Thursday, May 24, 2012

Doug Buchanan (1948 - Feb 2012)

Doug Buchanan smoking the Orca

"Alaska stories, if you can imagine such a thing."

"Kick the chairs out of the way, shoot the top off the bottle of whiskey, crank up the rock and roll tunes, light the cigars, [...]"

"Oh, stories are being added from time to time, albeit not many or often."

"The story guy, with gobs of outrageous not-sure-if-he-survived stories in the files, is busy with other websites, harassing the government with questions for which you want the answers, much to the anger of the government folks who perceive themselves to be above question."

A little ice crusting there in the beard

"He is also slaving away to fix up the new AlaskanAlpineClub headquarters, drinking cheap wine for lack of money for better wine, keeping his rusted-out 35 year old jeep running to get to town, scrounge the dumpsters for useful things, haranguing colleagues with rhetorical theatrics over their failure to protect your rights for you, toiling at certain public benefit projects, and whatever else he claims to be doing as an excuse for the moment."

"But be patient. Something new may show up here. There are plenty of other websites to surf, equally boring. Now, wisely abandon the computer, and get back to something more productive."

So spoke Doug Buchanan in his introduction on the Alaska Stories website.

Doug passed away early this year.

Tim Mowry remembered Doug in the Fairbanks Daily News on Feb 12th, 2012:

"Longtime Fairbanks mountaineer Doug Buchanan, the rabble-rousing critic of all things federal, most notably the National Park Service, died Tuesday in Montana after complications from colon cancer.

Buchanan, 64, was known for the dilapidated 1973 green Jeep he drove around Fairbanks, his bushy beard and his intense dislike for the park service, which he documented in long, passionate diatribes.

Buchanan was the founder of the Alaskan Alpine Club, which he formed in 1979 as a result of a falling out with the Alaska Alpine Club that epitomized his 38 years in Fairbanks.

"Buchanan, who earned a biology degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, never had a career job. An accomplished welder, he worked on and off as a laborer around Fairbanks and occasionally in Prudhoe Bay. He was well-known for his frugality."

Doug lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. We have solid archaeological evidence that Paleo-Indians, tracking big game, migrated to Alaska (and the later the Americas) across the Bering Strait land bridge
Portrait des dänischen Marineoffiziers Vitus Bering, before 1741
Karte der Strasse zwischen Asien und Amerika, und der Käste der Tschutschki, nach astronomischen, während der Jahre 1786-1794 im Eismeere angestellten Beobachtungen / von A. Arrowsmith

and are ancestral to the Native American population.

Schematic representation of phylogeny of human mtDNA outside of Africa.Branches encompassing Native Americans and their immediate Asian ancestral and sister lineages, represented by complete sequences, are shown in black with coalescence ages indicated and geographic location identified by colours. Lineages in brown correspond to the main haplogroups, found in Eurasia and Oceania, but absent in Native Americans.

This is how Doug describes his Alaskan ancestors:

"In Alaska, the pipe smoking tradition goes back as far as the arrival of the humans,"

"By the time the smoking ritual arrived in Alaska with the first guys being run that far north and then across the Bering Strait, they had the construction of smoking pipes down to an art, literally."

Doug carved pipes in his spare time and he had the construction of smoking pipes down to an art as well!

Each pipe has a story. And Doug's account is fascinating:

Orca Pipe

"It was at the Howling Dog in Fox Alaska, and I was shaking a leg to the rock and roll band. An art colleague informed me that I must talk to a visiting Native art instructor from Juneau. He was an impressive sort. In our discussion he mentioned that he saw a couple of my pipes in the Anchorage Art museum, and that I should consider doing some natural forms rather than geometric forms on my pipes. He mentioned that I would evolve in that direction anyway. It was a reasonable suggestion but I said that I preferred the old style, which was geometric inlays. In fact, I rather adamantly did not like animal or plant forms for any old style art. At the time, there was something about the discussion that I could not describe, but I genuinely forgot the entire discussion, perhaps on account of the beautiful women with whom I was dancing."

"A few years later I was polishing the Orca Pipe I just finished making, when the aforementioned conversation suddenly returned to my memory, including his words which indicated that I would be making natural forms on my pipes, much to my inordinate amusement."

"An ivory pin through the pipe stem, through a half slot in the ivory bowl base, locks the bowl in place, but allows easy removal of the bowl for cleaning."

"The Pod of Orcas, baleen and silver on waves of gold, on both sides of the pipe, was one I encountered when rounding Cape Spencer in my kayak, but that is another story [...]."

