Lost and found : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Lost and found

At last Kent Rasmussen finds the proper medium for his expression

by Stephen A. Ross

Photo by Thomas Bastrup Nellemar

Photo by Thomas Bastrup Nellemar

Kent Rasmussen sits in an office chair at one of two work benches inside his pipe studio at his home in Hinnerup, Denmark, a northern suburb of Aarhus on the eastern coast of the country’s Jutland Peninsula. Rasmussen’s work space was once a two-car garage located on the bottom level of the two-story house that he shares with wife, Anne, and children, Camille and Jonas. Two large bay windows occupy the wall that once held the big garage door, and bright sunlight streams through the glass, warming the room and providing plenty of natural light on a glorious spring day in early April.
Still, with all the sunlight available inside the room, Rasmussen flips on a high-powered lamp next to the polishing machine to put the finishing touches on a pipe that will complete a seven-day set he’s been working on for more than a year. His gaze studiously bores into the pipe as he concentrates on searching its surface for any blemish that might pop up at the last second. He powers the polishing machine on and gives the pipe one final pass through its soft pad. At last satisfied that he cannot make the pipe look any better than it already does, Rasmussen turns off the power to both the polishing machine and the lamp and lets out a small sigh. A small, sheepish grin appears on his face, but his eyes betray his obvious pleasure at the outcome of his latest project. Examining the pipe one last time before placing it with the other six pipes in the set, he concludes, “This is a very nice pipe.”
That’s it. There’s no more explanation or expression of pleasure that it’s finished than that. kent-standingThe job is done, and now perhaps it’s time to attend to some work around the house or check out one of the kids’ soccer games. Imagine Michelangelo putting the last dab of paint onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, handing his paint palette to an assistant and then striding out of the Vatican without so much as one glance over his shoulder. That’s the attitude Rasmussen exudes when he’s finished with a pipe. While he loves making pipes and is currently counted among pipemaking’s brightest stars, he doesn’t let himself get carried away with the hype and adoration that some pipe hobbyists have heaped on other pipemakers. Indeed, Rasmussen doesn’t like to draw a whole lot of attention.
A quiet, friendly, unassuming man, Rasmussen is often overlooked at the few pipe shows he attends. He’s slightly built and dresses comfortably in jeans and a T-shirt. Sporting a pair of stylish eyeglasses, he looks more like a rock musician than one of the world’s foremost pipemakers—a status that the 53-year-old has enjoyed for most of the last 10 years. It’s ironic to consider that Rasmussen is at last experiencing the fruits of a successful career as a pipemaking artist after he frustratingly spent years pursuing a career in other forms of art.
Born in Randers, Denmark, in 1961, Rasmussen showed a knack for art from his earliest days. As a child, he spent a lot of his free time in the workshop of his father, Egon, drawing pictures and making sculptures. Rasmussen was especially drawn to wood, from which he and his older brothers would fashion rough swords and shields or small boats—perhaps there is a latent Viking gene in all Danes, though it seems extremely foreign to the mild-mannered pipemaker.

Photo by Thomas Bastrup Nellemar

Photo by Thomas Bastrup Nellemar

As he matured into young adulthood, Rasmussen pursued an education to become a draftsman to create architectural and engineering plans. Eventually, he took a job as a draftsman but found the work tedious. Rasmussen yearned to unleash his creative side, and in the late 1980s he left his job to become a painter.
“It was very difficult to make a living,” Rasmussen remembers. “I lived on social welfare and a number of crap jobs. I wanted to mostly be a painter, but I worked in mixed media as well. I did some sculpture, but I wasn’t trained as a sculptor. I spent 10 years doing that. By the late 1990s, I found out that I would never be able to make a living being an artist, especially with a family. I had met Anne in 1994. I was in my middle to late 30s, and being a poor guy and living the Bohemian lifestyle had lost its charm. It was a difficult period, and I was looking for work that would earn me enough money to support myself and a family. I had an education, but it was outdated.”
Rasmussen considered himself too old to go back to school, and he spent the better part of two years figuring out how he could earn a living. Always good with his hands, Rasmussen kept thinking about the time a few years earlier when he bought a pipemaking kit and fashioned a quarter- bent apple shape. He had then purchased a few other kits and made another four or five pipes that he gave away to friends and family. While the quality of wood from those kits was horrible, Rasmussen recalled that he enjoyed making the pipes. If he could secure better wood, then maybe he might be able to support himself and his desire to start a family.

Photo by Thomas Bastrup Nellemar

Photo by Thomas Bastrup Nellemar

He found a source of better briar and rod stock vulcanite from a supplier in Kolding, about 60 miles south of Aarhus. Looking at pictures of pipes on the few online pipe shops that had been created by 1998, Rasmussen started carving, making pipes that were close to the classic shapes but had little variations. From the start, Rasmussen liked using precious wood and bronze as adornments, and he fashioned his own mouthpieces. He learned pipe engineering from a book by Danish pipe- maker Bjørn Thurmann.
For two years, Rasmussen learned what he could about making pipes from the Internet and by trial and error. Then, in 1999, he discovered that pipemaker Teddy Knudsen’s workshop was located around the corner from Rasmussen’s home. Rasmussen walked over to Knudsen’s studio and introduced himself. Knudsen agreed to look at his work.

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Category: Feature Article, Winter 2015

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