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The Subtle Beauty of Ceramic Smoking Accessories

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Owning an expensive bong or pipe can be more stressful than fun. Everyone always expects it to be clean enough to eat out of at all times, and handing it over to a stoned friend is always a white-knuckle experience. But then we discovered ceramic pieces. The glazed clay pipes and bongs, colored in simple, earthy tones reminiscent of Southwestern pottery, are tougher than glass and easily hide last night’s murky bong water from visitors.

We were introduced to our latest stoner obsession while flipping through the pages of High on Design: The New Cannabis Culture, a new book about cannabis art and branding. It features an uncolored, single-chamber clay bong from Summerland Ceramics, a San Francisco pipemaker founded by Liam Kaczmar in 2011, shortly after he graduated from art school. After checking out more of Summerland’s work — a collection of ceramic pipes, chillums and bongs, including a ceramic apple pipe for all of us who’ve smoked out of produce — we had to learn more about the process, so we caught up with Kaczmar to talk about cannabis and kilning.

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Westword: As cannabis legalization spreads and use becomes more accepted, how will that change the way we accessorize our homes?

Liam Kaczmar: Cannabis is becoming more a part of our everyday lives. It’s no longer forced to be hidden away; it’s lived with and celebrated. With this thought in mind, it’s clear that we might choose accessories that similarly blend seamlessly into life.

What are the advantages of smoking out of a ceramic pipe or bong compared to glassware?

Compared to glass, ceramic pieces are more similar than different. Glaze on ceramic is a thin layer of glass. Cleaning is the same — a simple salt and alcohol solution will dissolve any resin buildup — but a benefit of ceramic is that it’s opaque, so it hides your embarrassing mess if you are lazy about cleaning. Ceramic is sturdy, so a well-fired piece will be less fragile than thick blown glass. That being said, don’t drop it. The main difference is in aesthetic and vibes. The extra-natural and less refined nature of clay retains this amazing soulful quality that feels amazing in your hands.

Most of Summerland’s pieces are a combination of simple and elegant, featuring single and double chambers colored in earth tones. What did you draw inspiration from when designing your pieces?

Much of the inspiration is from the material itself. Ceramic is literally earth, and we want to retain that natural innocence. Ceramics in your home help bring the outside world in. I often look to mid-century ceramic art and sculpture for inspiration.

Is it hard for the layman to make a simple ceramic pipe or bong?

Making anything in ceramic takes a deeper understanding of the materials and how they work. There are a lot of steps and variables, but once you dive in, it’s relatively easy to learn. Pieces should definitely be fired to at least mid-fire temperatures to keep the clay sturdy and well-sealed, with a food-safe glaze in the areas touching water or smoked material.

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How did you start making ceramic smoking accessories? Was it like most of us, who failed at making a pipe or bong in high school ceramics?

Not quite. I was a late bloomer, and didn’t really become interested in weed until after college. By that point, I had gone through a lot of formal training in art school, so I really knew the best process to get going. It became more about designing the best-looking and best-functioning ceramic bong instead of just trying to fashion something out of clay.

How do the “What do you do for work?” conversations go? What’s the reaction when you tell people you make handmade stonerware?

It really depends on who I’m talking to. Sometimes I say I’m a designer, because that’s broad and vague enough. My most common response is a simple “I make bongs,” and then it goes from there. It’s often a fun conversation. or one that awkwardly ends abruptly.

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Ceramic stonerware, or glazed clay pipes and bongs, are usually colored in simple, earthy tones reminiscent of Southwestern pottery. They're also tougher than glass and easily hide last night's murky bong water from visitors. After check out Summerland Ceramic's work — a collection of ceramic pipes, chillums and…