Shapes as a Way of Life

I've long been a fan of Giancarlo Guidi's work. Much like Carlo Scotti in Northern Italy, or Sixten Ivarsson in Denmark, Guidi first created a new idea, a new approach to pipe making, and then taught others. Is that not the mark of a true master? So, having wound our way over the Apennines from Florence (by way of Arezzo) to Pesaro, I was seriously excited to meet this man I'd thought and written ( this from 2004 being an example) so much about.

Giancarlo Guidi cofounded Mastro de Paja in 1972. In 1983, he left Mastro de Paja to found Ser Jacopo. Giancarlo's work demonstrates an inventive genius that I can't help but admire: whether it's the Picta series--pipe shapes based upon works by Van Gogh, Magritte and Picasso--or his standard line of neoclassical shapes, there's an aesthetic inventiveness and sophistication that Giancarlo brings to pipe making that really sets his work apart.

We arrived mid-afternoon following our beautiful, but at times harrowing, drive over small mountain roads. During the summer, the craftsmen at Ser Jacopo work half-days, leaving around 2pm as the summer heat on the Adriatic coast becomes unbearable. Giancarlo, and a translator who also serves as the secretary for the business that now owns Ser Jacopo, awaited our arrival. There's an eeriness to any factory or place of business or workshop when it's not operating. It's that way when I'm at the office on Sundays. It's that way in the Stanwell factory when I've seen it on a weekend. Without the rhythm of people at work, something is definitely missing.

Still, this did mean that we were free to ask questions, to roam the long, fairly narrow, workshop, without being in anyone's way. Four people work in this space, including Giancarlo, making roughly 3,500 pipes each year, about a third of which come to the United States (of which about 175 each year end up, well, here). Giancarlo's station is immediately obvious; it's the one with piles of books, pipe stummels, pipe experiments and other detritus. The other stations are those of an efficient factory; Giancarlo's is a space an artist might keep.

Excited, full of energy, Giancarlo set about
showing us around. From time to time, the translator broke in, but Giancarlo and I were doing a pretty good job of communicating. I don't speak any Italian and he doesn't speak any English, but we're both perfectly fluent in pipe-lish, so we did pretty well. He showed us the sandblasting. First they tumble blast a bunch of pipes to get a sense of the grain pattern, then focus blast each piece, blending techniques that are traditionally Italian (the tumbling) with those that Danish, American and English pipe makers use (a nozzle with a focused stream of media on a particular bowl). Next, we played with standard pipe making bits, from his gigantic lathe (they have a few, but one is truly huge, see below) to the piles of shaped stummels, waiting to have stems added and to be sanded, stained and finished.

Much like the Castello factory, Ser Jacopo's workshop feels like something in between the small artisanal pipe making workshops I've seen all over the world and a larger factory like Stanwell. There are elements of both present: the regularity and efficiency of a factory, combined with the tools of a small workshop. But it's more than that. Pipe factories are inhabited by people who, well, work at factories. They do care about what they do, but it's a job. In a small workshop, it's a passion, the craft is a way of life. That's the difference, really: the smaller multi-person workshops, like Castello or Ser Jacopo, feel like passionate people work there, people who do this because they love it, or need to create to satisfy some inner urge.

Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was simply watching the way Giancarlo went from being fairly passive to thoroughly animated whenever he spoke about new shape ideas. To say that he thinks deeply about shape and form is almost trite. He pores through massive table-top art books for ideas. He recently expanded the Van Gogh Picta line when he discovered some more paintings that feature pipes. He's working on a new Picta line based on yet another artist. When he's not doing that, he's dreaming up other crazy ideas, like his recent two person pipe.

From there, we moved to the office, to look through a whole bunch of Ser Jacopo pipes. It's such a treat to be able to select pipes at the factory and to have such a multitude to choose from that one cannot really help but pick a few dozen extra. The new Ebony and Ivory pipes were of particular note, pairing a jet black stain with a white acrylic stem, and they'll be filtering their way onto the website over the coming weeks and months.

Having selected a few dozen pipes and chatted over coffee for a little longer, we headed back on the road, wishing we could have spent more time, both at the Ser Jacopo workshop and in Pesaro, a beautiful small city on the Adriatic. We never actually managed to see the Adriatic, deciding that we better head northwards towards Balogna, in search of a good meal and a good night's sleep before we saw two pipe makers the following day, in small towns near Bologna and Ferrara. And I'll be writing about those over the next few days...

Giancarlo Guidi

A Picta Magritte 20 having been stained

Sykes Wilford and Giancarlo Guidi

From our drive from Florence to Pesaro


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