Need a glass penguin rig dressed like a Viking? Or like your favourite movie villain? They’re one of one.
A silver fume chaos pendant catch your eye? Those custom one-offs are hard to come by and often sell out before they’re advertised.
Need a dime piece with matching dabber carb cap? You get the picture…
Ben Cator is the man for all this and so much more. He’s a talented twenty-eight-year-old artisan who has been bouncing between Vancouver, BC and Whistler for the past decade. He paused a few of his recent minutes to spill the gist about his passion for glass as well as will coming from him and his flame in the hear future.
Cannabis Culture: You are?
BC: A glassblower, flameworker, pipemaker (laughs) I’ll take any of those. I definitely consider myself a pipemaker but I’m somewhat multi-purpose as well. I have fun making wine glasses and other things too – I’m working on a new ink dip pen idea at the moment.
CC: How’d you get started?
BC: I moved to Whistler, BC from Mississauga, ON for the skiing and the BC bud as many Ontarian kids have. I went to Georgian College in Ontario for Ski Resort Operations got a co-op position in Whistler. Once there, I worked for ski school because I had freestyle coaching certifications, but that didn’t last long. After a short time I quickly saw an opportunity for sewing the long hoodies that were blowing up back then. Nobody in particular was independently making and selling them, so I had a friend and housemate give me some sewing lessons and that was that. After three successful years I had a line of hoodies being manufactured overseas. But all that came to an abrupt end when I found glassblowing. I just never looked back.
CC: What influences your designs?
BC: In terms of mentors my big influences in Canada have always been Korey Cotnam, Patrick Stratis and Hippo Glass. I was introduced to borosilicate (a type of glass with silica and boron trioxide as the main glass-forming constituents) collecting by BC Bubble Man. He’s been on the scene for years. He opened my eyes to Canadian and American made boro.
CC: What got you hooked?
BC: The first time I touched glass to a flame was at the Great Canadian Glass Gathering seven years ago. Cotnam let me try to make a pipe on his torch when he was taking a break and helped me with the basics. I was instantly addicted. I came back to Whistler and had a small Nortel torch set up in the backyard of a house I still hang out in to this day.
A few months later I left to chase the glass blowing scene in Vancouver because there were other people to learn from. Again, Cotnam let me rent time in his shop for a few months so I got to watch a lot and learn things from him. Those were my first few weeks ever. Like anything, the skill level out there is getting insane, I still consider myself to be pretty new to it and try to learn something every day. That’s the beautiful thing about flameworking to me.
CC: What kind of learning curve have you encountered?:
Ben: Waste can happen… beginners waste a lot more then they wind up seeing finished, but that’s all part of it. It’s a way to learn to accept failure.
CC: Tell me a bit about your set-up…
BC: Right now my studio is below where I live. I’m in a commercial unit in Function Junction in Whistler BC, living upstairs and working downstairs. I have been in quite a few shops over the years but I was pretty quick to take this into my own hands and start a shop alone and start renting space to one or two other people. Renting space can get frustrating because you’re relying on someone else to keep your fuel filled and everything running smoothly. It doesn’t always work out and I just made a choice to be the one to blame when things go wrong. It’s kind of like when you’re 17 or 18 and get your own place for the first time, suddenly the dishes stack up and there’s nobody else to blame, so you just shut up and do the dishes (laughs.)
CC: What’s next?
BC: My family have always been entrepreneurs so it’s normal for me to avoid wanting to work for other people. I think that many people expect things like clothes and glass to come from some big anonymous factory somewhere, and they simply don’t care which factory it is, or who’s working at that factory or how fairly those workers were paid to make whatever cheap thing they got on sale. Willful ignorance, I guess. Making stuff with your own two hands has kind of been forgotten about, and buying locally made goods is absolutely underappreciated. People would rather save a couple dollars and tell themselves that a machine probably pumped their bong out of a mold, when that’s just not the case. There’s always a cost.
CC: Where do you see yourself in the scene?
BC: I’m 28, and the age of glassblowers in the industry has a wide range: from the children of famous glassblowers to crafty people in their 60’s. People tend to stick to what interests them in terms of what they make with the materials and the tools. You’re only limited by your imagination.
CC: What’s the best part of this gig?
BC: Every time I’m making a piece I’d say I’m playing with glass. Every time you sit down to smoke your pipe, you’re playing with glass.
CC: What’s next? Where do you see yourself in 30 years?
BC: Hopefully not dead. What’s next for me is… tomorrow (laughs.) I try to live life one day at a time because the glass industry is totally unpredictable. Glass is the one thing that has been able to hold my focus and interest for this long though: I’m extremely ADHD and a sagittarius and this causes for me to dive head first into things, never knowing when the next obsession will take over the last. But I think glass will hold my interest because it’s such an open field; the possibilities of it are so vast… I appreciate all of the people and retailers who have supported me over the years. As someone who kind of works to the beat of their own drum, it’s nice to have people who still stick by me.
Find Cator’s work on instagram @bencatorglass. He specializes in custom work so if you have a vision for the next piece in your collection, get in touch!