Elegant designs : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Elegant designs

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Scottie Piersel is moving fast in the rarefied world of pipemaking

by George Dibos

When  watching  Scottie  Piersel  work on  a  pipe,  one  first  thing  you  notice is  the  intensity  of  her  gaze.  Somewhere between a Japanese shokunin perfection-chaser  and  a  bird  of  prey, she never stops looking, searching for things that aren’t quite right, checking against a backlight, glide-touching with a fingertip then cutting or sanding a little. Then doing it all again.

I begin the interview with an observation: “You certainly concentrate, don’t you?” She returns to the moment at the sound of my voice, looks at me with a huge smile and laughs. “Maybe. I guess so. I lose track of time, that’s for sure.”

scotty3“Since this is an interview,” I explain, “I must ask if it has always been like that.  This relaxed  intensity  of  yours.” She thinks only long enough to form the first word. “Yes. I literally grew up in an artisan environment—a family-owned auto body shop that did metal finishing, not just replaced panels—and my grandfather didn’t fool around. He brought every sense he could into his work.  Used  his  hands,  eyes  and  ears and said he only had to watch someone for a minute to know how their project would turn out. It stuck with me.”

Suddenly there’s silence. I look up. “Will that be in there?” she asks. “What I  said  just  now  about  my  grandpa?” I assure her it will. She smiles.

“So, when did pipes come into your life?” I ask. “A young woman’s life, at that. Pipes are not exactly common these days.”

scotty2“It was straightforward, actually,” she says. “My husband loves good cigars and one day just decided to give pipe smoking a try. He bought a couple along with some tobacco and seemed to like it, so when Father’s Day came around I went online to buy him another as a gift. When I  came  across  a  do-it-yourself  kit— you  know  those  pre-drilled  blocks?— I thought my actually making him one might make it more special.”

“Nice,” I reply. “How did it go?” The sunshine smile again. “Well, it wasn’t very pretty, but you could smoke it. He did smoke it. And making it was fun, so I bought another kit and it turned out better. Then another. Then I got a lathe, started using un-drilled wood, met other carvers online, started sharing tips and tricks … and, well … here we are.”

There we were, indeed.

Only a few weeks before this conversation, Piersel had entered the Greater Kansas City Pipe Club’s annual North American  Pipe  Carving  Contest  and handily placed in the winning seven-day set. Not easy to do, especially since it  was  one  of  the  contest’s  ruthlessly strict  “classic  years”  where  fractions of  a  millimeter  and  attention  to  the smallest detail can make the difference between being selected for the set or not. That she had done it with an author pipe shape, a massive, chunky, flowing shape that was the polar opposite of the smallish, double-take-inducing, slender geometric design that was her specialty, only added to the intrigue.

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Category: Fall 2016, Feature Article, Pipe Articles

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