world-renowned glass artist located in Washington State, Phil Siegel developed his own unique understanding of flameworked glass without any formal education or apprenticeship. With an extensive background in construction and education in architecture, he challenges himself to create a relationship between fantasy and structure throughout his pieces while relating to his spiritual, intellectual, and emotional self.
Born in 1972 in Petaluma, California, Siegel developed a career as a general contractor designing and building high-end homes, working with clients from the ground up. In 2008 the economy crashed, banks stopped loaning money, and people stopped building houses. Out of work and experiencing his first winter off in years, Siegel began exploring a book he’d purchased 18 years earlier – Intro to Glassblowing by Homer Hoyt.
In 2010, at age 38, Siegel took his first classes in flameworking pipes, something he’d wanted to do since seeing basic spoon pipes at a Grateful Dead show years prior. As a busy contractor, he had no idea how pipe art had evolved over the years, and his fellow students suggested he check out Instagram for education and inspiration. Siegel eventually progressed in his own torch skills to the point where the owner of the studio where he was taking classes, Dustin Revere at Revere Glass in Berkeley, offered him a job. Siegel worked there for five months before opening his own studio. His early glass included sculptural pieces adorned in classical line work, horns, symmetrical builds that were classically inspired, and bumblebee rigs. But perhaps one of his most successful series began six years into his glass career. When Siegel’s wife suggested he make a pipe for himself, the artist created a wizard figure based on a Christmas gnome he’d made as an ornament.
He states: “I posted it as a goof really. I never thought people would enjoy it so much. But there was nobody making a wizard pipe at that time. And the more that I made, the more people requested them. It was the first time I made something that wasn’t an exercise in discipline. I came from a world that rewarded precision, symmetry, proper planning. I didn’t have a whole lot of experience making something whimsical and fun. It was hard for me to begin with. I’m thankful for the wizards more than anything, because they allowed me to find that more childlike part of myself when it comes to the creative process.”
An avid reader of Joseph Campbell, archetypes resonate with Siegel. When he noticed that pipe artists weren’t utilizing traditional art space – walls – the artist created a series of shallow shadowbox pieces featuring fish in 3D movement. These works frame pipes in a new way while telling a story. Siegel was inspired by a legend involving a huge school of golden Koi swimming upstream the Yellow River in China. Gaining strength by fighting against the current, the school glimmered as they swam together through the river. When they reached a waterfall at the end of the river, many of the Koi turned back, letting the flow of the river carry them away. The remaining Koi refused to give up. Leaping from the depths of the river, they attempted to reach the top of the waterfall to no avail. Their efforts caught the attention of local demons, who mocked their efforts and heightened the waterfall out of malice. After a hundred years of jumping, one Koi finally reached the top of the waterfall. The gods recognized the Koi for its perseverance and determination and turned it into a golden dragon, the image of power and strength.
“I’m intrigued by folklore in general because it’s specifically tailored for each culture but is also globally understood by humanity,” explains Siegel. “All cultures share archetypes – hero, martyr, pariah. These stories are universal and touch on many of the same motifs. They warn or inspire. They’re equally powerful, and people gravitate toward both.”
Describing himself as “more rigid in the way he thinks things through,” Siegel is currently working on a project that required 200 hours of prep. One of his ancient Lost Gods series, the Feathered Serpent is a prominent supernatural entity or deity, found in many Mesoamerican religions. It is still called Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs. The double symbolism used by the Feathered Serpent is considered allegoric to the dual nature of the deity, where being feathered represents its divine nature or ability to fly to reach the skies and being a serpent represents its human nature or ability to creep on the ground among other animals of the Earth, a dualism very common in Mesoamerican deities.
Says Siegel: “Snake motifs, bird motifs, these Gods are inspired by multidimensional beings that passed into this dimension to share knowledge and help humanity evolve.”
On 4/20, Siegel had a solo show at Fuego Smoke Shop called Conjuring Clouds. From January 30 – February 3, 2023, he, Lacey (Laceface) Walton, and Chris (Hickory) Vickers collaborated at the Coring Museum of Glass studio, employing advanced flameworking techniques that included complex assembly of hollow forms and finely detailed solid sculptural elements, which came together into a compositional sculpture. This work incorporated each artist’s individual style into a seamlessly blended idea. From May 18 – 20, Siegel and LaceFace will co-teach a class at Orlando Glass Union, Orlando, Florida.
Says Siegel: “The most exciting things going on in glass right now are happening in the pipe world. We are not constricted by traditional ideals of art. It’s pulled from a nexus of popular imagery from our own small community and larger cultural elements. These things aren’t really being expressed in much of any of the other glass that’s being made. The pipe community has a lot of pretty far-reaching ideas.”