IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK
Female-owned glassblowing studio brings the heat to Austin's east side
There’s some kind of magic happening on Springdale Road. Ghost Pepper Glass, the only glassblowing studio in Austin, is providing a new place for the community to learn about the ancient art form, create their own unique works, and buy gorgeous glassware.
Glassblowing studios in Texas are rare, due to the unbearable summertime heat and high overhead costs, while all-female studios are almost unheard of. For Ghost Pepper co-owners Katie Plunkard, Shara Funari, and Lauren Hunt, who signed the lease at Springdale Station two years ago, bringing a studio to Austin was an ambitious endeavor.
“Three women in the glassblowing industry isn’t common,” says Plunkard, who has been blowing glass for more than a decade. “It’s a very male-dominated industry. But, we all realized we got along so well. There’s no drama with us and no men throwing kinks in it.”
Traditionally, learning how to blow glass is done through apprenticeships, but that has changed since smaller studios, including Ghost Pepper Glass, can’t always afford to offer such programs.
“The more common way to learn nowadays is by going to school and getting an education in it,” Hunt says, who has been blowing glass for more than a decade. “I have a degree in glassblowing and learned the other fundamentals like art history and business ethics.” Like Hunt, Plunkard has been blowing glass for 12 to 13 years, while Funari, a San Antonio native, has more than 15 years under her belt.
Glassblowing may be an ancient art, but for the women of Ghost Pepper, it offers constant opportunities for growth.
“I enjoy the challenge of it and the fact that I’m never going to reach a point where I master everything there is to know about it,” Plunkard says. “I hope that when we come into [our studio], we push ourselves to learn something new.”
Though they still consider themselves students of the craft, the women are also teachers, offering community classes and workshops, including a standing Saturday evening class where attendees can learn to blow glass and make their own pieces.
Tuesdays through Sundays, Ghost Pepper Glass is open to the public. Anyone can come in for free and watch the women work. "People will wander in and even the guys that drive the bus route will stop by,” Plunkard says of the visitors.
In the retail and gallery spaces, perspective buyers will find the work of three very different artists. "We all make such different objects,” Hunt says. “Say we all make cups, they would be completely different with differing color palettes.”
Making a living as an artist, however, is becoming increasingly difficult. Funari, who has lived in Austin for a decade, says she's seen the arts community dramatically transform during her time in the Capital City.
“The landscape has entirely changed,” she says. “Before there were ragtag studios that were out of rundown warehouses. And now, this facility is brand new. It’s got top notch equipment and really nice artists' spaces, but [affordability is an issue]. It’s the conversation I have with artists that used to work at Canopy and Springdale Station. It’s become unaffordable.”
Due to rising costs all around Austin, creating a lucrative career as an artist has grown difficult, though the community, as well as the city, has tried to step up to reduce that burden.
“I’ve seen some initiatives from the city,” Plunkard says. “There’s a park up in Mueller where they are putting shipping containers and artists, designers, and small businesses can rent those boxes for a crazy affordable rate for a 6-month period.”
But there have been some downfalls as well.
“Permitting [for the studio] was tough,” she adds. “We had some inspectors who came in and were like, 'Oh, I’ve done a ceramics studio before. This is easy,' and others who were like, 'What? [the furnaces] are how hot?' I wish we had more help from the city then.”
To increase education and further grow the glassblowing community in Austin, the women plan to do craft markets and showcases every three months, as well as host public events, including Hot Glass, Cold Beer in May.
“People will be able to pour themselves a beer and watch a demonstration setup on the far side of our hot shop," Hunt explains of the event. "At this point, we’ve all had experience narrating demonstrations. The whole point of glassmaking culture is to try to educate people on why it’s so important to keep this craft alive.”