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.
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. It’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.
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.
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.