St. Louis is special to me--it was my first show. I did not have a table then, but showed my pipes to several pipe makers and collectors. Receiving their feedback, suggestions, and encouragement really helped to focus my work and energy over this last year, and shortly after that show I took the plunge and started offering pipes for sale.
The show was packed this year, especially for the first couple of hours. The pics are after the initial rush, and after Opus 1 #40 was snapped up by my new friend, Bob, which happened pretty much right away. Thanks, Bob! Soon after that another new friend, Mark, started coming by the table and could not stop looking at Freehand #47. It was so rewarding to watch him admire that pipe. He must have visited the table a half dozen times before we finally made it his. Thanks Mark!
I realized something on the way home from the show that I think is really important to remember in this day of E-commerce. It's simply not the same. It can be good, excellent really, in that it makes this avocation possible at a time when it might otherwise be impossible, or at least very difficult. Many of us are hours away from the closest brick and mortar, and very often the closest has a very limited inventory of pipes, and it's seldom one sees high grades or hand made pipes at all. And pipe shows are few and far between, and they may even become a thing of the past as they are all struggling against the ever expanding smoking regulations.
As a pipe maker it is great to have a website and sell pipes directly to customers. I love it! But, it's not the same as sitting at a table and watching as collectors stop to look over your work. To see first hand as a pipe catches their eye enough to want top pick it up, feel the weight, look at it from all angles, inspect the drilling mechanics, maybe pass a cleaner through it. Watch as they become lost in the grain, and all the other aesthetics that go into a pipe--shape, texture, color--the feel of it in their hand. Maybe they set it back down, but often they're back, not being able to forget it. It's calling out to them, and they pick it up again...
I can't easily describe how rewarding it is to watch as a collector considers a pipe of mine. I think it touches on the spiritual. I know that sounds trite, but in my view we are created in the image of a creator, and so we ourselves are driven to create. If this is true, pipe making must be fulfilling something deep inside of me, and it sure feels that way. I conceive the pipe in my mind first, influenced by the amazing body of work that has already been done, then I make it with my hands out of materials I love and respect, and have carefully selected for just that creation. My creation evolves from the conception stage as the realities and limitations of the materials and physics take hold, but it remains uniquely mine and resembles what I'd conceived of initially.Then, at some point my work, my creation is weighed against the work of others who I also respect, admire, and have very likely learned from or been influenced by. My work is compared against my mentors, my peers, and sometimes something of mine is a match for a particular pipester doing the considering and they take the plunge and make it theirs. I love it!
I sure hope pipe shows survive and we can keep doing this in person! I'm guessing some of you, maybe most, have been to pipe shows, on one side of the table or another. If you haven't, try to get to a show if you can this year. It's an amazing experience, and we may not have them much longer. It's sad to think of loosing them.
What if pipe shows don't survive, and in the future all we have is the internet. I think much of the same process happens on the internet. My guess is that few collectors hit the Buy Now or Add to Cart button on the first glance, or even the first visit. Likely it's a similar process, sort of a virtual pipe show shopping experience for the buyer, but I don't get to watch as this happens. Don't get me wrong, I love it when a pipe is purchased off the website, but I always hope I'll get to hear at least a little of the back story that lead up to the decision, as well as what happens when the pipe is received and smoked.
I also got to smoke and visit with a bunch of fellow enthusiasts, and kick around pipe making challenges with my pipe making friends. Tonni Neilson is a never ending source of inspiration and wisdom. I also enjoyed spending time with John Crosby, Ben Scofield, Bob Keiss (provider of two more tins of my beloved and extinct Mephisto!), it was also great to Bob Swanson, and Kirk Bosi, who has kindly offered to share his table with me at the Chicago show in May once again, thanks Kirk! As well as Bruce Weaver, Lee von Erck, and a host of others. Here are some more shots, but I sure wish I'd taken more:
On the left is Tonni Nielsen. I love Tonni's pipes--they have been a great source of inspiration and Tonni has been very encouraging. His designs are very unique and extremely well executed. His stem work is stellar! On the right is Bob Keiss, who blessed me with two more cans of Mephisto from his cellar, thanks Bob, keep looking for more!
Bellow is Frank Burla who does a fantastic job with the Chicago pipe show (Really looking forward to that in May!). Frank is talking with my nice neighbor who was helping her husband with the MacBarrens booth (I can't remember her name ;(.