The temperature from the torches in this back-alley shop is brutal, even from a safe distance, and yet no one seems to notice but me. Every two feet or so, there's an artist standing over a torch, and they're all deep in the process of melting glass. This fire-meets-molten glass is their comfort zone.
One of the bespectacled guys begins the process of blowing into the molten glass, gently blowing the glowing material into an ever-expanding bubble. As I move a bit closer, I am completely unaware of anything other than the glow of the lava-like glass, and I come entirely too close to wiping out an entire table of glass pipes. Expensive glass pipes.
You know that old saying, "It's like a bull in a china shop?" Well, step into the rows and rows of hand-blown glass pieces in Bomdiggidy Smoke Shop in the heart of Katy, and you'll quickly find out what it feels to be the bull in that equation. Only this time, you're a bull surrounded by very expensive smoking accessories -- a $20,000 bong here, a $200 pipe there -- all of which are made in that hotter-than-hell workshop in the back by Bomdiggidy's collaboration of artists.
The group of glass blowers see their work at Bomdiggidy as a communal effort. They're all part of the creative process, and they're all free to make the art their own, down to the very last component -- their unique signature -- which can be found on every piece in the store as a stamp of their hard work. Each artist in the shop is fostered and allowed to create pieces he is excited about, and they're also seen as partners, rather than employees. When the shop does well, they're all doing well.
That sharing and caring mentality creates a unique vibe to the shop, where each artist is happy to talk about his work or inspiration, and they're excited to see the growth around them. They're part of something special, too. Bomdiggidy is the only shop of its kind in the city -- nowhere else will you find in-house glass blowers creating artistic pipes -- which means from the art on down, it's hardly your head shop of olde.
Take Pogo, the shop manager, as an example. He beams as he displays his glass babies -- a series of pipes fashioned into spiders -- one of which will soon be a Sherlock Holmes-spider creation, complete with some dapper duds and a glass cigarette. He's a nationally recognized artist, but Bomdiggidy is his home. The shop houses his work, and he creates it right out back among a team of guys who genuinely enjoy what they're doing. It's that attention to the creative process, and the shop's attention to its artists, that makes Bomdiggidy a diamond in the smoke-shop rough.
There's an educational component happening among those pipes, too, and it's got little to do with the proper way to take a bong hit. The shop is often the Houston home for national artists, who are free to showcase their work there, or teach a class in their work space. Bomdiggidy will teach you novices the ways of the glass blowers, too -- just as Bomdiggidy glass blower Matt Watson was taught -- but it won't be in the back of a hippie van this time. You'll have to stop by the shop, where they house Houston's only glass-blowing tools and raw materials.
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Times are good for the master glass blowers, but it wasn't always badass bongs and water pipes. Things started off as a hobby, with the "work" taking place in the garage of Matt Watson and Amber Swiney, after Matt learned the skill, courtesy of some old hippie in a van. Amber shakes her head now as she recalls the guys congregating around a fire in their garage in the insane summer heat, amused at the thought. After all, Matt had a normal 9-to-5, complete with a company car, and glassblowing was his first foray into art. But the skepticism was quickly written off, along with that insane heat that was emanating from the garage, as their art began to gain steam.
Years later, things have transitioned well out of the days in the Watson-Swiney garage. Bomdiggidy is at the top of the high-end smoking game, and Amber, as well as their two teenage children, are now a major part of the shop's day-to-day business.
Their kids are limited to art pieces, though. No pipe art until they're adults -- their parents' rules -- and even then, it's only if they want to create them. Their kids may be damn near expert glass blowers, but Amber and Matt have no intention of forcing this into a family affair. After all, they've got a family of artists willing to come along for the ride.
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And while yes, the suburban store may be stocked with smoking accessories, the work that Bomdiggidy's glass blowers can do with their trade is hardly limited to the art of spider pipes or elaborate bongs. The artists are happy to create custom chandeliers or wedding toppers, and they've even created hand-blown components for a salvaged fighter jet. The work that happens in this nondescript shop in Katy is pretty insane.
What's even more insane is just how welcome this glass-blowing mecca and high-end head shop is in the Houston suburb. Perhaps it's the food drives or the fundraisers that the artist collab holds for the community, or just merely the fact that these guys are artists before pipe salesmen, but whatever it is, the traditionally conservative area embraces the smoke shop, and the artists, with ease.
They've been so successful in the 'burbs that their work has been expanded into a new shop in Galveston, "Glass Gallery," a strand shop where the glass blowing is featured prominently in the front of the shop, and the art includes ornate jewelry and collectibles.
There's nothing traditional about the work that takes place in Bomdiggidy, and that's a really special thing. If you can dream it up, there's a good chance Bomdiggidy can bring it to life, right in the heart of that hot alleyway shop -- and with the care one would expect of true artists -- pipes or otherwise.