Carving a path of her own : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Carving a path of her own

Nanna Ivarsson builds on the legacies established
by her grandfather, Sixten, and father, Lars

by Stephen A. Ross

nanna4There’s a certain bit of insecurity that most artists feel about their craft. The self-expression on display in their work brings with it a baring of the soul, a deep desire to connect one’s passion and experiences with those of others, to comment on the human condition in a variety of mediums—canvas, clay, bronze or wood. There is also the desire to stand out and shout “Here I am!”—to leave something behind that others will admire years after the artist’s life has ended. Each painting or sculpture is an opportunity to make a statement and forge a legacy. The best artists approach those opportunities nervously, anxious to see what they may achieve and how they will be received. It’s that anxiety that makes them work all the harder to hone their skills, no matter whether they are young or old. Each new piece brings with it the thrill and satisfaction of having created it and the hopes and prayers that others might like it.

A pipemaker, Nanna Ivarrson is one such artist. The daughter of Danish pipemaker Lars Ivarrson and the granddaughter of legendary pipemaker Sixten Ivarrson, Nanna grew up in the workshops of her father and grandfather. She sold her first pipe when she was just 9 years old—the sale price was approximately $35 and a little more than 8 pounds of candy. She discussed pipemaking with her grandfather and father and took their lessons to heart. But despite the years of experience and learning from two of the world’s more important pipemakers, she still gets butterflies in her stomach when she shows a pipe to a potential customer.

“I still get nervous about presenting a pipe, but then when I hear the buyer express his appreciation for it, I get relieved,” she explains. “With a pipe I’m never finished. There are always thoughts of what I could do to make it better. When it’s not finished, I can still think about what I can do with it. But when it’s nanna1done, it’s done. I have to force myself to accept it. And then I want to send it away because when it’s sitting here I’m always thinking about what I could have done to make it better. ‘I could have bent the stem on this one a little bit more,’ for example. Or, ‘Perhaps I have bent the stem a bit too much.’ I am always second-guessing my work on a pipe.”

The constant search for perfection that drives most artists is compounded for Nanna by the success and reputation of her father and grandfather. When pipe people think of the name Ivarrson, they think of only the very best—pipes that might belong more in a museum than inside the cabinet of a pipe smoker.

A Swede who immigrated to Denmark in the 1930s to work in his brother-in-law’s bill-collecting firm, Sixten came to pipemaking after World War II. Working at Poul Nielsen’s Kyringe-piben, which would later become Stanwell, Sixten tweaked the classic English shapes by making them slimmer and adding graceful curves before branching out and crafting completely original freehand shapes. Some have claimed that Sixten was the world’s best and most important pipemaker, and it’s hard to overestimate his influence in pipemaking. His designs and work ethic have inspired countless pipemakers, and his work has elevated the reputation of pipemakers from being viewed as relatively unskilled workers turning countless bowls on a factory lathe to the status of highly skilled artisans—sculptors, rather than factory workers.

Nearly as highly regarded as his father, Lars has become known for crafting nanna2pipes that exude life by bringing out the organic qualities of the briar. Not as driven to make as many pipes as Sixten, Lars has experimented more with the briar and sought an emotional and spiritual connection with it to bring out the shape nature intended.

Nanna naturally took after her grandfather and father, often spending her free time in their workshop pretending to make pipes when she was very young. As she grew older, they allowed her to turn make-believe into reality one step at a time. By the time she had reached her teenage years, she was finally deemed old enough to use the most dangerous equipment in the workshop.

When she was 18, Nanna apprenticed at Sixten’s Copenhagen studio while simultaneously pursuing a degree in industrial design at the prestigious Danmarks Designskole. While pipemaking was satisfying, Nanna sought a different avenue to express her creativity.

After successfully completing her degree, Nanna secured work at a firm designing household goods and furniture, but there were always the happy memories of making pipes. After two years working at the design firm, she left to learn more about pipemaking from her father.

After a year of working with him, Lars agreed she had mastered pipemaking well enough to set up her own workshop. She took much of her late grandfather’s equipment (Sixten died in 2001) and established a workshop in a building shared by craftsmen, artisans, designers and artists in Copenhagen. She then moved to New York City and worked in a similar building in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Only able to obtain 90-day work visas, she had to travel back to Denmark every three months and get another visa to return to New York. Tiring of the trans-Atlantic crossings every three months, Nanna eventually returned to Denmark.

Today, Nanna and her sons Sixten and Mattis live in a home in a forest near her family in Koege. Nanna’s workshop is a large, bright and airy space. Adorning the walls are a few calendars and pieces of art, pictures of pipes and framed photos of Sixten at work. With the photos and Sixten’s pipemaking equipment inside, his influence is still present more than a decade after his death. Yet Nanna says her father has had a more direct impact on her pipemaking aesthetic.

“I was raised with the shapes that my father made, and they have become my idea of beauty,” the 38-year-old says. “My father’s pipes are so incredibly beautiful. His pipes are alive. They are so tense and powerful. They are strong. I think he makes the perfect pipes.”

The admiration for her father’s work goes beyond the products he makes. By working with her father, Nanna developed a way of communicating with him so nanna3they know exactly what the other means even though they may be miles apart and talking over the telephone. It is a difficult accomplishment to achieve in the visual arts—to describe exactly what you see to someone so that they see the same thing.

“My father and I can talk about shapes as if we were sitting here together and drawing on the same piece of paper instead of talking on the telephone. I can draw what he’s telling me over the phone. I know exactly what he taught me. We are so close, shape-wise. My grandfather loved to make pipes, but he was a hardworking man. My father has the same feelings that I have. It’s very nice to talk to him because he understands exactly how I feel when I’m making a pipe—the disappointment and the exhilaration.”

Rather than emulate the work of her father and grandfather, Nanna has strived to capture her own creative expression. It first happened in the industrial design field, and it is now happening in pipemaking. Each pipe is an opportunity for Nanna to step forward as an artist and a pipemaker in her own right—a challenge she is welcoming with more comfort.

“It’s important that I try to get away from [their] shapes and force myself to do something of my own,” she comments. “I never try to copy a pipe. But following the grain, I sometimes see the same thing my father or grandfather would see. They were so inspired, and they have nearly done all the shapes that a person could do, so it’s very hard to find a new shape. My pipes are changing a little bit all the time. I am very strongly influenced by my father in shaping a pipe because I think his pipes are so beautiful, but there are differences. When I make a shape, it is very similar to his but it is different. There is a Nanna shape versus a Lars shape versus a Sixten shape. Now I am more comfortable making the Nanna shape. My experience is just like my father’s, who was influenced by his father and then over time started developing his own shapes.”

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Category: Feature Article, Other Stories, Pipe Articles, Spring 2013

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