Jason Harris, aka Jerome Baker, is always asked how to make a bong. “Blowing glass is like playing the guitar,” Baker says. “Learn the chords, learn the scales, practice, and you can play any song you want. In other words, after you’ve learned to handle the medium, the boundaries are endless.”
Jerome Baker breathes glass. “Like life, glass has a fragility to it,” he says. “The beauty of both life and glass is in that fragility. When you lose a relationship, it’s like a broken piece of glass. It’s really sharp. It cuts deep. That relationship, just like the glass, was a fragile thing.”
A lot of people’s first bongs were from Jerome Baker Designs. They gave their JBDs a name, and had parties where people would come over and partake. But then, one day, somebody broke the glass.
“That’s the fragility of the glass,” says Baker.
Glass is his life, he says. “Pipes are my passion.” The way he sees it, handcrafting giant bongs is a statement. Bongs were completely frowned upon back in the day. “They are completely accepted in today’s pop culture,” said Baker. “We are now able to sell our beautiful functional glass as high-end art.”
Baker is optimistic. “It just goes to show that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s about overlooking obstacles. If you look at the broken kiln on the ground, and you bemoan it, your glassmaking business is done. You have to fix it and move on.”
He could have stopped there. But he did not. He wanted to be happy and move on.
Bongzilla brought together the Chihuly and Jerome Baker Designs camps. Baker calls it “The Champion League of Pipe Makers.”
Jerome Baker got the idea for Bongzilla, the worl’s largset bong, in a hazy daydream. “I’ve made thousands of glass bongs, and what I’ve learned is you need the proper team to make the pieces,” said Baker, who often works with “master” Charlie Lowry.
“His skill level is unmatched in the medium of glass today,” says Baker. “Above and beyond any other factor is a great team.”
Charlie is the right person to bring Baker’s dreams to life. They hang, they talk, iron out the detail, and then make awesome bongs, etc.
“Charlie is a true artist, committed in this life to creating sacred objects. He is not a production artist. He doesn’t make the same thing twice. He is like a painter. You won’t see the same stroke twice out of Charlie.”
When crafting the world’s biggest bong, Baker needed all the tools to handle any type of glass bong. “For this particular piece, we made a series of small latitudinal marbles that were based on uranium glass.”
The teams pulled the glass in an ancient style from the source. “We have a large mass of glass and this requires precision timing from our orchestra of glassblowers. We used the old-school JBD technique of blue wrapping up top for the fully worked signature JBD mouthpiece.”
The drummer keeps a little rhythm in the background, until the bass player starts grooving on what he is doing, and then all of a sudden the momentum builds again, says Lowery. “Everyone is looking at each other, liking what they are doing, and coming together.”
“We start making this music, this work, this original work, right there, appears out of thin air,” said Charlie. “That is so exciting. That is what I do when things go wrong. I say dip up. and do it again.” That’s the spirit at Jerome Baker Designs, too, when something doesn’t go to script.”
Bongzilla weighs 60 pounds. “We had to first place this bad boy in a 900 degree oven for three days before cutting and polishing. What a composition, what an orchestration, what a blessing to live and work with such a passion-filled piece,” said Charlie.
Baker adds: “We create tools to enhance consciousness, which brings new ways of thinking. I am making a piece of art with which someone can smoke cannabis and become enlightened by new ideas. That is the most magical part about making this piece. I am making more than a beautiful high-end functional piece of glass. I am making a tool to enhance someone’s world and someone’s life.”