Broken Pipe: Peter Heeschen

It's about two in the afternoon on a sunny August day on Funen, the second-largest of Danish islands, as I pull up at Peter Heeschen's farmhouse on the outskirts of Odense. I walk from the rented car into the courtyard created by his house and barns, the paved terrace and flower gardens dappled with sunlight filtered through vines that climb arched trellises overhead, partially enclosing the space. I start poking my head through open doors, looking for Peter. The distinction between inside and outside is fuzzy in Peter's summer life, so there are few contextual cues for where he might be. First the workshop, then one of the barns, then the house. And eventually there he is. In the kitchen, with a huge grin on his face. In dirty jeans and an only marginally cleaner shirt. Holding a pipe that he'd made himself, that he also hadn't cleaned since he made it. He's been making pipes. Or cooking. Or gardening. Or some combination of the three, judging by the state of his clothes, going from one to the other seamlessly, as different parts of a whole life full of things to be done, but done with joy and good cheer. And after a few moments of chatting, I know he'll hand me potatoes to clean, or pipes to polish. For a single day each year, I fall into Peter's life.

That is how I will remember my dear friend, Peter Heeschen. Peter passed away unexpectedly during the night of November 28th, following a full day spent with friends. He was seventy. While he had previously made pipes, the incarnation of Peter Heeschen the pipe maker that we all knew and loved came about fairly late in life, at 53. He was largely self-taught, having spent most of his career as a social worker. Peter's body of work as a pipe maker is inextricably linked to Peter, the man. His pipes were in many respects a reflection of himself: playful, yet practical. He was a craftsman in much the same way that he was a husband, father and friend. His pipes, like Peter himself, are charming, warm, and beautiful, yet also pragmatic, unassuming and straightforward.

I started working with Peter in early 2003, after meeting him in person in Newark, NJ at the New York pipe show that March. In many respects our careers at that time, though found at very different points in our respective lives, paralleled each other. Peter's pipes were still fairly new to the global market, and Smokingpipes.com was in its infancy in those days.

Peter often spoke of how lucky he felt to have found such a home in the pipe community, and of how it gave him the opportunity to travel the world: to the United States, to Cuba, to Malaysia, and to Japan. More than the travel alone though, Peter felt lucky to find friends all over the world. He could go to the Carolinas or California in the US, and have friends to visit and stay with; the same was true across Asia. Through his pipe making, his life became broader, part of a community of pipe makers and pipe enthusiasts that spanned the globe.

In April of 2011 Peter came to Charleston, SC for my wedding to Alyson. We hadn't invited pipe makers from outside of the US, not wanting to unduly burden them with an invitation to an event thousands of miles from home, but when Peter heard the news of our impending union, he had simply asked when the wedding would be and told me he'd be there. He flew into Myrtle Beach, riding down to Charleston with Ted Swearingen, Adam Davidson and their wives Shelly and Lera. He came, he gave an impromptu speech; a speech that is still fondly remembered by many of us five years later, and he charmed all. He even wore a tie.

The pipe community will miss Peter, both for his pipes and for his friendship. I will miss my friend, 'Uncle' Peter Heeschen. Peter's wife Kirsten left us in 2009, and he is survived by his three children, Silie, Sofus, and Frederik.

Comments

    • Caleb on December 1, 2015
    • Kind words, Sykes. Sorry to hear the news.

    • unclebuccs on December 1, 2015
    • A wonderful tribute. Didn't know him, but from your words, he was my kind of man.

    • Dana on December 1, 2015
    • Peter Heeschen is one of my favorite pipe maker. I am deeply-deeply saddened of his passing.

    • Hans Hansen on December 1, 2015
    • A great loss to the pipe community. I remember Peter's infectious smile when he would attend our pipe making seminars in Chicago.

    • Berry Adithama on December 1, 2015
    • RIP Peter Heeschen.. Another loss of a great man..

    • Jason McDonald on December 2, 2015
    • Painted a wonderful picture. Thank you, I feel like I know him a little now.

    • Bond Eddy on December 2, 2015
    • That was a touching eulogy Sykes. Thank you for sharing it with all of us who loved Peter's work and life.

    • guitar on December 2, 2015
    • His smile is beautiful, I pray for the bliss of dead, I'm so sorry for your loss.

    • Todd Brizendine on December 3, 2015
    • So sad to hear this, but how well these words describe his nature. Looking at the May 3, 2014 picture from The Chicago Pipe Show of Peter and myself. I had asked him to make me one of his saucer/bulldog pipes. Always the gentleman, kind. He always had a pipe in the silent auction to the support the Chicago show, even last year when he was to ill to come. He will be missed.

    • William Pearsey on December 11, 2015
    • I met Peter a few years ago at the CORPS show. What a warm endearing man who just happened to create beautiful pipes.

    • B.Klein Bklyn on December 20, 2015
    • I had just learned of Mr. Heeschen's pipes, and purchased one in October of this year. I became and instant and ardent fan, and I'm so sorry to hear that I won't have many years to enjoy seeing his new work. Thanks for sharing these memories.

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