Chip Steeler of Shipwreck glass has been making waves in the Oregon glass community for quite sometime now, having plated the pipes of notable blowers such as HAMM, Mermonkey, Carlin Sage and James Brown. While copper is now his main gig it wasn’t always, Chip sat down with us and gave us his story of how he started and where he’s headed with his inspiring copper work.
By: Chip Steeler (Shipwreck Glass)
I spent the first half of my life building, shipping, and installing museum exhibitions, working for museums in Portland, Santa Barbara, and Miami. I started out at the bottom in that industry and eventually ended up Director of a major national sculpture park and chief exhibition designer for a large museum through which I was lucky enough to be able to also design exhibitions in Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Santiago.
In the summer of 2008 I injured my back and not knowing how bad it was continued working through the summer. Eventually I ended up in a doctors office being told that I had ruptured three discs in my lower back and would need to have surgery. I took some time deciding if I wanted to go through the trauma of major spinal surgery. During that time my left leg began to become paralyzed. When I got up from a staff meeting at work and my leg had completely become non responsive I decided that I would have to get the surgery if I wanted to continue walking.
The surgery was way more traumatic than I had anticipated. I spent the next year mostly in bed slowly becoming able to walk again. During this time I decided to move back home to Portland Oregon to be near my family. As I became more confident in walking, I decided to start trying to work again. It was then that I realized that there wasn’t much I could do without hurting my back. Finding a straight job in the field that I had worked in was not becoming a reality.
That is when I got an offer to move in with my older brother, who goes by Mermonkey in the glass industry, and learn to blow glass. He had been in the business for about a decade and had done pretty well. I thought I would give it a try. At first I really took to glass blowing but there was a serious learning curve. Mer (my brother) came up with a line for me to do that would sell pretty well. It was a one hitter made from daisy tubing that had been electroformed. This was the first time I had gotten into electroforming. The line of pipes did really well. Cornerstone picked up the line and its still selling to this day. Now my sister in law Anna Louise is making them.
The electroforming had become more of what I liked about the job than the glass. As I did more, it became clear to me that to really excel, I needed to pick either the glass or the copper to focus my time. Mer, Anna, and I did a series of large bongs done by Hamm Brushland. Hamm is a great friend of Mer’s, and has become a great friend of mine too. Hamm has consistently given me pieces to work on that have always pushed the boundaries of what can be done with electroforming. Forcing me to become better and better. I also met Carlin Sage through Mer and Hamm.
Shipwreck x HAMM Collab
Shipwreck x Carlin Sage collab: Inline bubbler
Carlin gave me a large inline bubbler to form and it was while working on that, that I realized that this was the business for me and that I could take this for a new career. That bubbler was the first piece that I really got to stretch my creativity and it certainly paid off. I still do forming on Carlin’s glass as often as I can. I started fishing with Carlin and his buddies in Eugene. That’s when Carlin introduced me to James Brown. James is great. Not only a great guy and fisherman, he also can blow glass very well. Both he and Carlin were trained to blow glass in Hamm Brushland’s shop.
Shipwreck x HAMM x Mermonkey x Anna collab: Classic HAMM style tube
Shipwreck x James Brown Collab: Stemless Bubbler
Shipwreck x James Brown Collab: Spider web Bubber
Now James has become one of my best collaborators. I have formed and sold more of his bubblers than anything else. We work well together on design, and product, and manage to make time to drop a line in the river from time to time. I am now electroforming full time in Saint Helens Oregon. That’s about forty five minutes downstream on the Columbia from Portland. Another friend Sean invited me to live and work on his land here. It’s a four-‐acre meadow tract backed up to eighty acres of forest on a south side slope. Its one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and now I live here.
So in a way you can see why I can say that Mer’s offer to come blow glass in Eugene in a way saved my life. I went from lying on the couch, wondering what I was going to do, to having a successful business living on a beautiful farm surrounded by family and great friends both new and old. I am nothing but grateful, I named the business Shipwreck because in a way my life had been Shipwrecked. It was Mer who found my boat and got it to the surface. Thanks Brother!
My work and aesthetic is definitely influenced by the ancient and not so ancient art I was exposed to working in museums all those years. I like coppers ability to make something new look like a cherished object from years past. I strive for that look in the work that I do. So far I have been selling work in Oregon, California, Michigan, New Jersey, and most of all Through Local Smoking Domain in North Miami Beach, Florida. I have a wonderful relationship with that shop. I met LSD’s owners at the Degenerate Flame Off in Eugene last year. We have done a lot of high-‐end business since then.
I’m in the process of securing a relationship with a chain of shops in Texas that I am excited about. Can’t say much more about that until it’s a done deal. The future is unwritten, but if the current stays the same as it has been, I am happy to stay in this stream and see where it goes.
Shipwreck’s story as well as his talented copper work is truly inspiring. It just goes to show that anyone can become apart of this industry, it also shows how supportive professionals in the industry can be. We look forward to seeing more from shipwreck, his work is becoming higher in demand by the day. If you are interested in carrying his work in your retail establishment please contact him via his Facebook.