One of the highlights of my trip to Italy each year is my afternoon with Claudio Cavicchi, his wife Daniela and his good friend (and occasional translator) Gianfranco Musoni. There area handful of reasons for this, but it boils down to two things: Claudio's pipes and Daniela's cooking. Daniela is as masterful in the kitchen as Claudio is in his workshop, but since this is a blog about pipes and not about food, we'll talk about pipes…
After lunch (which was extraordinary lasagna followed by a delicious artichoke and meat dish, but I digress…), Claudio, Gianfranco and I went out to Claudio's workshop, which adjoins the house. We started talking about this and that related to Claudio's pipes when I asked Claudio what inspired his shapes. Solely from his pipes, it's clear that shaping is far more central to Claudio than it is to a lot of Italian pipe makers. His shaping voice is clear and well articulated. There's a lot of variance to his shapes, but there's a consistent voice from shape to shape; there's a cleanness to the lines that they all share. Though not necessarily aesthetically, Claudio's shaping philosophy is more akin to the Danes than it is to most Italians.
Claudio makes pipes in fairly large batches, usually working with fifty or sixty simultaneously. This is about a month's production (Claudio makes around 700 pipes each year), so he starts a new batch about once a month. The first two days are dedicated to sorting briar and finding shapes for each block. Claudio has perhaps two hundred shapes cut out on little pieces of paper that serve as approximate templates as he ponders each block. Of course, these aren't set in stone. He scales the shape as needed and modifies the shape if the block requires it or if he discovers a flaw in the briar that necessitates a change of plan.
For Claudio, looking at the structure of the grain in a block and matching it to a shape is the single most important, and most interesting, step in the pipe making process. He stresses that he makes pipes for himself: he does it because he loves to make pipes. That he makes pipes that customers also like is nice, but not central to the creative process for him. Claudio stresses that at this point in his life, with a career as a farmer and a second career as a pipe maker, he doesn't need to make pipes for money. He does it because the process itself is rewarding; he loves making beautiful pipes. And he likes that others enjoy them.
Claudio has paper shape templates going back more than twenty years and he's always developing new ones. They have been inspired by a wide variety of things. In one case, Gianfranco's daughter (age eight) drew a pipe shape while they were visiting with Claudio once that went on to become a Cavicchi template and ultimately a number of pipes! But most are based on shapes that Claudio sees from other pipe makers. They're not copies; they're very much reinterpretations.
One such example is the S. Bang volcano from the Uptown's advertisement in P&T a few years ago pictured to the right. The Cavicchi sitting atop the ad was being smoked by Claudio himself and we snagged it for a minute to present it in this photo. It's far from an exact copy, but the family resemblance is definitely there: the curve of the bottom of the bowl and the angle and curve of the front of the bowl lean heavily on the S. Bang. Other areas differ: length of the shank, the paneling of the shank and the unique Claudio shank treatment mark it out as an unmistakable Cavicchi.
Another great example of this is the volcano shape to the left sitting atop José Manuel Lopes' original Portuguese version of Cachimbos, translated unsurprisingly as Pipes: Artisans and Trademarks for the English edition. That is, of course, Teddy Knudsen and a volcano he made in about 2003 with a bamboo shank. Cavicchi liked the idea, but modified it to have a regular shank and a decorative wood (in this case, boxwood) ferrule that nonetheless echoes the bamboo, with the flaring at the end of the shank, echoed by the decorative flourish on the stem. Contextualized, it does look rather like a little playful hinting at the knuckles of the bamboo in the Teddy original. Similarly, the base of the pipe is totally different: where Teddy emphasized the rugged plateaux contrasting against the smooth sides of the bowl, Claudio offers a gently convex smooth surface. The important line here is the front of the bowl though; that's the element that holds both of these shapes together and serves as the clear commonality between the two. While Claudio's rendition is quite different, the dialogue that goes on between the pipe makers is certainly evident.
