Glassblowing might have first begun in the first century BCE, but it’s alive and well at the Philabaum Glass Studio and Gallery, which is celebrating its 30-year anniversary.
Tom Philabaum, the Tucson gallery’s namesake, has been working as a glass artist for 40 years, constructing beautiful works of art for purchase by the public. He first started his own glassblowing studio in 1975 in Tucson. Seven years later, he started a gallery to sell the works he was making, and three years after that — in 1985 — he moved to the present location, where he’s continuing to make amazing glass art 30 years later.
“This building actually used to be a Tastee-Freez,” said gallery manager Allison Harvey. “When he was looking to start a new glassblowing studio here in town, he needed a building that supported a lot of power, and a restaurant could do so.”
Though Philabaum is an integral part of the Tucson glass art community, his gallery ships across the nation to stores, museums, and even other glass art galleries. It’s not just his work alone, either. His gallery features about 40 different artists, both local and foreign.
Some of the featured artists are also Philabaum’s assistants, as the centuries-old art form is incredibly labor intensive. It involves shaping and molding blobs of molten glass made from quartz sand into vessels and other objects by gathering the molten glass onto the end of a long metal pipe and blowing air into one end, which then creates an air bubble in the molten blob’s center. Other ingredients are also incorporated into the molten glass, typically to add color.
“[He] has five glassblowing assistants who work full time in assisting him in making his pieces,” said Harvey. “Those five artists also make their work here out of our studio.”
The Philabaum Glass Studio and Gallery serves a unique purpose in Tucson. Not only is it a place for a art lovers to purchase glass sculptures, but it’s also a space for artists to experiment and make a name for themselves.