Photograph by Curtis Cartier
The Toy of Sex: Think of it as functional art.
A local artist's anonymous contribution to the pleasure principle
By Jessica Lussenhop
Owning a custom-made glass dildo from Joystix is definitely a dirty little secret--and so is the identity of its maker. If you ask the purveyors at Pure Pleasure, which carries the hefty toys, they'll only shake their heads and say they're made by a local artist "who wishes to remain anonymous."
The artist (let's call him Hank) is a self-taught flame glassworker who says he doesn't have a problem with the sex industry. However, the success of the "legitimate" side of his business, which produces fine art sculptures, led him to the perhaps prudent decision to keep the two separate. "If my collectors knew that I made sex toys on the side they might not want to invest $3,000 in one of my sculptures," he said in an email before agreeing to show us around.
The Joystix studio is housed in a neat, orderly shed at a very clandestine location in Santa Cruz County. "I don't talk about it to anyone, even to the glass people I know," Hank says. "It's on a need-to-know basis."
Guard dogs howl outside while he flips on a huge blue flame and within a couple of minutes heats a solid glass rod to the consistency of honey, deftly shaping the end of it into the shape of a male human glans. "Then you can do dots and add handles. There's a little creativity to it," he says.
Hank says he first had the idea after perusing a local sex shop, where he saw glass dildos for sale for the first time. "I knew I could make better ones and for a better price," he says.
Not that a Joystix product isn't also a serious purchase--they sell for $75-$140 a pop. To Hank, that's really the only reason he's interested. Dildo making, while it sounds pretty scandalous, is like a boring day job to him. "A functional beautiful product is all they are to me. It's not art," he says. "If I was making them all day, everyday, I would hate my job."
Amy Baldwin, co-owner of Pure Pleasure, actually had to coax Hank out of dildo-making retirement after his art business took off. "They sell well to people who know that they like glass and want to make an investment," she says. "Glass holds the warmth way longer than a plastic or silicon toy. It can actually feel more natural."
While he may not make dildos out of love, Hank does make sure the consumer will play safe, by making sure all his toys have flanges and handles and are cooled properly through a process called annealing, which prevents cracking (ouch). "As long as it's solid and made well and looks good," he says, "there's no reason to put my name on it."
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