"At the time, I was carrying the Rouble Pipe, with some of that hair of the caribou."

Rouble pipe

"What more Siberian for a Siberian pipe than an old Russian Rouble? So after I saw the picture in a coin book, I told my friend at the local coin shop that I wanted a particular Russian silver Rouble. He was suitably impressed with me apparently becoming a serious coin collector."

"Nice collector coin. Then I drilled a big hole right through the center of it..."

1754 Russian Rouble.

"Nice pipe."

"It's okay. My friend at the coin shop has recovered."

"The other old Russian silver Roubles are now more scarce and worth more. Someone's gotta do something to make those old coins increase in value for those coin collectors. And I am going to do it again. The Rouble pipe is made of Lignum vitae ironwood inlaid with pure silver."

"One of the features of the pipe is the stem sheath silver being solid with the top strap being solid with the bowl sheath being solid with the bowl end strap being solid with the two side straps being under laid back at the stem sheath, which locks everything in place, facilitated by the design allowing the stem sheath to remain not fully seated until the top strap was pushed down into the inlay recess to bring the stem sheath forward, or something like that. The bottom strap is solid with the stem sheath, and the bowl end is locked into the bowl end stem hole, in case you were curious."

"This pipe took one of those awards at an art museum show."

The pipe that escaped

"September 2010. I finally found the photos of the pipe, in a cardboard box in the shed. The photos were taken back in 1979."

"It's the pipe that escaped, and you could find it. It is out there somewhere. Several of the pipes on this page have been in museum art shows. This pipe was accorded the highest award an artwork can receive at a juried art show in a museum. It was stolen from the show. Is there any greater honor for an artwork? But it is not finished. Nor is its story."

"It was the first of the Lignum vitae series, and not signed. The bowl is rimmed with a US Morgan silver dollar."

"It is inlaid with silver, top and bottom, with a gold strip and a fossil mastodon ivory diamond shape inlay along the sides."

"So here is the story. Being made of Lignum vitae, a well-seasoned piece when I acquired the wood in 1962 at an obscure place, the pipe will stand the test of time far into the future. It is out there somewhere. It was certainly respected by the person who risked the method to acquire it. Of course he or she did not therein pay the proper price, and with the balance in all things being inescapable, elsewhere paid or still owes the remainder of the price by another method. Of course the pipe may have changed hands. So if you see the pipe that escaped, you may rightfully judge the character of its current steward, as is a cost which accompanies expropriated stuff. If you consider the steward to be a person of worthy attributes, properly using and caring for the pipe, you may inform the steward of this offer. If the steward wishes to have the pipe signed, and thus its value greatly increased, she or he may do so for a token portion of the value, with their knowledge of its history told to me as part of the price, under whatever name the steward wishes for the exchange of the knowledge, and be assured that the steward will have it returned with no further obligation. I will derive the story, the only value in any material item. Of course if the steward is a dirtbag, you may do as you wish, or call me, for the story value."

Ivory Pipe

"After we made the trade, the guy who just traded away his old collector-quality Kynock .577 Nitro Express rifle cartridge couldn't believe it when I told him he could have the bullet back in original condition if he had a hacksaw to cut the cartridge in half. It was a nice rifle cartridge. Now it's a nice pipe bowl. Well, if you are making a classic old pipe, you gotta have classic old stuff."

"As pipe smokers have known throughout history, that foul smelling oozing black goo from anything you smoke, keeps clogging up the works, so its gotta be cleaned out. Do not ever put smoke into your lungs, or do not look in there. So pipes are made to be cleaned. The ivory stem hole plug pin of the Ivory Pipe pulls out of a hole in another ivory pin that is then pulled out of its hole only when the 1907 St. Gauden's US double eagle gold coin"

Ivory Pipe. 1907 St. Gauden's US $20 Double Eagle.
The Double Eagle is among the eloquent coin designs in the bleak design history of US coins.

" rim is positioned just right so the ivory slider can then be slid out so the .577 Kynock rifle cartridge base pipe bowl can slide out so you can clean the thing. Or you can just clean it in place, but I had to attach the brass bowl to the ivory pipe anyway so the slider and pins were a reasonable design."
"Walrus ivory tusks were designed to splash around in cold water a lot, grubbing up clams from ocean bottom muck with no small portion of walrus poop. Take the tusks to warm dry land for awhile, and the design features are not optimized. It takes awhile for ivory to stabilize to dry conditions, without cracking, and even then it prefers to avoid rapid changes in humidity. Ivory shrinks a bit as it dries out. So inlay metal into it, and you learn why most people do not inlay metal into it. But it can be done. You just ascribe the minor cracks to character and normal use, not unlike the natural surface cracks of walrus tusks derived from the aforementioned practical use of the things. If you only want to look at something, wiser to buy the picture. In fact, just copy it off the website, and make a collection of pictures of things. Cheaper, and they do not collect as much dust."

