The echoes of the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting sounded all over the world. And that includes far-away Skagway, Alaska where at least one local resident proudly sports a tattoo of a garlic bulb.
His name is Spencer Silva, and he’s a professional glass artist who works at Jewell Gardens in Skagway, nicknamed the “Garden City of Alaska.” He’s also a native of Gilroy.
At Jewell, the main attractions are flowers and glass sculptures. It’s the home of Garden City Glassworks, a public glassblowing studio open to anyone. Silva helps people make their own Christmas ornaments in glass, and does some production work in glassblowing as well.
Now, in solidarity with the town where he grew up, Silva is offering up his own hand-made glass garlic bulbs, with net proceeds going to the Gilroy Foundation to help the town heal from the shooting.
“I definitely have garlic in my blood,” said Silva in a phone interview from Alaska.
The glass bulbs come in pure white, or white with a purple base. They are in size somewhere between a standard bulb of garlic and a bulb of elephant garlic. They sell for $60 a piece with another $15 for shipping. And they are selling quite well. The first day he offered them for sale, he brought in more than $1,000.
Silva, 31, grew up in Gilroy—Rod Kelley, South Valley Junior High, Gilroy High’s class of 2006. He is the son of Art and Cathy Silva, veteran teachers and coaches at Gilroy High.
As a child, young Spencer visited the Garlic Festival every year, and as a teen he worked in a garlic-bread booth managed by his parents on behalf of the GHS cross country and track teams. Even well after high school, the Garlic Festival was where Silva reunited with old friends each summer.
“It’s always played a big role in my life,” he said of the festival. “Up until the last four years or so, I went every year.”
Then came July 28. Silva was camping in Canada’s Yukon Territory at the time (Skagway is about a half hour’s drive from the Canadian border). He was out of cell phone range, but once back in civilization, he got a text from a friend informing him of the shooting. His parents had been at the festival that day.
“I called my parents; no one was picking up,” he said. “I called my siblings, family friends. It was about an hour or hour and a half later when I finally heard from them. They were fine. But it was very stressful.”
The shooting was on his mind the following week when he was called on to create a series of glass vegetables—tomatoes, turnips, pumpkins, etc.—for centerpieces at a special dinner at Jewell Gardens.
“I had been wanting to make glass garlic bulbs for a couple of years,” he said. “But I never did.” Making the other glass vegetables inspired him. He went to the glassblowing studio and created some garlic bulbs.
“They turned out fantastic,” he said. “I thought immediately, ‘I should do something with this.’”
That something was selling them as a means to raise money for the Gilroy Foundation. He took a few photos, posted them online and “suddenly, it just started blowing up.”
Silva has been a glass artist for about nine years, having started as an undergrad at Cal State Chico and continued on with Bullseye Glass in Portland. He said that the glass garlic is a natural response to an unnatural act.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said of the shooting. “It’s the Garlic Festival. Why would something like that happen there? It’s just families coming together to eat food and check out some art and music. I never could see why something like that could happen at the Garlic Festival. It was unbelievable to me. It broke my heart.”
These days, he said, the glass bulbs are still selling well, and that the Gilroy Unified School District has put in a big order.
“I’m just glad I’m able to give something back,” he said.
To check out Spencer Silva’s “Garlic for Gilroy” glass art, visit garlicforgilroy.bigcartel.com.