Young Artist Brings Community Enrichment To Deadwood


Kailey Tennessen

Studio owner, Toni Gerlach adds color to glass in preparation of making a seashell at the Pump House April 15 in Deadwood, S.D.

Kailey Tennessen, Contributing Writer

Stop by the Pump House in Deadwood for a cup of locally brewed coffee and you will find Toni Gerlach creating a masterpiece in her new glassblowing studio. Gerlach’s interest in glassblowing began at the age of 15, when she took a class in her hometown of Las Vegas. With the help of her stepdad, Nick Spano, Gerlach’s Mind Blown Studio officially opened for business at the beginning of this year.

Glassblowing begins by gathering molten glass from a furnace with a hollow steel pipe. The pipe is then taken to a steel table where it is rolled back and forth to begin the shaping process. The glass is taken to the glory hole, a small furnace that heats up the glass, keeping it malleable. Air is then blown into the pipe and then capped, causing the air to expand and create a bubble in the glass. This whole process is repeated until the desired form is created.

Gerlach received her bachelor’s degree at California State University, San Marcos and decided she wanted to open a studio in a not-so-common area. Her mom is originally from Deadwood, so that sparked an interest in the Black Hills region. Gerlach’s family took over the Pump House caf in June 2013, and shortly after she started working on a business plan to open her studio attached to the caf. With the help of an economic outreach loan, Gerlach was able to purchase all the equipment needed to open her studio.

Gerlach picked a perfect location for her studio. Deadwood doesn’t completely shut down during the winter months like other surrounding towns, bringing in tourists year round. The only other glassblower on the west side of South Dakota is located in Keystone. The facility is only open in the summer and unlike Gerlach’s studio, isn’t involved with the general public interested in learning the craft. The Mind Blown Studio is open year round and offers classes to anyone of any skill level. Gerlach said she is currently doing two-three classes a week and is expected to pick up in the summertime when Deadwood receives more visitors.

“The current location is at the busiest intersection in Deadwood. She has lunch and coffee options for browsers and offers classes to get the community involved in appreciating the craft, which is a huge asset to her business’ success,” said Erica Merchant, a fine arts professor at Black Hills State University.

Gerlach spent a semester studying at BHSU where Merchant became familiar with her sculptural work.

“Her work was very exploratory and she was developing strong 3-dimensional forms that communicated to many audiences,” said Merchant.

Anyone living or visiting the Black Hills area is encouraged to stop by the Pump House at Mind Blown Studio at 73 Sherman St. in Deadwood. Gerlach is very knowledgeable and passionate about glassblowing. There isn’t a better class offered in the region where customers walk away with multiple pieces of their own work.

Mind Blown Studio is a fun and exciting environment that has added community enrichment in the fine arts in small town South Dakota.