Finally, we come to what I think is the most fun of the pipe shapes Claudio, Gianfranco and I discussed. To the right is something of a bent apple-cavalier hybrid. It's based loosely on the Adam Davidson pipe that Claudio saw on Smokingpipes.com pictured below it. In some respects, these shapes couldn't be more different. For starters, Adam's is a derivation of a blowfish shape, itself based loosely on a couple of shapes Hiroyuki Tokutomi has done (which in turn were based very loosely on shapes by Sixten and Lars Ivarsson). The defining characteristic of the shape is the crosscut grain, the large panels on the sides to display birdseye and the balanced asymmetry of the composition. In Claudio's version, all of this is abandoned. Claudio used just the outline of the shape, re-imagining everything else about it. Looking at the two pipes together, one wouldn't guess that the Davidson led to the Cavicchi. Yet, since it did, the ideas that Claudio pulled from the shape are clearly evident in his version. What makes this even more satisfying for Claudio is that a few weeks after he developed this shape based on the photo of Adam's pipe, Adam emailed him to ask him about some of the woods that he uses as shank adornments. He was delighted to be able to reciprocate the unintended favor that Adam had done him.
The copying of shapes is something that seems to cause a whole lot of angst in the pipe world, but not a whole lot of thoughtful discussion. Bo Nordh once said that there's a Swedish expression, "I steal with both arms and both legs," that applies here: all pipe makers borrow, reinterpret, reinvent and reimagine. Pipe makers each add a little bit to the greater aesthetic discussion, but the act of copying and interpreting other works is as central to pipe making as it is to furniture design, knife making or any other aesthetic craft. These are wonderful examples of this: ideas that caught the attention of a creative mind, then filtered and reinvented they become something quite new. For thirty-odd years now, Claudio Cavicchi has contributed his voice to that symphonic aesthetic discussion.
Claudio was a farmer for most of his adult life. He had also been the world slow-smoking
champion for years, and held the world record for many years (as documented by the Guinness Book of Records). Claudio made his first pipe in 1974 because
he'd already waited more than a year for a Caminetto pipe that he'd ordered. For some years, he made pipes for himself and friends. Some years later, as
he became prominent in European and world slow smoking competitions, he began giving serious consideration to the internal dynamics of pipes, rejecting
the traditional Italian model and creating something that, at the time, was quite new, especially in Italy. He continued this way for some years, slowly
making more pipes and farming less, until he ceased to be a farmer at all (except for some very well tended vegetables) and became a full time pipe
Before we sat down for lunch, we looked over perhaps 100 Cavicchi pipes, selecting about half that have since arrived in Little River. We could quite
easily have selected them all--each was excellent--but we had just received a shipment of 50 pipes at the office, and adding another 100 to that seemed
excessive. So, painful decision followed painful decision as we wittled down the selection to something more manageable. Plus, upon our arrival, he had
already fallen far below what Claudio considered his prudent reserve of pipes, and as Gianfranco joked about what would happen if Cladio ever, gasp, ran
out of pipes, we thought it better to not put such strain on Claudio...
Exploring Claudio's home and garden, it becomes quite apparent that this is quiet man is
exacting in all he does. His vegetable garden is perfectly tended. His yard is verdant, model ships he built as a young man are displayed in his dining
room. Everything about his life is exact and methodical, diligently nurtured. Daniela, Claudio's wife, exhibits many of the same attributes. She works as
a quality control specialist for a food packaging company and the lunch she prepared for all of us was divine, beginning with homemade tagliatelle alla
ragu (bolognese; we are just a few kilometers from Bologna, after all), continuing onto a regional pork dish, the most extraordinary fried
potatoes that I have ever tasted, and finishing with some of the finest cantelope that I have ever experienced. Clearly, Claudio's talents in the
workshop are only exceeded by those of his wife in the kitchen.
Lunch conversation ran from pipes to the regional differences among various
prosciutti and the general reverence with which everyone at the table holds the pig, to Claudio's magnificent vegetable garden (about which
Claudio, in his matter of fact manner, says, "well, I'm a farmer"). Open and hospitable, the opportunity for me to finally get to know Claudio and
Daniela was priceless. The impressions about the man that I gleaned from seeing a few hundred of his pipes were partially confirmed. He is as exacting
and methodical as I had supposed, yet also possessing a gentle kindness, a self-comfort, a quiet modesty, that earned my respect as much for the man as
for his pipes.
