Optical Delusion

Walking into Da Factory in the Pauwela Cannery is a lot like I imagine a desert at midday feels like, but a lot more industrial. Because of the humungous 600-pound pot furnace and four “glory-holes” in various sizes, the large 1,400 square foot studio is hot. But it’s a dry heat.

By way of introduction, co-owner Bobby Smith opened the huge furnace’s door while I was standing nearby. The heat and roar were intense, almost frightening. Glass blowing, which dates back 3,500 some-odd years, is not for sissies. 

Originally from the mainland, Smith and his business partner Jason Harris officially opened Da Factory in May 2007. Both have impressive resumes in the art world. 

Harris is a celebrated artist and teacher, with experience as an assistant producer on the television show Hot Shop –a reality show that unites modern artists with master glass workers to collaborate on a masterpiece. He was also heavily involved in the designing aspect of creating rapper 50 Cent’s cognac bottle. 

Aside from his art, Smith has an impressive background in creative event planning, putting on parties in places like New York City, San Francisco, Miami, Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid, Istanbul and Florence. 

 “Da Factory is set up to do large scale pieces,” Smith said. “There are other studios out there doing smaller pieces and we don’t want to cross streams with them, but instead find our own niche.”

Next door to the actual work studio is a gallery and side-room containing shelving stacked high with various works of colorful art in glass like sculptures and vases. On display in the gallery until the end of April is the work of resident artist Charles Lowerie. 

I was first introduced to Lowerie’s work over the weekend when I attended a fashion show at the Pauwela Cannery, which–along with Da Factory–was sponsored by Wing’s Hawai‘i, Suits to Da Max and Chicks With Sticks. The catwalk was lined with large, gorgeous illuminated  glass seashells. The effect was dazzling and suited the feel of the show perfectly.

His work is provocative and, for lack of a better word, trippy. Clear glass bubbles connect and dangle from the ceiling. One sphere encapsules a deep and blood red heart, also made of glass.

 “The bubbles represent different spheres of consciousness ,” Lowerie said. “Dreams, serenity, different perspectives and ways of seeing and being. The way they connect also represent family or the collective.”

Da Factory is also something of a multimedia facility. “If someone comes to us and wants us to create something for them, we can film the process, the unveiling and when they take it home it becomes that much more special,” Smith told me. “Years from today, their great-grandchildren will have the footage that explains the meaning behind an heirloom left to them.” They also regularly film the process of glass blowing and posted videos on YouTube. 

Da Factory collaborates with other artists and venues to create one-of-a-kind events. Coming up they will coordinate and participate in First Saturday at the Pauwela Cannery in May that will focus on Hawaiian Art month and will include a luau, chant and a celebration of taro. 

Smith is excited about having the public come down, tour the studio and experience the art. “Our doors are open,” he said. “We’re here for the community and we want them to come down and check it out.” MTW