 Salmon Pipe

"The salmon pipe was a really good idea for a lot of years. The easy half of it was finished years ago, then stuck away in a cardboard box for some reason at the time relating to the orderly planning of procrastination. Then a beautiful woman talked me into joining the Alaska Metal Arts Guild, which cost me 35 bucks for dues. Then later she talked me into committing to entering an artwork in the guild's art show. Easy enough. The show was months away. But then time kept on slipping, slipping slipping..."

"I found the box with the Salmon Pipe. I noticed that the pipe had more idea finished, than silver and ironwood. I was most amused that I was then actually able to physically achieve certain technical impossibilities of my design, and finally finished the pipe. Then I learned that the entry fee for the show would cost me 30 smackaroos. How do I get talked into these things?"

"The salmon pipe is a combination of an old style geometric parallel line pattern found on some such pipes, with a natural reason for the parallel lines. The salmon head is a cross of Northwest Coast Indian style and the common salmon head style found more universally among coastal artists farther north. In fact, the salmon use the same design."

"The stem sheath silver is solid with the skeleton which is solid at the top of the ribs. The bottoms of the ribs have one underlaid side, with the other overlaid side having an under pin seated into the Lignum vitae ironwood."


"How I got the silver over the stem and then into the inlaid recesses, as a single piece, in defiance of the metal and ironwood, is a secret known only to me and my small sledge hammer. The ironwood inlays that go through the silver extend into the ironwood pipe, more thoroughly locking the parts in place."

"The bowl rim is a 1745 silver Russian Rouble, with a bust of the ever-gracious but a bit murderous Czarina Elizabeth."

Between the1745 Salmon Pipe rouble rim coin, and the 1754 Rouble Pipe rim coin, Czarina Elizabeth did not age a bit. She looked as substantial and independent minded as ever, as is the prerogative of a Czarina. But the two headed eagle looks better, so the Czarina is on the bottom side, closer to the heat.

"The pipe was given an award in the art show."

Fur Pipe

"Here in the Alaska winter, as you so well know, exposed flesh freezes in seconds. If your winter pipe aint got a beaver fur stem cover, even if you could get it lit before your hand froze, the smoke would freeze in the stem. Everybody knows that."

"And well, you see, this piece of Lignum vitae was so good I wanted to get it right without a chance of a screw-up. I set up a jig in a drill press, and plumbed the pipe so the stem holes drilled from each end would meet in the center, right where I wanted them to meet. I was feeling good about this."

"Imagine my amusement when the drill emerged out the side of the stem just about the time I thought it was dead center where I was going to stop drilling and come in from the other end. So much for that really good piece of ironwood. The drill went right where the grain of the wood took it."

"But for practice, I thought I would try the hole from the other end. The drill came out the other side of the stem. That was enough it frost my sense of craftsmanship. It is a good thing no one was watching. Next I did some serious adjustments, and watched the drill make a third hole out the side of the stem there about in the middle. That pipe-shaped scrap of wood hit the cardboard box of scraps pretty hard."

"A few years later I decided I wanted a knock-around pipe, so I dug out the ventilated pipe from the scrap box, and after a lot of gouging around in there with a hand held drill, I got the two holes to join in the middle. Fortunately I have since learned the top secret process of how to make the holes match in the middle. Then I filled the exit wounds on the side of the ventilated pipe with epoxy, and decided to cover the mess up with some leather. Of course I could not find the leather stash in a cardboard box somewhere, but I did have some beaver fur left over from an odd-shaped beaver hat I just made. Well, by the time I got the clipped beaver perfectly sewed and fit tight, the dang thing looked so good I put it on a glass covered stand, and only use it on special occasions, in the winter of course. I just don't tell nobody about all the epoxy-filled holes in the side, under the fur."

"No, this thing aint for sale. I know enough to keep the evidence so I am able to deny my own stories."

