The Belle Epoque of Maigurs Knets
|Art Nouveau advertisement by Alphonse Mucha|
Some days ago Ted passed by my desk, and in noticing several simple gesture drawings I had done of a handful of pipes, asked, "Are those Maigurs?" We deal with a lot of pipes here -- a lot of pipes, and I think it says something about this particular artisan's work that even in the simplest of two-dimensional renderings, his designs can be distinguished at a moment's glance. Nothing flows like Maigurs Knets. That's not to say he is without peer in terms of grace of line and form (though he's certainly up there with the best), but more pointedly that he's chosen for his inspiration an artistic style no other pipemaker has yet to even delve into: Art Nouveau.
Some time ago Adam and I, spurred on by a post on Neil Archer Roan's blog concerning the recent debut of the fashionista-targeted "Stiff" smoking pipe, were discussing the nature of design; more specifically, the trade-offs that have to be made between stylization and ease of mass-production. I had pointed out to him that while the furniture designs he was discussing (those of the Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Danish Modern schools) are making yet another a comeback in certain cultural nooks and corners, I've only seen the earlier, but utterly beautiful Art Nouveau style see renewal in mediums of worn fashion -- namely jewelry and clothing. My point was, of course, that Art Nouveau furniture suffered from one majorly inhibiting factor: Attempting to mass-produce its lush, flowing, elegant, complex and organic style out of anything like quality materials would likely be a capital-devouring nightmare.
|Art Nouveau lintel|
|Art Nouveau stairway|
|Art Nouveau desk|
Fortunately, this isn't something an independent artisan pipemaker has to worry about -- just the extreme level of skill it takes in terms of both design and shaping to actually create an Art Nouveau smoking instrument. It may be telling that, at least to my knowledge, no such thing even existed during the Art Nouveau movement's 1890-1910 "Belle Epoque" heyday. Evidently it would take the unprecedented dissemination of independent pipemaking artisanship that we enjoy today to finally produce such a thing -- and even under these far more conducive conditions Maigurs is the single artisan to as of yet step forward. And not only has he stepped forward, he's absolutely nailed it.
(At this point some of you may be recalling theories on how the size of a population effects the works of genius it may be expected to produce; the greater the number of individuals there are active in a culture, or a sub-culture, the greater the likelihood great works will become manifest. This is, of course, assuming the presence of a popularly-accepted philosophy which encourages greatness -- which I believe today's artisan pipemakers, and pipe-collectors alike, certainly do.)
When it comes to his freehand designs, line and flow are the essential elements; fertile curves, swoops, and arcs which take flight with seemingly effortless imagination. Graining and accents follow up, playing in harmony with Maigurs' sculpting in order to emphasize a sense of richness and lush beauty. Even if you were to take the latter aspects out of play, his creations' distinctly Art Nouveau flow remains unmistakable.
Even his straightforward, classic shapes receive lavish treatment; finely-wrought artistic embellishments call to mind the richly decorated Ulmer pipes of old Bavaria, albeit in a much quieter style; Maigurs forgoestypical accents like the flashy silver inlay of the antique Ulmer, rendering his own pattern-work in natural materials and contrasting finishes. Gently drifting, crisply-defined leaves are smooth-polished, set against a fine sandblast background, or an abstract floral inlay is created by hand-making a custom composite stem-base embedded with a section of pine-cone.
In terms of pipemaking, Maigurs is most closely associated with Alex Florov, and both share a background in professional model-making for the Industrial Design and hobbyist industries - it's how they met. It should come as little surprise then that the complex and flowing works of both artisans' designs are made possible through detailed shaping of the briar by hand, with finely-honed chisels on Alex's part, and with a selection of specifically-shaped carbide burrs on Maigurs's. They are both, essentially, pipe-sculptors, and like the Art Nouveau furniture of yesteryear, they each seek to produce works of line, flow, and form that, if they could be copied by a machine at all, would require the highly advanced industrial technology to do so, even in materials far more forgiving than the dense, hardy, often unpredictable root of the briar; works, in short, whose individualistic art defies easy-come reproduction.
Eric Squires: Copywriter