Stepping into Tom Philabaum’s glassblowing gallery for the first time was a bit like transiting from a two dimensional monochrome world into a joyously colorful realm of elegant and sensuous shapes, vivid imagination given form in glass sculpture glowing with light.
“It’s overwhelming,” I said.
“That’s my intention,” Philabaum replied.
Starting from scratch in 1975 when he arrived in Tucson from Chicago, Philabaum has created with his wife Dabney a creative treasure – glassblowing studio for himself and his nine current employees, gallery for artists across the country, and a national reputation for beauty and excellence.
Five years after arriving here, Tom and Dabney sat down and sketched out a 5-to-10 year plan for themselves. They wanted a studio and gallery, respect in their field, representation both nationally and internationally, travel and to make a living at it all sufficient to support their family.
They’ve succeeded wonderfully.
Travel provides much of the inspiration for his work – Mexico especially where they spent 10 Christmases with their two children in various parts of the country. Iceland, Philabaum says, “is a huge influence – out there in the Arctic circle, the northern lights, the swirling stars.”
In 2001 they started the Sonoran Glass Art Academy, a non-profit where, the web site notes, “glass artists, students and enthusiasts can come together and share knowledge through craftsmanship.”
“I enjoy glass because it is the best teacher I’ve ever had,” Philabaum says. “It is opaque and translucent, strong and weak, flexible and rigid. It makes color come alive. You have to know science and art, properties of annealing, physics of glass, how to engineer equipment and tools to execute a treatment. It’s teamwork and planning. It’s an all consuming life of its own.”
In the process he’s become a citizen of the world, a quality he believes should be a goal in life, “to interact peacefully and learn from the cultures of the world.”
Here at home, he’s well known for his support of the creative community, frequently providing pieces for art auctions.
He’s been hit by the economic downturn – the furnaces were shut off for two months, he cut back on the number of the employees. “When things get bad,” he says, “you work harder. I’m prosperous in terms of what I’ve achieved, what Tucson has given me. My goal has never been to get rich, it has always been to live a rich life.”
The Philabaum Glass Studio and Gallery is located at 711 S. 6th Ave.
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