and artists like Hippo Glass and Slinger were pushing the envelope creating triple bubbler pipes in Vancouver. Having worked with artists like Marcel, Jason Lee, and Ease in Seattle, Slinger was able to bring a lot of iconic American influence to the Canadian glass scene.
Once in B.C., Cotnam headed to Whistler for the work-hard, play-hard, and party-hard lifestyle. A standard day for Cotnam was flipping burgers at A&W, shredding on the mountain with his friends, and smoking lots of weed throughout. While partying with friends, Cotnam met 2 Dog Glass, who mainly made spoon pipes and bubblers. Combining his love for art and weed, Cotnam was hooked. A few years later, he realized he’d need to learn more about glass to make a name for himself in the emerging glass scene. At the time, the two options were to watch how-to videos on VHS tape, or go to school. So he moved back home to save up money and head to college.
Once at Sheraton College, Cotnam found himself struggling to get studio time and was confined to clear glass by his professors as a first-year student. Whenever Cotnam wasn’t in class or working odd jobs to pay for school, he and his friend JP would hang around the studio in hopes someone would miss their time slot on the torch, giving them a few hours to practice. Eventually, the older students noticed their initiative and began sharing scraps of their color glass along with tips and tricks to help escalate the young guys’ careers.
What started as a vase in class was quickly turned into a beaker bottom-styled bong after drilling a hole and inserting a grommet in the base. At that time, all of Cotnam’s school projects could be found for sale at the local head shop for $40-50.
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Vancouver was a hub for the lampworking scene at the time, so after two years of college, Cotnam dropped out, secured a $500 loan to buy his first torch (a Nortel Major Minor), and moved back to B.C. to focus on lampworking. Shops like CCHQ and Blunt Brothers on Hastings St. in Vancouver served as constant sources of inspiration for Cotnam and other artists, being able to walk past the windows and displays filled with glass spoons, bubblers and bongs from other artists like Hippo, Bryan Surf Rat, Fluid Motion, and Ease.
As Cotnam was settling back in Vancouver Fatty Pipes (Chris Windsor) began hosting workshops with American artists like Robert Michelson and Banjo. Through the Banjo workshop, Cotnam was able to learn the basics that he still uses in his Goddess statues to this day. The workshops being hosted were attended by a group of around 12 consistent artists, who ended up being some of the more prominent Canadian glass artists, including Stratisphere and Lethal Glass.
During this time, Cotnam was working for his friend East Side Johnny as a construction worker to pay the bills. Eventually, Johnny learned of Cotnam’s passion for glass, so he cleared off a bench in his garage and Cotnam had his first shop space. The garage was known as East Side Johnny’s long after Johnny moved out, and eventually Nish Glass became Cotnam’s shop mate. At this stage Cotnam says “I was still supporting my learning by still working in construction.”
Then Cotnam injured his leg with a skil saw at work and was able to sell more than $5,000 worth of glass in a month. East Side Johnny decided to relocate the construction business to Kamloops, which was the perfect time for Cotnam to focus on lampworking career. Using small business help from the government, Cotnam was able to quit his job and focus on glass. In a matter of months Cotnam went from having to try to sell his art to having it fly off the shelves. Cotnam became so busy he regularly worked 12-hour days, reminiscing about going three to four months at a time without taking a day off to keep up with the sand-blasted pipes and push bubblers.
Flav421 reminisces on how the culture began to shift from joints to glass as BHO began making its way on the scene in 2005-06. “Before BHO it was a joint culture. There was so much excess weed at the time it wasn’t uncommon to roll up a whole ounce in a joint!” With the oil scene emerging, new innovations began hitting the market, like swings and domes. At this point fume work and retticellos were in style. Cotnam began making attachments that would allow you to dab oil out of a bong. “For four months I was the only one making bong attachments locally. I used to have to call shops seeing if my pipes had sold, and suddenly every drop was selling out,” says Cotnam, who began crafting dry spoons with a dome and nail. “Suddenly when I went to check if my pipes had sold, everything would be gone!”
At the time, Cotnam would make the nails out of borosilicate, as metal nails still were not readily available.
Glass culture continued to evolve and grow as Cotnam collaborated with friends. D-Maka (R.I.P.) introduced Cotnam to Toke City to help sell his glass online. Previously glasspipes.org was the only online resource being used to sell pipes online. It would be another five to 10 years before Instagram hit the scene, which completely changed how glass was sold and bought.
When Cotnam and his partner found out they were expecting a child, they began looking for a new place to call home. Eventually they found a place nestled on the Sunshine Coast, a short ferry ride north of Vancouver. Trading in the noisy city life to a quaint small town allowed Cotnam to focus on work while being near his family. Stratisphere at the time lived on remote Gambier Island. Getting supplies out to the island, like oxygen and gas, proved to be difficult, which led to Cotnam inviting Stratisphere to become his shop mate at the new studio. Having two of Canadas top glass blowers under one roof helped push the scene forward. Working together on a piece, Stratisphere and Cotnam were able to sell a glass rig for $20,000, marking a new high in both their careers.
The oil scene quickly evolved from dry pipes and bong attachments to specifically made water pipes for dabbing known as a dab rig. Techniques like sculptures, retticellos, reversals, and basket weaves were trending.
Cotnam says he loves the excitement of working with glass and flame. “I love the beauty of hot glass and the reflections in cooled glass. Everything about glass is awesome!”
Right when it seemed everything was going as well as it could, Cotnam heard his dog frantically barking. Running outside, he found his shop engulfed in flames. The 20-foot tall building went from a world-class art studio to a pile of ashes in the blink of an eye.
While the shop was rebuilt fairly quickly, Cotnam’s desire to create art took longer to return. The years of prepped millis and pulled glass had disappeared, meaning Cotnam was basically starting from scratch. Over the next two years, he tried to rebuild his life after the fire. As Cotnam was getting back into making recycler rigs, he found the demand for heady glass was diminishing.
In the wake of Canadian cannabis legalization in 2018, glass sales plummeted. What was once a lucrative career quickly began to look stark. For the first time in a decade Cotnam didn’t have a large wait list and had to start looking for work again. The thousand-dollar rigs that once flew off the shelves began sitting at stores for more than a year.
As Cotnam pondered what to do next, a few longtime collectors hit him up for some custom-commissioned orders, like a large tea pot set, or five drinking vessels to match an older rig Cotnam had made years before. Figuring out how to overcome these obstacles helped reignite Cotnam’s passion for glass. As he rediscovered his love for the torch, the heady rigs began to sell and the orders began picking up again.
Over the coming months it went from orders trickling in to quickly being the busiest Cotnam had ever been. Throughout the pandemic, sales have remained strong. Cotnam can still be found nestled in a small town north of Vancouver, only accessible by boat, living with his family and dog on a quaint piece of land.
Going forward, Cotnam’s biggest hope is that his body will continue to allow him to blow glass. “I’ll be like Michelson — I won’t retire anytime soon. I’ll be working until my old age.”