By Molly Barber
Photos Courtesy of Ben Lukas
Ben ‘Tsunami’ Lukas plays with fire. He doesn’t just play with fire, he makes a living playing with fire as a professional full time lamp worker. This career choice has given Tsunami the opportunity to chase a business venture halfway across the world, while experiencing first hand the life changing events of a revolution. What started as a hobby quickly transformed into a passion that has become a lifestyle. Blowing glass to Tsunami is like breathing for everyone else; a necessity to survive.
Tsunami remembers well being bit by the “glass bug” when he was 17, a month before his 18 birthday. He and some friends were looking at pieces of blown glass and he found himself wondering about the creation process. “I thought that only a machine could make something so beautiful you know?” When his buddies told him that the pieces were handmade, it clicked for him. “Right there, I was like ‘I’m going to blow glass. If hands do this, my hands will do this.’ So it’s been the journey ever since.” From there Tsunami went to CSU Chico where he got his Bachelor’s degree in Off Hand Glass Blowing.
There are basically two types of glass blowing. The first type is the ancient one, Off Hand Glass Blowing. This is where your main tool is a blowpipe and you use a bigger facility to work in.
The earliest remnants of glass vases came from 16th century BC in Mesopotamia. Much of the same techniques and tools are used today that were used by the Romans and others ancient civilizations who participated in glass blowing.
The second type a glass blowing is Lamp Working. This is where the glass blower would rely on a lamp or torch to melt and manipulate the glass. Instead of needing to have a big facility to work in, a lamp worker only needs a table top and a kiln.
This is the type of glass blowing Tsunami first fell in love with. Throughout the years he has done about every job you could think of to make lamp working his career. That has included teaching glass blowing, partnering up with shops who have multiple stations to develop a product line or help with a business plan, and then making his own products and independently selling them to shops. When Tsunami sees an opportunity he takes it and that’s how he saw Egypt.
Tsunami and a partner saw that here in the US, glass artists have an abundance of colors to blow glass with, while in Egypt most of their glass is blown clear and then painted afterwards. They decided they wanted to go to Egypt to share their color palette with a group of artisans they were aware of but had never met. “So we wanted to go offer them our material, it turned out to be not financially viable. It’s too low of an economy within the country to pay such high prices for a raw material. And so we ended up doing a workshop where we taught the Egyptian artists how to use the glass color in their Egyptian perfume bottles,” Tsunami explained. The last thing he could have imagined happening while he was over there was a national revolution.
In January Tsunami was warned by one of his Egyptian friends that they shouldn’t come to the shop the next day because there would be protests. “It’s only protests,” Tsunami said, but was quickly told, “This is Egypt and protests are illegal.” So began a revolution, much of which Tsunami was able to watch from his apartment window seeing as the main street where the revolution took place was right in front of his apartment building. The footage and photos he took are amazing chronicles of what happened over there which include him throwing down water to protestors who were being gassed, as well as being in an area where he was hit with tear gas too. “Initially I didn’t realize how much it did effect me because after I got back out of the Revolution I didn’t really talk to people. I was just kind of in my head about the whole situation,” Tsunami explained. It was such an extreme experience that three years after being back he still had memories of the experience coming back to him. “I’ll have these memories that are like ‘Oh my Gosh I did that!’ And what I mean by that is like post revolution I was getting dental work done in Egypt and there were times when we would like be trying to ride in a taxi from my apartment to the dentist office but we would go like 75 yards and then there would be like a tank in the road and so you’d get out of the taxi and you’d walk behind the tank and get in a new taxi and drive like another 75 yards and there’d be like burnt cars in the road. So we are like literally crawling through like burnt cars and tanks to get to this dentist office and I didn’t even remember I did that for like 3 solid years.”
Looking back on the experience Tsunami pulls from the positive memories. The revolution was only a portion of his adventure there. He got to see the Great Pyramids during a rain storm, meet friends he’ll have for a lifetime, and teach his passion to a group of artists who appreciate the craft. “I’m eternally grateful for the experience. It was literally a dream come true and something that you couldn’t imagine ever happening to you. It was just absolutely amazing… in hindsight.”
The refreshing thing about Tsunami is that he’s taken his passion for glass blowing and allowed it to push him into following his dream to become a full time glass artist. He knows it’s going to be a hard road but he’s willing to pay the price do to what he loves for a living. “It’s a big leap and it’s scary and it’s unknown and you’re gonna have hungry nights. But make it work. Dig deep and drive towards that passion. And don’t let it shake you off. Everyone will tell you too, ‘It’s not going to work. You could do something way easier. You could make way more money doing this.’ And it’s like I’ll make $15,000 selling glass all year every year for the rest of my life. Thank you very kindly.”
Recently he’s been taking his studio on the road and literally pulling over to blow glass where ever catches his eye. Giving live demonstrations for those just passing by. He loves the freedom of not being tied down to a particular studio and the lifestyle of the gypsy glass artist. He has a very well planned 10-year-plan and has done well at keeping pace with his goals. If his past can speak to his hard work and determination, I have no doubt he will achieve everything on that list. Tsunami lives his life like he works with glass, without the fear of getting burned, constantly pushing himself and his art to new levels. Dreaming up ideas and pursuing them until they become reality. All while constantly maintaining a positive and supportive attitude. I believe if we all lived with just a fraction of the fire that Tsunami does, our lives might just be a little brighter. tsunamilukasglass.com.