Glass Act

Tom Philabaum — Tucson’s own glass artist extraordinaire who recently retired from glassblowing — shares 10 of his favorite pieces, and explains why they resonate with him.

A life-long artist, Tom Philabaum was fortunate to study in the country’s first glassblowing program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. After graduating, he started Tucson’s first glassblowing studio in 1975. Since 1985, Tom and Dabney Philabaum have been creating, selling and promoting glass art at Philabaum Glass Gallery & Studio near Downtown. Though Tom retired from a 50-plus year career of glassblowing at the end of 2018, he will continue to paint and fuse glass, and the Gallery will stay open, showing glass art from more than 30 artists from all over the country.


4”h x 3”w Blown Glass








1978- Present Shown: Reptilian Bag Vase * 15”h x 7”w x 6”

“I began exploring the Reptilian pattern in 1978, as an intriguing process with varying outcomes. It became the most long-lived and recognizable body of work in my glass career. It can still be seen in our Gallery in the form of paperweights, perfume bottles, bags, bowls and vases. I never tired of this series as it took on a life of its own and was always evolving and changing.”





2018 20”h x 57”w x 1”d Fused glass with paints & metals on wood base

From the Fused Glass Collage Painting Series “Back to painting again! My latest series involves fusing glass with paints and metals. This current triptych draws inspiration from painters Marsden Hartley and Max Beckman, emphasizing black outlined forms and intense, bright colors. I create these fused glass paintings with a mixture of pure intention and happy accidents.”



1981 9.5”h x 5”w x 4”d Blown Glass Histology Series

“While in graduate school at the University of Arizona, I began exploring biological themes, and was given images of bugs and cells that had been electromagnetically scanned in a UA laboratory. I first painted these images on the surface of ceramic sculptures. In my glass studio, I created images with glass shards and cane on a hot plate to apply on the surface of blownglass vessels and sculptures. Dabney and I enjoy this bag vase every day in our home.”






2011 16’ x 12’ Backlit by LED lights Dalle de Verre – 1”-thick cut tiles of glass joined with epoxy resin Lobby of Likins Hall – University of Arizona

“I still find my installation at UA uplifting. Looking up at the 16-foot-high panels of illuminated glass inspires me, and my intention is to inspire the students who live in this residence hall.”



2010 28”h x 26”x 22”w Blown glass that has been cut, polished & joined with adhesives From the Precarious Rock Series

“My first drive through Texas Canyon clobbered me with the indelible image of precarious rock formations. That inspiration returned to me during my sculptural exploration of shape-making techniques whose consequent was not a vessel. This large semi-transparent sculpture transforms from dark to light, like a sunrise.”





1971 9”h x 5”w Blown Glass Blown at University of Wisconsin Glass Lab

“In 1971, my glass teacher Eriks Rudans told me the story of witches’ balls as they relate to the Salem witch hunts of the 1600s. Glassblowers were inspired to make open-bottomed orbs to hang in windows to magically absorb evil energy. At that time, he cautioned me that one cannot sell “magic.” Regardless, I made hundreds of these mystical, spiritual objects to sell at a craft fair. Just as I finished setting up, a gust of wind destroyed all of the witches’ balls. Lesson learned!”





1997 13.5”h x 6.75”w Blown and painted glass From the Graal Series

“My excitement in discovering automotive enamels that were compatible with hot glass opened up a new avenue to employ “the narrative.” My love of drawing and painting was renewed. The graal glass technique formed the canvas for my subjects, which included “The Blind Leading The Blind,” “Drinking With The Devil,” and homages to other artists, such as this example dedicated to a painting by James Ensor.”





2007 38”h x 16”w x 7”d Cast Glass From the Kiln-Cast Series.

“I began with a wet clay mold, and rhythmically smacked my hand prints over the entire surface to the beat of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” as if I were playing a drum. Making a mold of the resulting clay positive, colored glass was then melted into the negative cavity of the mold. Though everything I make is handmade, this is the only piece where the touch of my hands remains visible.”




21”h x 7”w Blown glass with scavo treatment From the Scavo Series

“As a ceramic artist, I was drawn to the surface texture of wood ash glazes. Translating this to glass, I discovered the Italian technique of scavo, a chemical attack that alters the glass surface from glossy to rough. I liked that. For me, scavo represents a look of instant antiquity.”






1990 18”h x 9”w Hot Coiled Glass From the Handbuilt Series

“My early interest in ceramic hand-building transferred to glass by making slabs and coils of molten glass, and wrapping them into a basket-like form. With no functional value, this series merely celebrated my exploration of working glass in a non-traditional method. The strength and teamwork necessitated by these complicated pieces taught all of us in the studio the value of rhythm, timing and choreography.”





*Currently available for viewing at Philabaum Glass Gallery & Studio

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