The day after last year's event, Jeff, Adam, and I sat at Jeff's kitchen table and decided it was something that needed to happen again. Furthermore we wanted it to again be free for the attendees. We wanted it to be more like a prestigious academic conference to which one is invited, rather than a training workshop for which one pays. For purely logistical reasons, Jeff wanted it to be a somewhat smaller group — cramming a dozen people into Jeff's workshop proved problematic last year — and we all wanted it more focused and serious. Not less fun, of course, as you don't attract potential attendees with an outline that lists "less fun than last year!" as a bullet point, but we all wanted 2015's event to be a real opportunity for pipe makers to get together and focus on learning and growing as pipe makers (and maybe still eat some great food and drink a little beer while getting together).
Jeff did not conceive of the seminar as being tutelage for novice pipe makers. Nor did he conceive of it as a commercial endeavor. Quite the contrary: all of these guys know what they're doing. By inviting only established, and (mostly) full-time pipe makers, Adam and Jeff were able to focus on technical details, shape design and tooling specifics, and the up-to-speed participants were able to share ideas and insights with each other too. This wasn't about teaching people how to make pipes. It was a way for all of these pipe makers to refine their craft. And it wasn't a lecture: it was designed to be participatory, structured as dialogue, not monologue.
My role in all of this is less obvious. I'm not a pipe maker. I don't have anything to teach anyone about making pipes. But I have spent my entire adult life writing and thinking about pipes. I've been involved in more abstract discussions: How many different materials on a pipe constitute too many? When does juxtaposing colors work and when does it fail? Why do top pipe makers tend to use so few shank adornments? Why does the line of this pipe work, but that one next to it does not? These are all qualitative questions that don't have definite answers. They're also the sorts of questions that dominated our dinner conversations, recurring throughout the weekend. There might not be absolute, definitive answers to these sorts of intellectual inquiries, but they are the sorts of things that pipe makers need to be asking of themselves and their pipes.
On Sunday, during the afternoon of our last day at the event, Adam and I offered critical (in the art criticism sense) responses to the participants' work in private sessions. Like last year, I think this was a really wonderful experience. We praised, but we also nit-picked, cajoled and made suggestions. Adam, drawing on his industrial design training in addition to his experience doing pipe quality control at Smokingpipes.com for a decade, is sort of amazing to watch. I mean, I'm pretty good at this, but Adam is as insightful and constructive a pipe critic as you're ever going to meet.
Jeff will continue to host Ping Zhan, Davide Iafisco, and John and Jared from J&J through the rest of the week and work with them in a less structured setting, but Adam and I needed to take our leave. Adam had to head home, and I'm on my way to Tokyo. Jeff Gracik has contributed something special to the pipe making community by hosting these events the past couple of years. We talked a little after the event about where it might go next. We didn't figure it all out, but we do know it will be happening again.