Todd Johnson: Smooth Inuit with Bamboo, Blue Mastadon, and Mammoth (Phalanx) (Q) Tobacco Pipe

Product Number: 002-194-0155

It is no exaggeration when I say that Todd Johnson is one of, if not the most, highly regarded artisans in all of the United States, and that his name carries with it a weight that is nearly universally recognized in the greater pipe community. His fascination with pipes began around the same time he started carving: in the Spring of 2000, when he carved a walnut pipe for a friend's graduation, leveraging his skills and tools as a woodworker to do so. From there he was hooked, receiving critique and instruction from Trever Talbert before visiting Tom Eltang in the winter of 2001, Eltang teaching him his techniques for drilling and shaping, as well as imbuing him with a great appreciation for the Danish school of design. Johnson went on to earn a master's degree in aesthetics from Yale, something that, combined with the respect he has garnered for shaping styles from around the world, lends him an utterly singular outlook for the form his own pieces take.

This Inuit Freehand is a stunning example of Johnson's work, and one that truly encapsulates his reputation for artistry, transcending the bounds of pipe-ness through its demonstration of sheer sculptural poise. While we've seen this style of shape before a number of times from several different carvers, this is one of a scant few that we've received from Johnson, and only the second of its very particular outline. Though it's been known as the Whale or the Pierced/Speared Fish when crafted differently or by other carvers, the idea is somewhat universal among these silhouettes: pairing a uniquely fish-like stummel to a lengthy stretch of bamboo (or other material) through the stylistic impalement of the former by the latter. Johnson has truly outdone himself in this example, not just by way of grading, his Phalanx Q representing the best of his work, or grain, but in terms of pure shaping excellence. The stummel has achieved something which is seldom seen in the work of many: implied motion backed by palpable momentum.

The stummel here is imbued with these features via both sweeping, gestural lines and firm, structural ridges, and the interplay between those aforementioned shaping details not only elevates individual elements of the pipe's shape, but each other as well. The fluid contours of the edges here feed into ridges, while the ridges serve to outline the curvature of the pipe as well, with certain areas under the tail lined by ridges for the sole purpose of allowing light to catch and granting better definition to the silhouette near the aft. The tail of this whale has some of the most impressive examples of this shaping as well, with it marking the starting point of several ridgelines that not only outline the tail itself, but plunge into the underside and frame a vast plain of plateau. Much attention has been given here to the seven knuckles of bamboo that impale the stummel as well, with its straight, structural rigidity acting as an immediate foil to the stummel's curves, and its slight lean to the right matching the angle held by the tail almost perfectly.

Not only is the shaping here excellent, but the balance is as well, the bamboo's gentle adjustment evidence of this feat. Where a great deal of this pipe's momentum comes into play is when light hits the ridges and curves it boasts, the areas of the tail not the only places where this takes effect, granting the whale a solitary sense of stiffened struggle, where the ideas of its thrashings are recognized but cannot be felt. Capping off the bamboo pushing out from the bottom is a foot made from mammoth ivory, allowing shockingly stable sitting, while a pair of blue mastodon rings frame the bamboo before this and before the smartly curved saddle stem that tops off the shank. Topping the stummel is a matte-finished contrast stain that reveals a stunning display of flame grain flowing through the circumference of the stummel, rising at the aft and covering the tail at the top and underside, while dense fields of birdseye populate the areas not covered with flame. Also included is a second foot of mammoth shaped with a spear-like point wrapped with sinew, completing the composition's speared motif. Both the flattened foot and the spear-pointed foot can attach to the end of the pipe's bamboo shank, and a second ferrule of bamboo has been included to store whichever foot isn't in use.

-John McElheny
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Measurements & Other Details

  • Length: 7.72 in./196.09 mm.
  • Weight: 2.11 oz./59.87 g.
  • Bowl Height: 3.37 in./85.60 mm.
  • Chamber Depth: 1.95 in./49.53 mm.
  • Chamber Diameter: 0.76 in./19.30 mm.
  • Outside Diameter: 1.23 in./31.24 mm.
  • Stem Material: Vulcanite
  • Filter: None
  • Shape: Freehand
  • Finish: Smooth
  • Material: Briar
  • Country: United States
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