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New Work for the New Year

I’ve been away from home and studio for much of the holiday season, but I’m back and pleased by the latest firing in my new kiln.  Among the new pipes are a few that I like particularly well.Baby Beluga Effigy Hand Pipe  As always, clicking on the thumbnail will yield a larger and more detailed image.

This little effigy hand pipe is in the form of a beluga whale, one of my favorite marine mammals.  The glaze is my crystalline white, which flowed across the contours of the piece in a particularly lovely way.  There is a quality to this piece that reminds me a bit of an ivory carving, though of course it’s porcelain, made from clay and other minerals mined from the earth.  I suspect that after many years of use, the pipe may take on the faint yellow sheen of ancient ivory, from the combustionbelugac of the smoking mixture, and if so, the resemblance will seem even more notable.  There is already a faint warm color along edges, caused by traces of iron in the porcelain.


bluelizardaI’ve also made a few more effigy pipes in the form of lizards, some with carbs and some without.  One of my sale venues does not allow carbs or water pipes, so I have adapted these designs to that market, and the pipes work very well despite these restrictions.

brwnlizaFor example, to the left is a lizard effigy pipe with a red-brown glaze.  This glaze is quite similar to the slip glazes used by early American stoneware potters to glaze the interior of crocks and jugs.  I like to think of myself as an eclectic potter, using in many cases the forms inspired by pre-Columbian indigenous potters, and the materials of the great Chinese potters, who were my original and still powerful influences, and who also used these beautiful high-iron glazes.


One of the more interesting directions I’ve pursued lately is a series of effigy pipes celebrating the fishy form.  I’ve always been a fisherman, and of course, Celadon Fish Effigy Hand Pipehere along the Gulf Coast, where our family has lived for many years, fish are an important part of the local food Platform Effigy Fish Pipechain.  I’ve caught a lot of fish, and eaten a lot of fish, and I’m still amazed by the beauty and color of these animals.  My pipes are very simple representations, designed to in some way evoke fish as a primitive artist might attempt to create them.   Both of these pipes are glazed in a limpid clear celadon that collects in texture to make a deeper color.  The pipe of the right is a simple hand pipe of thrown and assembled parts, enhanced by carving.  The pipe on the left is a platform pipe, made in tribute to the great platform pipes (in stone and clay) made by mound-building cultures in North America.  Both pipes have carbs.


I also did a small series of baby bird effigy pipes.  I really like this particular form.

blubirda grnbirdaredbirdaredbirdb

There’s something very heartening about the idea that those who come to own these pipes will perhaps treat them as something more than clay and glaze, more than utilitarian objects.  My hope is that these pieces will become heirlooms and be passed down the generations, that some day it won’t be weird to inherit your grandmother’s pipe.


I make these pipes with the hope that people will see them as beautiful objects in their own right.  Pipes are all too often seen as purely utilitarian, to be used and discarded.  And because these objects are high-fired porcelain, even if they are discarded, they are pretty much impervious to time.

I like to imagine archaeologists a thousand years from now digging up an ancient landfill and discovering these pipes, perhaps to their great puzzlement.

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Many more pipes available on my Etsy shop!

Baby Bird Porcelain Effigy Pipe
Blue Bellarmine Effigy Hand Pipe
Celadon Bellarmine Hand Pipe
Green Weasel Effigy Hand Pipe
Blue Moon Porcelain Effigy Hand Pipe
Celadon Skunk Effigy Pipe
Catfish Effigy Pipe

Blue Coyote Effigy Pipe
Blue and Purple Hand pipe
Celadon Cow Effigy Pipe
Deep Blue Spider Effigy Pipe
Simple Green Stem Pipe
Happy Mouse Effigy Pipe
Platform Pipe with Stained Glass Inlay
Sea Turtle Effigy Pipe with Stained Glass Inlay
Simple Celadon Hand Pipe
Polished Porcelain Sleeping Bird Effigy Pipe
Horny Toad Effigy Pipe
Simple White Hand Pipe
White and Purple Tripod Pipe
Flower Hand Pipe with Stained Glass Inlay






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Why Do Most of My Pipes Have Legs?

If you look through this blog, you’ll probably notice that most of my pipes are supported on little legs.  Why is this?

Well, if the pipe is an effigy pipe, then the reason is fairly obvious.  Animals (and people) usually have legs.  Many of these forms would look incomplete without these appendages.

Blue Bowl Skunk Pipe
Blue Bowl Skunk Pipe


But even if the pipe is an abstract form, I usually add feet to the pipe.  Most often, I add three legs, because a pipe supported by a tripod is inherently more stable than a pipe with any other number of legs.  Sometimes I even use three legs for an effigy pipe, for that very reason.  For example, you can look at this one– one of my current favorites.  Baby Bird Effigy Hand PipeIt’s an effigy in the form of a baby bird demanding dinner– but unlike a real baby bird, this one has three legs.  The thinking here was that a pipe of this sort needs to be particularly stable, in order that its bowl can be packed without much danger of the pipe falling over during that activity.

In some cases, the feet are necessary in order to allow the pipe to sit upright at all.  The baby bird pipe would probably sit on its flat base if it didn’t have feet. On the other hand, my salamander pipes require feet not just for realism’s sake, but because a long skinny pipe with a heavy bowl will just fall over immediately when set down.

Ash-Glazed Salamander

But what about the abstract pipes I make, most of which do have three little feet?  There are several reasons for this approach.  In the first place, stability is enhanced by three legs, the most stable form of suspension.  A pipe with a flat bottom may end up wobbling a bit, due to the way that high-fired porcelain softens and distorts in the heat of the kiln.

