Peter Heeschen 1945-2015 : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Peter Heeschen 1945-2015


by Sykes Wilford

It’s about 2 p.m. on a sunny August day on the Danish island of Funen as I pull up at Peter Heeschen’s farmhouse on the outskirts of Odense. I walk from the rented car into the courtyard created by his house and barns, the paved terrace and flower gardens dappled with sun-light filtered through vines that climb arched trellises overhead, partially enclosing the space. I start poking my head through open doors, looking for Peter. The distinction between inside and outside is fuzzy in Peter’s summer life, so there are few contextual cues for where he might be. First the workshop, then one of the barns, then the house. And eventually, there he is, in the kitchen with a huge grin on his face. In dirty jeans and an only margin- ally cleaner shirt. Holding a pipe that he’d made himself, which he also hadn’t cleaned since he made it.

He’s been making pipes. Or cooking. Or gardening. Or some combination of the three, judging by the state of his clothes, going from one to the other seamlessly, as different parts of a whole life full of things to be done, but done with joy and good cheer. And after a few moments of chatting, I know he’ll hand me potatoes to clean or pipes to polish. For a single day each year, I fall into Peter’s life.

That is how I will remember my dear friend, Peter Heeschen. Peter passed away unexpectedly during the night of Nov. 28, following a full day spent with friends. He was 70. While he had previously made pipes, the incarnation of Peter Heeschen the pipemaker we all knew and loved came about fairly late in life, at 53. He was largely self-taught, having spent most of his career as a social worker.

Peter made pipes to be smoked. They were made, of course, using excellent, aged briar, with hand-cut mouthpieces. They were, likewise, distinctively shaped. Peter riffed on Danish modern pipe shaping yet retained a style distinctive enough that his work is instantly recognizable. For all that, though, Peter’s pipes are tools—well-crafted, beautiful tools, but tools nonetheless. He made pipes that serve their function. His pipes are in many respects a reflection of himself: playful, yet practical. He was a craftsman in much the same way that he was a husband, father and friend. His pipes, like Peter himself, are charming, warm and beautiful, yet also pragmatic, unassuming and straightforward. Peter’s body of work as a pipemaker is inextricably linked to Peter, the man.

I started working with Peter in early 2003 after meeting him in person in Newark, New Jersey, at the New York Pipe Show that March. In many respects our careers at that time, though found at very different points in our respective lives, paralleled each other’s. Peter’s pipes were still fairly new to the global market, and was in its infancy in those days. During the intervening 12 years, we grew to be close
friends, though I was much closer in age to his children than to him. I visited him
for a day or two each year at his home, and he visited South Carolina on a number of occasions, around the Richmond pipe show and for my wedding in 2011.

Peter often spoke of how lucky he felt to have found such a home in the pipe community, and of how it gave him the opportunity to travel the world: to the
United States, to Cuba, to Malaysia and to Japan. More than the travel alone, though, Peter felt lucky to find friends all over the world. He could go to the Carolinas or California in the U.S. and have friends to visit and stay with; the same was true across Asia. Through his pipemaking, his life became broader, part of a community of pipemakers and pipe enthusiasts that spanned the globe. He often remarked on how extraordinary this was for a simple Dane from a small island who lived on a farm. His was a broad, rich life. And my life was broader and richer for knowing him.

The pipe community will miss Peter, both for his pipes and for his friendship. I will miss my friend, “Uncle” Peter Heeschen. Peter’s wife Kirsten left us in 2009, and he is survived by his three children, Silie, Sofus and Frederik.

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Category: obituary, Spring 2016

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