Koala T Glass, a two-person glass studio and retailer, has been producing eye-catching pipes and jewelry in North Utica since 2019. The historic village of North Utica sits on the Illinois River, nestled among scenic state parks. Though it may lack big-city frills, the town of less than 1,500 residents certainly enjoys celebrating food, drink, and the arts, including the borosilicate arts.
Unfortunately, the remoteness of the location for a retail store, shortage of local industry, and effects of the pandemic on customers’ shopping habits proved difficult for Koala T to overcome, and rather than fight the tide to keep the lights on, co-owners and artists Dustin and Lauren decided to pivot to an online-only sales model supplemented by appearances at fairs, festivals, and pop-up events.
Specializing in classic functional designs with a heady touch, Koala T’s art features a variety of hand pipes and pendants with clean linework, playfully vibrant colors, and plenty of wigwags and opals. Dig through their Instagram page, and find such niche pieces as a translucent tricolor fish amid studded spoons and tortuous Sherlocks that curve sharply, like the hairpin turns of an alpine road. Check out their Facebook page for more products.
Koala T often showcases the artists’ process as it happens to anybody watching in live glassblowing videos that have made the company a name across the Midwest and beyond. In these videos, Dustin, a former mechanic and the more prolific artist of the pair, can be seen pulling one-hitters and bowls off the punty for half an hour or more in their home workshop in Oglesby.
Brand manager Lauren handles most of the company’s communications but won’t hesitate to whip up a pendant or pipe. In the name of engaging the local community, the couple host occasional classes where participants can learn to make their own piece and practice doing so. Another unique service Koala T offers is a highly personal one, creating memorial works that incorporate cremated loved ones’ ashes.
Although most of Koala T’s smoking wares are intended for flower, they maintain relationships with the vendors they featured in their storefront for dab rigs and more complex water pipes. Dustin says he enjoys making affordable goods that still have artistic appeal. He hopes that the growing market for American-made glass will phase out the popularity of cheaper, mass-produced imports.
After speaking to the laid-back yet passionate team of two, I had the chance to check out a beautiful matching chillum and pendant. I had mentioned that although I’ve admired pendants on others, I didn’t totally “get” the hype surrounding the heady glass necklaces, but my understanding commenced as soon as I put it on. The mesmerizing black and white wigwag bobbed and weaved inside a sparkling ring of green stardust.
I stood in the mirror for longer than I realized, staring at the flowing design against the calming, woodsy green. The sharp linework was drawn out in a snaking pattern with spirals on top and bottom, creating an optical illusion of movement enhanced by the 3D effect of the layered glass that drew my attention in.
The weight of the piece against my chest felt pleasant and the natural hemp cord was comfortable, not itching or leaving any discoloration on the neck after a full day out. I also liked the piece’s versatility as it added a subtle accent over darker-colored shirts and a popping focal point when worn with lighter ones.
The chillum had just as many details to appreciate, made in a modern style with a tapered silhouette that paid homage to the traditional carb-less hash pipe shape. Featuring the same green stardust used in the pendant sandwiched between sections of Colorado Color Company’s Everglades pattern, the chillum blended opaque, translucent, and shimmering metallic colors complemented by three subtle space tech dots. The Everglades was worked into a thumbprint-like swirl on either end, creating a whirlpool of cyan, cobalt, seafoam and dark moss with a silvery-green streak that stood out when catching the light.
Though simple, the functional aspects of the chillum were not lost in the design. A small bowl aperture and flattened mouthpiece constricted the airflow just enough for the negative pressure to pull the flame inward without sucking it through and burning my lips. When smoke entered the chamber, it reached a bottleneck at the start of the mouthpiece where it became both cooled and concentrated for a smooth, flavorful hit. Plus, the width-to-depth ratio of the bowl lent itself well to chunks of bubble hash, allowing the heat to penetrate the material effectively rather than causing it to congeal and block the inlet, sealing desirable resin behind a charred surface.
While just as comfortable to smoke like a one-hitter, the pinched shape of the mouthpiece was easy to hold in a traditional grip between the ring and pinkie fingers of a closed, hollowed fist. The pipe provided a reliable litmus test of my medication level, as the heady craftsmanship made a stronger impression with each toke. As soon as I caught myself getting lost in a pinwheel of cool colors, I knew my session had reached its apex.
I look forward to collecting more Koala T glass, an achievable feat thanks to the brand’s competitive price point. The founding artists will be traveling on the Midwestern event circuit throughout the summer, and can be reached on their Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy pages for inquiries. For more Illinois cannabis industry news, click here.
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