A pipe is an art object with a practical function. With their gracious curves and vibrant colors, the glass pipes produced by Stonecutter Glasswerx in South Lake Tahoe might seem to value form over function. But glass artist Jace Poletti, co-owner with Chas Tanner of Stonecutter, says, “They’re 100 percent practical.”
He explains that a good pipe must have a nice controlled air flow, no potential places for pinches or clogs, but not an unregulated flow that might choke a smoker. It’s a delicate balance.
Stonecutter pipes are available throughout the region, including at local shops Art Dogs and Grace, the Melting Pot World Emporium, and Hippies in Sparks.
Poletti is a Tahoe native who spent about a year, beginning in 1996, studying glass blowing with renowned glass artists Justin Hurlin, Darby Holm and Carston Carlysle in Oregon. He’s been blowing glass ever since.
“I learned a lot from those guys,” he says, referring to his mentors. “More knowledge than I could use, but I also learned the love for it. … I’ve been doing this 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for almost 12 years straight. Before I had kids, it was like, I love this so much, why do anything else? Why not do it?”
The Stonecutter pipes range in price from $20 basic pipes—“For the broke dudes of the world,” says Poletti—to elaborate custom water pipes that could cost $2,500 or more. In addition, Stonecutter Glasswerx makes dome lights, incense burners and more.
“If it’s glass, we’ll make it,” says Poletti.
The name Stonecutter Glasswerx comes from one of the most common inspirations of American artists who came to age in the 1990s: The Simpsons, specifically the classic episode “Homer the Great.” In that episode, the Stonecutters is a secret society, an obvious parody of the Freemasons.
Poletti takes much of his creative inspiration from graffiti art. Many of his pipes have the vivid combinations of colors and fluid lines of graffiti writing.
Despite his emphasis on practical function, Poletti’s pipe designs take many creative left turns. The shapes curve in unexpected directions. There are bright stripes, and colorful bubbles and lumps. Some of his pipes look like surreal Wonderland caterpillars.
“Sometimes you start with an idea, and then you get another idea,” he says. “You have to leave room for the extra creativity you don’t account for when you start.”
But, for Poletti, the creativity of the design is secondary to the functionality of the pipe.
“But if people buy it for the flashing lights, then they’ll accidentally get a quality product,” he says.
Though his pipes are often flashy and many even incorporate the Stonecutter logo—a bubble letter “SC”—many customers who buy his pipes might not even know that they’re purchasing a locally made artwork.
“I’ll go over to somebody I just met in Reno’s house, and they’ll have one of my pieces just sitting on their coffee table,” says Poletti. “I won’t tell them that I made it, but it’s like, ‘That’s tight! I love Reno!’”