They Might Be Giants
Anyone who receives the newsletter or frequents the Smokingpipes website knows the brand name Ardor by heart. Their creations can sometimes be small, which is rare, but on the whole, they have racked up a rather famous reputation for making very well-engineered pipes that range from "large" to "leviathan". I'm not, at all, implying that Ardor is simply a niche pipe company or a one trick pony, exactly the opposite. They have shown themselves to be artisans who have both forged an extraordinary tradition of quality and who exhibit a thirst to maintain an aesthetic uniqueness--but let's face it, the size of their pipes is usually the first thing that strikes one immediately after the box is opened. It's funny that I bring this up, because the shape sizes from this week's Ardor batch are pretty modest, even dainty in some cases, by their standards. It did, however, get me thinking, about scale in general, and how it can affect the way we perceive an object.
It was in the 18th century that the father of conservative political thought, Edmund Burke, conceptualized the attraction of the grandiose. Witnessing something utterly massive, something bigger and stronger than ourselves, could bring about an overwhelming sensation of awe: a flower is beautiful, but a mountain is sublime. A drastic change in the scale of something can evoke a feeling that can be disturbing to some, exciting to others, and can even make an object that was subtly comforting in its usual scale look either grotesquely obscene, or (literally) monumentally beautiful. I remember the first time I approached Claus Oldenburg's gigantic "Clothespin" sculpture at Centre Square, when I was attending graduate school in Philadelphia, and how it left me feeling a bit peculiar, vertiginous, and stimulated to the point of giddiness, like the after effects of drinking way too much coffee, way too fast.
What is especially interesting is that an alteration in scale can work emotively when sized down, as well. The anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss believes that all art is a basically a miniaturization, and by that logic Michelangelo's David does not make a man bigger so much as it makes a massive block of marble smaller. In the case of Ardor, could the briar wood of the pipe, with its organic aesthetic leanings--smooth and rusticated, alike, stained to accentuate the natural beauty within the wood--remind us of the great, gnarled burl it originated from, dense, hard, and fire-resistant from tenacious, hardscrabble growth? This is very true of Michelangelo's David - gigantism is the last thing that comes to mind when seeing it, for it is just big enough to give the presence of something alive. If miniaturization transports objects into the otherworld of art (as in illustrations, for example), enlarging subjects can bring them back towards an immediate presence in our life. I wonder if the artisans that make giant pipes, as Ardor often does, whether consciously or not are playing to the psychology of scale, and its duality.
But to just talk about the massive size of the Ardor "Giants" can seem a little too obvious, a little too elementary. Instead of discussing size in itself (like that alone is a measure of worth) why not discuss whether the pipe's size has any valid conceptual relationship to its design? Looking at Ardor, I would have to say the size of their often very large creations is justified, because Ardor does not fall into the mindset found in some modern circles of allowing for lackluster craftsmanship and/or the pretentiously bizarre (flatteringly referred to, by some, as avant-garde, even though there's no longer much that's new, or even very uncommon about it) simply to feed a hunger for a mere spectacle. The pipes remain practical, despite their size, retaining all of the positive attributes of their original shape, still intuitive in design, comfortable in hand, and made to provide a great, smooth smoke--but just with a chamber that could kill a horse. Through their pipes, the boys at Ardor have proven their credibility by way of this thoughtfulness.
But that's enough woolgathering for one update -- scale is important in writing too, you know. This week, our big 20% off Savinelli clearance event is still going strong. Also we have a few sublimely crafted beauties from Chris Asteriou, some darkly seductive creations from Paolo Becker and some rather fine smoking instruments from Ardor too, in case you hadn't already heard. If you're in the mood for something a bit more artsy, I suggest checking out the Ser Jacopo's Pictas going up, but if the traditional is more your style, you can't go wrong with our new batch from Mastro de Paja, who are at the more conservative end of the Pesaro school. Finally, check out our updates from Brebbia, Neerup, Brigham, Savinelli, and Peterson, for a wide variety of quality pipes ranging from the simple and affordable to highly praised collector series.
Seth Ellison: Copywriter