Twenty years ago, Brian Owoc was slipping sugared dough into oil at Dunkin' Donuts in Portland, Maine. At the time, he didn't know this pedestrian task would propel him into a career as a glassblower specializing in donut bongs, pipes and pendants.
"I loved making donuts," recalls Owoc. "It was definitely a passion."
Then he took a weekend off to attend a Phish concert in Vermont and came across some guys showing off their glass-blown artwork. "This was an amazing thing to see," Owoc continues, "so I started to learn how I can get a studio going in Portland and try it myself.”
As if he couldn't remove himself entirely from the donut world after leaving Dunkin' Donuts, Owoc decided to specialize in glass-blown art focused on water and dry pipes resembling donuts. These confections, sold under the company name are often colorful, "chocolate"-glazed and looking as scrumptious as they are eye-catching.
"It's a rush to create something so intricate," says Owoc, who's created around 20 different styles of donut bongs that typically retail for $800 to $1,300. His most expensive bong—a long-legged bird with a donut-shaped head that he did in collaboration with a Colorado-based glassblower—sold for $7,500.
All this begs the question: Why the donut as an artistic inspiration?
"It's hard to even say the word 'donut' without smiling," Owoc says. "Every person, from all walks of life, have eaten or eat donuts. It's universal."
His glass-blown work has become such a hit that he created an annual festival to showcase the donut-themed pieces, which include items from other donut-friendly artists. Donutfest 5, which wrapped up in June 2018, attracted more than 200 people to check out the 100 new pieces Owoc unveiled.
The full-time glassblower credits his artistry for teaching him many lessons, yet his biggest challenge is overcoming that sour taste in his mouth when he makes a serious mistake in the glass-blowing process or a piece cracks.
"It's tough to realize you've wasted up to two days, but it can also be a learning experience," he explains. "As much as I enjoy playing with fire, this has also taught me about patience and discipline. You can't rush glass-blowing."
Owoc also pushes himself to ensure the bongs are both visually appealing, structurally sound and fully functional. He continues, "It might look pretty, but if it doesn't work, what's the point? I'll constantly test water percolation or the placement of parts so users don't burn their nose when they light the bowl."
A daily cannabis user, Owoc says consuming the plant "helps me keep calm and mellow and focused on where I want to be," adding that it's "absurd that the federal legalization of cannabis hasn't happened already."
Next up for Owoc is strengthening a new partnership with the apparel company Grassroots California, which sells KGB Glass-branded hats, shirts, hoodies and yoga pants.
"This line is doing really well," he says, "so I guess people like to wear donut clothing."