Kei-ichi Gotoh: Smooth Ranchu (0122) Tobacco Pipe
Product Number: 002-295-0088
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.
The word Ranchu refers directly to a specific type of goldfish that's also known as the King of Goldfish, and it's a breed easily recognizable thanks to the fleshy "hood" across its facial area. Drawing inspiration from these unique fish, Gotoh has created this shape: A highly organic, massively dynamic profile that makes use of myriad ridges and plenty of structure, though that's unmistakably soft and supple in its organic styling. There's a great deal of asymmetry here, much of which is thanks to the angle of the shank, as it curves toward the left when lifting out of the transition, its build tilting that way as well, though not to just enhance the sense of dynamism this piece possesses, though it benefits from that as well. No, the unique orientation of the shank poises its face in such a way that the silhouette of its flared semi-oval shape lines up almost exactly with the bowl. This positions a pair of panels at the underside so that they line up as well, the ridgelines that surround them framing two strips of plateau which curve in slightly offset mirrors of each other. At the bowl, we see this panel originate from a duo of curving ridges that drape over the aft side and rise through the rim, with the rim's own asymmetrical shaping and rearward slant creating an implied line that can be drawn from the topmost point of the aft ridge to the fore, where it lifts and curves to meet the other ridge. This creation of a forward-oriented semi-oval not only reflects the shaping of the shank end, but adds consistency at both ends of the stummel and showcases the exacting nature of Gotoh's asymmetrical style.
The bowl itself showcases a shape that's reminiscent of both the Fish and the Brandy, with a defined forward cant and urge, low-set waist, plump walls, and rather squat build, with more breadth than height apparent in its silhouette. This bowl additionally provides further asymmetry, as it takes on its own leftward curve, something enhanced by the rim's complimentary lift to the left fore, creating an outline that's rich with organic dynamism. A wide transition gives plenty of room to drape a digit and lends the shank a high-kicking stance which not only enables it to take on the unique shaping that it does, but lends this piece a comfortable smoking posture. From the transition, we see the start of a quartet of ridgelines that push through the flanks of the shank, not only reinforcing its presence, but further underscoring the uniquely asymmetrical qualities inherent in its structure. The shank end's swift flare into its semi-ovoid shape finds it meeting a rather trim saddle stem possessed of a domed base, one that nestles into the slightly recessed face to provide a fluid junction, while the domed shaping at the stem introduces some welcome softness at the aft end of the composition. There's a shockingly rich degree of detail here, with each line and curve carved deliberately and exactly to enhance the overall shaping of the piece, a testament to Gotoh's uncanny ability and commend over briar. Dressing the stummel here is a light, natural stain that unveils flame and straight grain through the stummel's flanks, following the shank and surrounding the bowl as they are striated by ripples of visible growth rings, while the underside showcases a dense basin of birdseye and a kiss of plateau near the bowl's aft.-John McElheny
Measurements & Other Details
- Length: 5.81 in./147.57 mm.
- Weight: 3.86 oz./109.32 g.
- Bowl Height: 1.88 in./47.75 mm.
- Chamber Depth: 1.17 in./29.72 mm.
- Chamber Diameter: 0.79 in./20.07 mm.
- Outside Diameter: 2.48 in./62.99 mm.
- Stem Material: Vulcanite
- Filter: None
- Shape: Freehand
- Finish: Smooth
- Material: Briar
- Country: Japan