After a couple of missed turns and driving around
in search of the correct address (you're probably beginning to discern a pattern), we pulled up into a small
grouping of plaster clad homes, finding Claudio Cavicchi, and his good friend (and our translator for the day)
Gianfranco Musoni chatting in Claudio's immaculately maintained garden. We were immediately whisked inside,
plied with espresso, and shown Claudio's well-equipped, organized workshop. It's not that Claudio's workshop is
particularly tidy, but it is
definitely the work home of a disciplined craftsman: everything has its place, the main table in the room
serving as a place for stummels and paper templates rather than a repository for general workshop detritus
(unlike my office, where all the horizontal surfaces are repositories for general office detritus, plus pipes that I've smoked and not put away). And the centrality of that table is interesting. Machines--a
bandsaw, lathe, buffers, sanding disks-- surround the room, but in the center is that long table with nothing
but pipe stummels and paper shape templates. Claudio doesn't use the templates to help him shape, but he finds
it an important part of the creative process, helping him to find the shapes in the blocks before he starts
cutting. Clearly, having all of those paper templates littering (seemingly) the central area of his workspace is
somehow essential to his creative process.
Just like an office, or a living room or kitchen in
a home, says a lot about its occupant's personality, a workshop speaks volumes about a pipe maker. Hardly an
entire picture can be discerned from a workshop, but much about the pipes begins to make sense. Something that
we've remarked upon time and again here at the office is that Claudio has a failure rate of zero. We have never,
ever had to return a pipe for a construction error or other problem that we think would pose a problem for the
pipe's future smoker. Given that we have (as of this writing) sold about 600 Cavicchi pipes, this is a truly
amazing feat. Pipes are handmade and mistakes happen every great once in awhile. Most top pipe makers have a
mistake rate (as we define it) of 1-2%. When you sit back and think about it, that's pretty amazing in itself,
but not nearly as impressive as Claudio's unsullied record. Alyson took over as brand manager (which just means
that she's primary contact for business pieces associated with the brand) for Cavicchi a few months ago. One of
her first questions, which is something we always ask, is how we should handle any returns for problems with the
pipes. Claudio, rather matter of factly, replied that it wasn't an issue; they never have problems. At first, we
thought this rather presumptuous, until we gave it a little thought and realized that we'd had, oh, about 450 so
far without rejecting a single one. This wasn't cavalier haughtiness; Claudio's was a statement of fact. He
doesn't make mistakes.
And this is certainly visible in his workspace. He is
methodical and diligent; his workshop reflects those characteristics. It is obviously carefully organized;
everything has it's own place. Machines are placed relative to each other for ease of use. Tools are carefully
and efficiently organized. The entire workspace exudes a quiet, professional efficiency. The only area of
controlled chaos (most pipe making workshops are either in a state of controlled chaos or outright chaos) was
that center table, so central to both the workshop and his creative process.
Later in the morning, this came up in conversation. We chuckled about it and Claudio indicated that he would
continue to make sure that we never had cause or need to return a pipe. Gianfranco, Claudio's close friend and
our translator for the day, of course quickly added that if there is ever a problem, that Claudio would want to
know immediately, but, then grinning, added that it probably wouldn't ever be necessary.
Claudio speaks as little English as I speak Italian,
so the conversation was mostly with Gianfranco. He could answer a lot of our questions directly, not always
translating for Claudio; his family has been close to Claudio for years, and while he doesn't make pipes (though
he did once just to see, of course), he's intimately familiar with Claudio's process and Claudio obviously
trusts him as if he's family. From our perspective, while it's difficult sometimes to not be able to speak to
the pipe maker directly, it was something of
a boon in this case to hear about the pipe maker from someone who sees him almost every day, cares deeply for
him, but can offer a third-person perspective, of course overlaid with statements from Claudio translated
directly. In some ways, I felt as if I had a better sense of Claudio because of this, in spite of the
impossibility of direct communication.
Listening to Gianfranco talk about Claudio's foibles was a
treat. In some ways, Claudio's perfect record fits in that mold, as does his perfect engineering. Even with the
care to detail he takes, Claudio makes about 700 pipes each year (of which, about 300 end up here with us). He doesn't understand why other pipe
makers make fewer. He thinks it just takes a lot of self discipline, careful routine, and hard work to achieve
this. According to Gianfranco, Claudio also feels uncomfortable whenever he has fewer than 200 pipes on hand. To
any other pipe maker (discounting large workshops or factories), that would sound insane. I can't think of
another individual pipe maker who wants to carry inventory in case someone orders. Claudio is always worried
he'll run out of pipes. I remember once that, per his instructions, we ordered a few weeks in advance of when we
thought we'd need the pipes. He came back three days later with an emailed invoice. This is a pipe maker that
has the precision of an extremely well run large corporation, not a flighty craftsman or business-challenged
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