The art is distinct. It is as if teenage angst — empowered through the heavy metal doom generation of the 1980s — collided with an alien civilization, spewing hordes of infected space dust into the universe. Then, through the pressures of millions of years, these particles transformed into the precious jewels that would one day be used to forge a new world order following the vicious hell ride of the apocalypse. There is also the softer side – one that pays tribute to the unsung beauty of the magnificent creatures on a planet not yet left in ruins from this supposed sci-fi nightmare.
But for 35-year-old Nathan Belmont, the modest glassmaker responsible for giving gobs of liquid sand and other minerals a special spot in this side of the galaxy, the work is simply the product of applying his talent as a shield from the boogeyman known as the real world.
Similar to other masters of their craft, Belmont’s artistic skills were first realized as a youngster growing up in Hawaii. It was there that he spent the majority of his days doing what he refers to as doodling. He was always just trying to get down on the page his own wicked brand of the dragons, gargoyles and other fantasy-beasts dancing around in his head.
“I guess I’ve always had an interest in art,” Belmont said, adding that comic books, cartoons and the splendor that comes from dwelling in paradise are the influences behind his style.
In his early 20s, Belmont first took an interest in glass, accepting an apprenticeship in a small shop located on the island of Maui. It was the work he needed to eventually move onto his own show. But in order to get his name on the grindstone of legends, Belmont had to make a true commitment to his artistic endeavors. This meant earning very little money in exchange for the experience to continue pursuing his passion.
“I considered my time at the glass shop more as a scholarship,” he said. “I was able to make a small wage, enough to sustain myself, and get this enormous amount of knowledge.”
It took seven years for Belmont to go his own way. He launched his first shop on the island in 2010, which he kept for several years before moving to the glass mecca of Eugene, Oregon in late 2017.
Now he keeps himself entranced with the ways of the torch full time, working on a steady stream of projects, collaborations and, of course, still picking up on new tricks of the trade. One of these tricks is turning out unique glass smoking sculptures for the art-adoring masses of the cannabis community. But to hear him tell it, he’s still a novice.
“I’m still at somewhat of a learning curve with my own classic pipe-making techniques,” he said. “But I’ve been able to collaborate with some really cool artists [Scott Moan, Lisa’s Pieces] just having that skill set.”
The creative process, however, is an ever-changing ethos for this glass master. For better or worse, a work-in-progress can always shift from the original concept and spiral into another dimension.
“Sometimes the glass just takes on its own life, and I just kind of go with the flow of the glass,” Belmont explained. “That’s part of the fun, being able to stay spontaneous.”
Although glasswork is an extension of his very being, the business side cannot be ignored. Glassmaking is an expensive trade. There are travel expenses, the cost of supplies, and the times when the bills pour in and income is sparse. But somehow, Belmont has managed to find balance in the chaos, which he attributes to his devotion to staying in the shop even when everything goes to hell.
“You get what you put into it,” he said. “There are weeks where I don’t get paid. But when I do put my all into a piece and it comes out to my standards, and it’s a piece I feel good about, then it usually pays me back. You definitely get back the love you put into it.”
And if the grind of shop life ever gets too hairy, and the rhythmic sounds of Paul Simon’s ‘Kodachrome’ aren’t cutting it, there is always cannabis to the rescue. Belmont says the herb provides him with a center when art and the throes of capitalism collide.
“I get revved up. I definitely need to cool myself down every once and a while, so [cannabis] helps me stay in a consistent, working mind frame. It definitely helps with the creative aspect. Plus, the culture provides me with a way to sell my art.”
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE