Kei-ichi Gotoh: Smooth Arrowhead with Boxwood (0722) Tobacco Pipe

Product Number: 002-295-0089

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.

Embodying this style of organic asymmetry, this Arrowhead is a wonderful example of Gotoh's work, deftly showcasing his skill in marrying firm lines with gentle, fluid curvature, as well as his keen eye for line interaction and grain's impact on the structure of the pipe itself. There's an immediately evident juxtaposition of soft and rigid elements present here, as the pipe takes on an outline evocative of its namesake, best viewed aerially. From this vantage the bowl rounds out on all planes, tapering from its widest expanse at the right flank to a defined point at the left, the rounded contours of the right side belying the ridges which surround it, briar pushing out from this framing in an understated manner. Additionally, this area sees the start of a steep slope to the left from the top of the stummel, carrying with it a great deal of implied momentum that all manifests at the tip this stylized arrow, something which I've seen very seldom in any artisan's work, especially this subtly. There are myriad subtleties present in this piece, something which has become a hallmark of Gotoh's craftsmanship, and these add up to a substantial impact, imbuing his work with a sense of vitality and liveliness present in both the horizontal momentum of the stummel and its expertly rendered silhouette.

There are far more ridges present in this piece than are apparent at first glance, especially considering the smooth surfaces of the bowl, with many of these originating at the shank and shank end. It's expected for a shank end such as this to be framed with ridges, as it flares out from the shank in a rather dramatic fashion, with a panel flowing around its circumference from the twin ridges that frame it. One of these marks the start of the ridge which surrounds the right side of the bowl, flowing through the shank to curl up and around the contours of the briar, though a second ridge begins below the first on the shank and follows nearly the same path, though stops short of the bowl. The same is true of the left side of the shank, with this ridge meeting the spurred point of the bowl, though its presence becomes ever softer as it carries through the shank, reaching the spur as a nearly ethereal entity. These lines effectively carry the eyes forward without over-emphasizing the more rigid aspects of the stummel, a masterful display of controlled shaping that's repeated beneath the bowl and to the same effect, a ridge curving up to meet the spur from the bottom edge of the right side's panel. Given this wealth of ridgelines, one would expect a significant degree of firmness about the stummel, but Gotoh's skill in rendering softness has manifested itself in such a way that the rigidity of these lines is almost immediately tempered or works in service to emphasize smooth contours.

While there's an immediately apparent asymmetry here, given the striking difference in breadth between both flanks of the stummel, there's a hidden element of symmetry within it as well: The outline of the shank face and the silhouette of the bowl are nigh perfect matches to each other. From the smoker's perspective, or rather a perspective in line with the stem's slot, the shank face reveals its own arrowhead-like shape, while its angled, sloping lines arc and arrange themselves to fit the ridges, points, and curves of the bowl. What this means is that Gotoh has managed to create a two-dimensional shape that matches a three-dimensional shape, and in such a way that maintains a perspective of almost exactly one-to-one: a feat that's nothing short of astonishing, especially given the curvature of the bowl's fore. Paired to this stummel is a rather understated saddle stem of jet-black vulcanite that's been fitted with an expansion ring rounded by a trim band of pale boxwood, complementing the lines of the stummel without detracting from all of its detail. Dressing this stummel is a warm, deep contrast stain of rich chestnut hues that unveils a gorgeous array of wrapping cross grain through the top and underside, while the expansive right flank showcases a vast sea of birdseye. The most stunning aspect of the grain here are the superbly defined undulations of visual growth rings that ripple across nearly every bit of the cross grain, and which grow in a sunburst pattern out of the left side's spur.

-John McElheny
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Measurements & Other Details

  • Length: 6.10 in./154.94 mm.
  • Weight: 2.08 oz./58.97 g.
  • Bowl Height: 1.55 in./39.37 mm.
  • Chamber Depth: 1.00 in./25.40 mm.
  • Chamber Diameter: 0.75 in./19.05 mm.
  • Outside Diameter: 2.50 in./63.50 mm.
  • Stem Material: Vulcanite
  • Filter: None
  • Shape: Freehand
  • Finish: Smooth
  • Material: Briar
  • Country: Japan
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