It has been just over a month now since the 2010 Chicago Show occurred. In the intervening month I have given a lot of thought to a question that is, for me, one of the most important questions any collector considers: “Where is pipe design and shape language going next?”
Over the last five years there have been any number of fashionable movements inside the artisanal pipe world. Since Kei Gotoh’s initial inspiration, we’ve seen a plethora of bamboo-pierced pipes with shapes ranging from flowers to sea creatures.
We’ve seen a number of variations on Bo-Nordh themes, too – nautiluses, horns, Ramses, sphinxes, and lately Swedish tomatoes. Likewise, as Jess Chonowitsch pipes have become scarce and precious, a number of artisans have borrowed his shape language, and signature flourishes, as well.
We’ve seen the extraordinary influence of Hiroyuki Tokutumi, too, as Americans, the Danes, and the Germans have borrowed much of his language of asymmetry, the emphasis of nature’s beautiful mistakes, and the organic. We’ve also seen Toku, himself, riff upon the language of artisans like Teddy, Jess, and Bo in playful turnabout.
There has been innovation in finishes as individual artisans make their staining and sandblasting strategies more differentiated and recognizable. Particularly notable in this category of late is the work that Bruce Weaver and Rad Davis have done to enrich the sandblasting-style vocabulary, enriching the signature style of Jim Cooke.
Likewise, we seen diffusion of innovation in material-usage, too, as more artisans use black bamboo, antique bakelite, mammoth bark, sandblasted bamboo, engraved silver, amboyna burl, and spalted maples. For example, spalted maple shank ferrules used to be a signature feature of Kent Rasmussen; now it is employed by a host of artisans.
It seems to me that there is an enormous amount of innovation going on in the making of artisanal pipes. At the same time, much of that innovation is diffused among various artisans so quickly that as soon as a style, material, or technique is developed by someone, its use becomes widespread very quickly, especially if it is perceived that adoption will fuel sales.
I have wondered recently where the tipping point is in terms of pipe-design direction making a more wholesale shift. Is there some critical mass, some event, some discussion that changes the aesthetic conversation? Does a change in the conversation drive design development in different directions? I wonder.
I’ve noticed significantly more interest over the last year in the pipes of Sixten Ivarsson. Part of this interest may be fueled by the fact that it seems that there have been more pipes of Sixten’s available for purchase. Some makers are making Sixten-inspired homages as in the case of the above-depicted pipe by Hiroyuki Tokutumi. I’ve noticed more of my collector friends talking about Sixten Ivarsson’s pipes, then trying to purchase them. I bought one, myself, last Richmond show.
In Chicago, for the first time I heard a number of conversations about the pipes of Jørn Micke – their rareness, their beauty, and their smoking qualities. One friend of mine, Eugene Smolar, wandered the show with a Micke clenched in his teeth. Let me tell you, friends, that this pipe made a big impression me. It was extraordinarily light, well-balanced, and beautifully made - the kind of pipe that a person loves to both smoke and admire.
I came close to buying a Micke, myself, that was for sale at the show. Only the price stopped me, and even then I almost bought it anyway. It may be the first and the last time I have an opportunity to buy an authentic Micke for myself. I hope not.
Russian-American artisan Alex Florov had a pipe on his table that was inspired by the work of Micke with which I fell absolutely in love. When I talked to Alex about this pipe, I got the distinct impression that Alex, himself, had the same feeling. He seemed very reluctant to part with it.
In subsequent conversations, I decided to commission a Micke-inspired pipe from Alex - a picture of which you see here in this post. It arrived earlier this week. I must say that it is everything I hoped for and more.
Because it was a commission, I was able to be very specific about materials, dimensions, length, weight, and design. One of the things I love most about working with Alex on a commission is that he is incredibly responsive to those for whom he makes pipes. My experience is that it is a joy to work with him.
Clearly, this pipe is stylistically Danish-Retro. Everything from the dublin bowl to the horn shank extension to the narrow shank diameter screams Jørn Micke inspiration.
These Danish-retro pipes seem to have been made, first and foremost to be smoked. I really do like how their functionality influences their design.
Theirs is an aesthetic that is simple and spare, something that appeals to me greatly, especially after recent years when there has been so much emphasis on complexity and on inspiring awe - not that there is anything wrong with that. Recent years have been extraordinary, but there is a great deal to be said about pipe-design that blends functionality, comfort, and beauty.
I wonder whether or not we will see more pipes in this Danish-Retro style. Danish artisan Lasse Skovgaard has been making Sixten-Ivarsson-inspired pipes of late that I find quite attractive. I’m not sure who else has been making pipes of this style, though I’m certain that there are more of them out there.
It will be interesting to see what artisans are thinking about and making over the coming months. I’m looking forward to seeing new pipes in Kansas City and in Richmond come this Autumn.