Kei-ichi Gotoh: Sandblasted Freehand (0519) Tobacco Pipe

Product Number: 002-295-0083

Kei-ichi Gotoh is considered by many to be the best artisan in Japan, with an impeccable, unflinching eye for detail and highly unique shaping style that's reflected in his extremely low annual production rate. His story begins like that of many artisans, having received a pipe kit from a friend as a gift, however this kit's journey to completion was by no means a standard one, as Gotoh spent four months finishing it from beginning to end. This highly methodical carving process would come to typify his work as an artisan, and the results that it offered saw him transition from working as an amateur carver to making pipes for Tsuge's prestigious Ikebana line in 1981. After working for Tsuge for six years, he moved on to the industrial design sector while carving pipes on the side, though returned to the craft in a fuller capacity around 2004, with the added benefit of tutelage by master artisan Hiroyuki Tokutomi. Gotoh himself has become a master in his own right, with a powerful command over asymmetry and lively organicism that has resulted in a portfolio which is nothing short of stunning, and that's inspired untold ranks of carvers who admire his work.

This Freehand piece is quite the interesting one, and immediately lends credence to Gotoh's firm grasp on the concept of compositional asymmetry, as well as his masterful command of both sweeping curvature and structural lines. One of the most impressive tasks in pipe making is to render crisp ridgelines that follow fluid, flowing contours, to take the rigid and marry it with the sinuous. This is something that can be seen throughout the stummel of this pipe, though especially so on the left flank, where a continuous ridge flows through the shank's flare, pinch, and expansion into the bowl, wrapping around the fore and through the bowl's outward flare before following the same pattern back to the shank end. Additionally, this is a pipe which changes depending on how it's looked at, reminiscent of the Blowfish when seen from the flanks, though aerially its bowl is evocative of an arrowhead, imbuing it with a rich, profound dynamism of form that keeps this pipe looking fresh no matter how much it's looked at. Driving home the arrowhead-like quality of this pipe, the bowl takes on a consistent taper from the left flank to the right, terminating in a sharp spur, the curved fore of the bowl stylistically urging this point further on and lending it a stunning kind of sideways momentum that's seldom seen in other pipes. The shank end here is flared, of course, but in addition, the right side is angled toward the bowl's side spur, with the face's outline carved in a stunningly similar shape to that of the bowl, lending both ends a keen stylistic balance while offering different visual weights for either flank of the stummel, with the shank end also having a pointed spur on its right side. Paired to the shank is a trim, sleek, pseudo-saddle stem whose base nestles into a recess on the face, the bit stepping down swiftly as it takes on a flattened taper to the button. Dressed in a crisp, inky sandblast, this pipe showcases some incredible grain, with the bowl's spur marking the origin point of a sunburst pattern of rippling growth rings that cascade across the midsection of the stummel to meet a vast ocean of blasted birdseye on the left side panel.

-John McElheny
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Measurements & Other Details

  • Length: 5.37 in./136.40 mm.
  • Weight: 2.20 oz./62.37 g.
  • Bowl Height: 1.53 in./38.86 mm.
  • Chamber Depth: 0.93 in./23.62 mm.
  • Chamber Diameter: 0.83 in./21.08 mm.
  • Outside Diameter: 2.65 in./67.31 mm.
  • Stem Material: Vulcanite
  • Filter: None
  • Shape: Freehand
  • Finish: Sandblast
  • Material: Briar
  • Country: Japan
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