In the Studio with Glassblower Daniel Shircliff

Sara CrockerFebruary 7, 2024
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Photo by Angelina Aragon
Photo by Angelina Aragon

It’s fitting that Daniel Shircliff is a scientific glassblower. He says everything related to his handmade housewares business Primitive Glass is “a crazy experiment.”

Phoenix native Shircliff has blown glass for more than 30 years. It’s a career path that he fell into after a friend provided him with a lead on a job, giving him no more details than the address of the workspace.

“I went in there and they were blowing glass,” he says. “Glassblowing was fun, and it was weird and it was creative, and the more that I got a chance to explore it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you can make anything out of this.’”

He traveled to learn from other glassblowers, including a stint making glass hummingbirds. For the bulk of his career, he made marijuana pipes and paraphernalia. Primitive Glass was born in 2020, when Shircliff decided to pursue a new angle of usable glassware, starting with glass Christmas ornaments and expanding to everyday items like oil decanters, stackable drinking glasses and pitchers, which he sells online, at markets around the Valley and at The Museum Store at Phoenix Art Museum.

Finished glassware sits on shelves that flank his workspace in the garage of his Central Phoenix home. Shircliff is obsessed with refining each design before releasing it – some are never sold, but become inspiration for future designs.

“I like to have my glass laying out,” he says. “I’m constantly critiquing it, because this is an experiment.”

Because he uses the scientific glassblowing process, there’s no cauldron in Shircliff’s studio. Instead, he starts with a tube of clear or colored glass, places it on a lathe and heats it with a Bunsen burner to about 2,000 degrees, then blows, pushes and pulls it into his desired design.

He takes inspiration from midcentury design and items in vintage shops. Lately, he’s been into Finnish and Scandinavian glassblowers who made more “Space Age-lookin’ stuff.”

“I call my glass modern vintage glass, because it’s not old, I can’t make it old,” he says. “But if some of my stuff could be found in a thrift store, I think that’d be great.”

Learn more at primitiveglass.com or follow Shircliff on Instagram @primitive_glass.

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Shircliff is pushing himself beyond housewares and is beginning to design lighting, including tabletop and pendant lamps.

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“When somebody says, ‘I’d like to learn to blow glass,’ I say, ‘Can you juggle?’” Shircliff quips while showing his process. He starts not with a bubbling cauldron, but with glass heated with a Bunsen burner and handheld torch. Using a tube attached to the lathe, Shircliff blows to expand the glass, and uses graphite tools to shape it.

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Using tiny slivers of silver or gold, Shircliff can add a bit of iridescence in clear glass or a hint of glamour to colored glass.

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Everything Shircliff creates is handmade, but to keep consistency of items like glassware, he uses calipers to ensure standard sizing.

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A kiln about the size of a mini fridge, set to 1,060 degrees, allows Shircliff to “garage” pieces he’s in the midst of working on. “With glassblowing, if I let anything cool down while making it, it will break,” he says. The artist uses “barbecue tongs” to handle the hot items.