Glassblowing artist finds home at 26th Street food truck complex

Kate Dannenmaier

Students frequenting the 26th Street food truck complex may have noticed that not all of the vendors offer late-night noodles or pizza. In one truck, The Glass Smith, Billy Marsden spends most nights selling his pipes, pendants and other glass art pieces.

On a typical day, Marsden often makes new art pieces, taking about 15 minutes to make a small pipe or pendant, which sell for about $20.

“I love that I have the ability to make my money all by myself from start to finish,” Marsden said. “I buy the glass; I buy raw materials and go all the way from product manufacturing to the selling of the product.”

Marsden has been glassblowing for four years. He began by taking a class at Glass Monkey, a local glassblower’s studio. 

“I wasn’t doing much with my life. I was looking at classes on Craigslist, and [Glass Monkey] had posted there, so I took the class,” Marsden said. 

According to both Marsden and Ethan Thayer, the promotions manager at BC Smoke Shop, Austin rivals cities such as Denver and Portland for number of local glassblowers. Texan artists make 40 percent of the glass pieces shown and sold at BC Smoke Shop.

“It’s awesome. I get to look at this stuff every day,” Thayer said. “It’s a beautiful thing, this whole degenerate art scene.”

Glassblown pieces can look shiny or matte, clear or opaque and include bits of any color, depending on which materials are added during the glassblowing process.

“I’m just adding glass using a rod to the base of the form,” Marsden said. “And I heat it up really hot, so it cooks all in together. You know how watercolors bleed together? The glass doesn’t bleed together.”

Marsden needs a blowtorch, oxygen, propane and a kiln in order to make his products. Chemistry sophomore Aaron Davis said glass pieces are made using a blowpipe, which an artist will use to blow air into a highly heated, malleable glass tube. The glass expands and forms a spherical shape that is then manipulated while it is still on the blowpipe.

“Glass is essentially a liquid with high viscosity, so it won’t drip from the blowpipe while you’re using it, but it’s still malleable enough to make adjustments to the glass,”
Davis said.