We spend countless hours here at Smokingpipes extolling the virtues of briar (Erica Arborea). It is, of course, the most common current medium in the creation of tobacco pipes. However, as most know, it wasn't the first. Clay and stone predate the heath burl by several hundred years, and even with the plethora of briar pipes available today, you're still likely to happen upon an ardent smoker with a rotation full of meers or corn cobs.
That said, the theme for this year's American Exposition presented an exciting challenge, one that beckoned carvers from their comfort zones. For the past three years, we've asked a who's who of the finest American carvers for pieces displaying remarkable use of bamboo, sandblasted finishes, and accent stemwork, so for our fourth annual American showcase, we opted for a bit of a different theme: Alternative Mediums.
Despite conjuring up images of tattoo-laden fortune tellers, the criteria for this year's showcase was simple: fashion a pipe from a material other than briar. Said material could be another commonly-implemented natural hardwood such as strawberry wood, olivewood, boxwood, or morta (as several this year chose to do), but it didn't stop there, as we received pieces crafted from redwood burl, desert ironwood, orangewood, madrone burl, bakelite, horn, and even a striking nautilus shell.
It's certainly interesting to see such an artful display of pipes adorned with a veritable spectrum of color and texture, crafted by eighteen of the most respected voices in American pipemaking. From the sleek and modernist, to the affably pastoral, to the downright whimsical, each unique piece is a testament to distilled, unfettered creativity.