More important than that is the issue of tactile quality.  Pipes are used in the hands.  By putting little feet on my pipes, I am able to glaze the bottoms of the pipes, all except for the small areas where the legs touch the kiln shelf.  This is necessary with high-fired porcelain, because unlike lower-fired earthenware, porcelain cannot be held up from the kiln shelf with little spikes of high temperature metal.  True porcelain wares cannot have glaze where they touch the kiln shelf.  And in my view, the legs add tactile interest to the pipe when it is held; there is a pleasant contrast between the slightly textured touch of the feet where the porcelain is unglazed, and the sumptuous smoothness of the glazes I like.Twisty Water Pipe

Finally, feet give the piece a lift, both visually and in pragmatic terms.  It is easier to pick up an object which is lifted mostly above the surface it sits upon, if your fingers can more easily curl under the piece.  The feet make pipes easier to handle, and less likely to be dropped.  These pipes are, after all, porcelain, an inherently breakable material.  Anything that makes them less likely to be dropped is a Good Thing.

Blue-White Water Pipe

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We’re back from the North Country!

Looking across the lower meadow towards the woodlot.

We had a wonderful time at our old farm in upstate New York, though because of the press of business we didn’t get to spend quite as long as we’d hoped.  While we were gone, Amazon notified us that our Amazon Handmade shop was up.  Because of Amazon’s policies, I have only been able to stock non-pipe items in that shop, but I’m adding items daily now that we’re home.  Now, the pipes are available for purchase here on this blog, as well as on my Etsy shop.

The North Country is a special place.  I was born in upstate New York, and our family has long had a camp on the St. Lawrence River near Alexandria Bay.  When we began to think about a place to spend the summers, both my wife and I wanted a place in the country where the seasons were bold, where the soil was good, where nature put on her best displays and where a lot of interesting things were going on.  We eventually started looking for property about 75 miles north of the family camp, in St. Lawrence County.  The area is home to four colleges, including my grandmother’s alma mater, St. Lawrence University, and Clarkson University, one of the premier science and technology schools in the country.  There are also two SUNY schools, one of them home to the world-renowned Crane school of music.  Montreal is a couple hours north of our little cabin in the woods.  The Adirondack State Park boundary is just a few miles east of our cabin, and the Park is a magnificent asset to anyone who likes the outdoors.

Dogs relaxing in the cabin.
Dogs relaxing in the cabin.

Another great advantage of the area is that back in the 70s, when the back-to-the-land movement was at its height, there was a pretty large influx of countercultural people into the area, and a lot of them stayed.  In other words, the woods are full of fellow ancient hippies, and they sponsor all sorts of interesting activities, from ecological and homesteading associations, to various events celebrating the beauty and diversity of the area.  There’s an excellent food co-op in the nearest little village, a great county library system, and a whole lot of really nice helpful people.  We’ve had our place there now for three years and I haven’t met a jerk yet.  I’m sure it will happen; jerks are always with us, but when it finally happens, I’m going to be very surprised.  Just one example from this visit: I wanted to buy a steel barrel for the rocket mass heater I want to build for the cabin.  I found a Craigslist item that seemed perfect.  When I drove to the address, the retired farmer met me in his barnyard with a huge sack of freshly picked McIntosh apples, and asked me “Do you like apples?”  I could tell you a hundred other pleasant anecdotes like this.

Our plan is to set a small building beside the cabin to serve as a studio, next spring.  I can’t wait.  I find the environment there to be extremely stimulating.  For example, we went for a hike down along the St. Regis River a couple days after a rain and the woods were full of weird mushrooms.  I plan to make a series of hand pipes based on mushrooms, as a result.  I’ll post some images here when the first batch comes out.

Looking down the lane toward the first meadow on a foggy day.
Looking down the lane toward the first meadow on a foggy day.


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Wasps and Pipes

Here’s a little-known problem that can afflict clay pipe makers who leave their greenware outside.

Mud dauber wasps may decide to make their nests inside the stems of unfired pipes.

My wheel is on a covered porch at the back of our house, and I have a shelving system that is basically open to the outdoors, though sheltered from rain and wind.  Ware gets put here to complete drying, and eventually moves into the kiln room when it’s ready to be fired.  But apparently wasps find the inside bore of a pipestem to be just the right size for a nest.

These simple little pipes stayed on the shelves for a week or two before going to the kiln.  Somehow I failed to notice that a wasp had built her nest in the stem of one of them.  I bisque-fired the piece, and still didn’t notice.  I glazed it, fired it, and photographed it, all without noticing that a nest had completely blocked it up.

When I finally did notice, I was astonished.  wasppipeb

Mud dauber wasps gather up clay from various sources and use it to build their nests.  When a colony of such wasps has built a large nest, you can actually fire it and turn it into a ceramic object, which makes an interesting conversation piece for the coffee table.

Had the wasp gotten her clay from my porcelain scraps, which are omnipresent in my studio, the blockage probably would have been irreparable.  But I took a piece of baling wire and forced it into the stem, clearing out much of the blockage.  But the pipe still wouldn’t draw.  A careful examination revealed that the wasp had built another nest at the bowl end of the stem.  Evidently she flew into the bowl and around the corner into the stem.  This blockage was sturdier than the first, and eventually I had to pound a deck screw into the nest through the carb hole in the side of the pipe.  That did the trick, and the pipe draws very well now.

I don’t know what if any special qualities a pipe that was intended to be the home of wasp babies might have, but it’s an interesting overlap between the natural world and the world of ceramic art.wasppipea