Marshall "Butch" Armstrong
Over this past Winter, my wife Ann has been busy painting. She’s an amateur artist who likes to paint nature scenes. Her paintings show the graceful lines and shapes of our natural world. Recently I watched nine Eagles on what’s left of our lake ice, fishing for minnows. As one of them suddenly lifted off into the air, it’s wings showed the beautiful rounded arching shapes of the individual feathers. Works of art, especially taken from nature, always enhance a persons life, whether they are paintings, sculpture, or a finely crafted smoking pipe. Looking at my own pipes, and those of pipe makers online, you can easily see the graceful and even sensuous lines carved and shaped into many of them.
Fine pipe making has always fascinated me. A lot of hand made pipes are works of art, their shapes taken directly from nature. The roundness of the bowls and long slender, tapering stems are shapes that can be seen in an eagles wing or a long stemmed flower. To hold one of these beautiful works in your hand is a sensuous feeling, almost feminine. There are also big chunky, masculine shaped pipes of hard angles and edges but my preference is for the rounded, ovaled and gracefully curved pipes that most makers are producing and have produced for a very long time.
What’s really great about pipe making is how a flat edged, rough sawed chunk of wood and a straight plain piece of plastic, using hard edged tools and abrasives, can be turned into a beautiful work of usable art in the hands of a skilled crafts person. Like using brushes and palette knives, paint and canvas to produce a work of art worthy of admiration, the making of a smoking pipe is an artists creation. A lot of their own personality goes into the forming of the shape and the carving, sanding and finishing of the final work. A pipe such as this is a wonder to behold and when it smokes well it gives the same feeling of satisfaction as finding and placing the perfect painting on your living room wall. To find a pipe that is hand made, looks beautiful and smokes great is the ultimate goal.
Rich Lewis, of Lewis Pipes in Minneapolis, (http://www.lewispipe.com/) put a really nice stem on my Meerschaum pipe last year. I hadn’t smoked this pipe for many years because the original stem had broken and I just put it away in a box. It is just a simple curved, tapered stem but it accents the pipe so well and pulls the whole thing together into a very nice looking piece. Josh Whitehead (https://www.facebook.com/sammy.cat.3129) produces carved briar and antler pipes. He has made a number of churchwardens that have beautifully shaped, long sinuous stems and hand carved bowls that look like they would be a lot of fun to hold and smoke. Jonathan Levezzo, of Moonshine pipes, (https://www.facebook.com/juanathan) makes some great looking, and from the reviews I’ve read, great smoking pipes as well. He makes a cigar pipe that I’ve just got to have someday. Josh and Jonathan have both used rings of various materials to accent their pipes and really make them look beautiful. Making small rings out of wood, antler or other material is not easy and definitely adds to the value of the pipe and still, some makers are producing very affordable pipes.
Nanna Ivarsson, who’s pipes were sold out on SmokingPipes.com when I looked last, has a professional design background and makes some beautiful pipes. Kris Edwin Barber, of Edwin Pipes (http://edwinpipes.com/) has some beautifully shaped, long stem pipes on his web site. You can tell he puts a lot of time and love into his work. These pipe makers and many, many more show that there is a love of artistic quality when it comes to making and selling smoking pipes, and prove that they are real works of art.
I have done a bit of wood working in the past so I know what goes into making a beautiful work of art that someone would love to own. I have made jewelry boxes with wood hinges and exotic wood earrings that I sold at a shop in town. A lot of cutting, shaping, sanding and finishing went into my work and the prices I had to charge so that people would buy them were not enough to make a living at. When some of the prices for hand made pipes seem kind of high, it helps to know how much work went into making the pipe. Not only the work but the cost of tools, equipment and supplies. None of these things are cheap. Most pipe makers own wood lathes to do the shaping of the pipes on. These machines can cost thousands of dollars and must be maintained over the years. Not to mention drill presses, files, sand paper, stains, dyes and many more things needed by the artisan to complete their work.
I think it’s important to support the pipe making community. There are a lot of factory made pipes on the market that are high quality and very nice to own but I really like knowing that there are artisans out there creating these beautiful, one of a kind works and it would be a great loss if they weren’t doing it. My wife’s cousin is a professional artist and we have one of her prints on our living room wall but it’s just as important to have Ann’s paintings too. Now if I could just get her to make hand painted pipes. Hmmm…
Marshall Lee Armstrong enjoys camping, fly fishing, kayaking, painting, drumming and writing. He has published two books of poetry and writes a blog called "The Window". He is 58-years old, and has worked as a Rock Band Drummer, Electroplater, Chemical Process Technician, and Circuitry Manufacturing Supervisor. He is currently a Medical Lab Technician. He started smoking pipes in 1980.
How about combining the two and have your wife include a pipe in her artwork? Then you could post it on our “pipes in art” thread.
Thanks for a well written and nicely illustrated article that forces a rethinking of pipes in our life — and art in our pipes. Too often I overlook the obvious craftsmanship invested in my pipes and treat them in a utilitarian way. It’s nice to step back and admire them as products of both Nature and mind.
Thanks for the comments guys. If you have ever tried woodworking then you know how hard it can be to get the shape of something, “just right.” The amazing work being done these days by pipe artisans is truly a gift to us all, even if you can’t own them it’s a real treat to see the pipes and know they’re being appreciated. Edgreen, good idea. I’ll have to work on that.