Mpingo Bands Pipe

"Mpingo, African Blackwood, Dalbergia Melanoxylon, or something like that. The stuff what clarinets be made of. Superlative wood. A black rosewood. High gloss."
"If you want the stuff you gotta take second choice to the French who grab all the good stuff for clarinets. Since it is so valuable for clarinets, all the wood is first cut into clarinet blanks, right out there on the Tanzanian savanna, then the perfect pieces leap to France while the flawed pieces are parceled out to poor artists. The flaws are often only pits that can be carved away in the waste section of an art shape."

"What do you do with pieces of wood, one and three eights inches square by nine inches long? They languished in the materials stash for a few years."

"An art colleague who made a couple Siberian styled pipes with a variation, produced a variation which he showed us there at Ivory Jack's bar one summer, at a social event out back of course. His pipe answered the above question, to which I created a couple variations. That is how this art thing goes. Data is applied to a mind with a different data base, and comes out looking different."

"Cute little things, and fun. The bowl rim was a valuable 1881 US $10 Liberty gold collectors coin, and now it is a nice pipe."

Mpingo Stars Pipe, identical to Mpingo Bands Pipe bowl rim. 1881 US Ten Dollar gold coin.

"The bowl is a .45 Colt shell base, smaller than my normal preference, but a .45 is a .45, and that is enough. The other gold is gold. The bowl is locked in place by two stationary pins that intersect slots, then the bowl is turned to its position."

Mpingo Stars Pipe

"An old .505 Gibbs rifle shell base bowl, for one's high caliber smoking, is held in place with two pins extending from the old US one dollar gold coin stem hole plug,"

Mpingo Stars Pipe nose. Mid 1800's US One Dollar gold coin.

"slipped into the .505 rim groove. The bowl rim is another 1881 US $10 gold coin."

"The inlaid gold stars complement the stars on the two coins."

I will not, I say again, I will not inlay a bunch of little stars again.

Mpingo 50 Cent Pipe

"With notable exceptions, none of them in the US, coin designs represents the nadir of art on one of the most widely distributed proverbial canvases. As usual, the government hires government-mentality people for coin artwork selection, with therefore dull results, yawn. Further, none of those chaps smoked Siberian style pipes. So among the dismal US selection of appropriate bowl rim coins for a Siberian style pipe, a slightly better one is one of the US 50 cent pieces from back there when coins were silver and gold instead of the modern base metal tokens [...]."

"Alas, it was a well used coin of its day, and the remaining good ones without the stars worn off, are a scoshe pricey, which is the way it should be."

"This one is a US 1921 Barber two bit piece. The .505 Gibbs rifle cartridge base bowl is locked into place with a pin attached to the nose hole plug cover. The nose cover is the center of another Barber 50 cent piece, doubling the price."

"And that silver band around the middle is connected at the bottom with the shield and eagle head from the center of the bowl rim coin. Cute little arrangement."

Mpingo Thaler Pipe

"This was supposed to be easy."

"Notice the absence of inlay, except on the bottom. It was not easy. I will not do a raised wood design again. The rim coin is a nice 1789 half Thaler, from one of those Nether-Austro-Germanic States back then."

"The coin has a quartered pattern that complements the pattern of the raised wood. The bowl is a Kynock .505 Gibbs, locked in place by the pin from the nose plug cover, which is made from another half Thaler, with a centered crown."

 Bison Pipe
"It is the metatarsal of an 18,000 year old prehistoric Alaska bison, with a bowl and a bit of a stem. It makes as good a pipe as any old bison hunter would ever want, or anyone else might want. I may still have a bison roast in the freezer, from an old bison hunting story. There were a lot of prehistoric animals roaming around Alaska in prehistory, and they left a lot of bones. The bowl rim coin is an 1893 silver Russian Rouble, on a 44 magnum shell."

Bison Pipe. 1893 Russian Rouble.

 "A brass pin with a small real feather tassel secures the bowl. The short stem is lignum vitae."

"One may breathe the sacred spirit of an ancient bison freely roaming the Alaska tiaga, a saber tooth tiger patiently watching it. Wiser to be breathing the spirit, than being the spirit. The tiger got some of the bison. That is why I found the bone, while hunting moose a bit north of Fairbanks."

Test piece for a new material.

"It is 5.4 million year old wood extracted from an obscure deposit of logs and branches in the Alaska Range. Very dense wood, high luster. Hard clay-like working texture, retaining wood characteristics. It has some compression induced flaws, but some specimens of the wood have adequate flawless areas. Various pieces range from dark brown to black."

"Some testing and analysis suggest that the material is ideal for a smoking instrument. The wood volatiles have been squeezed out with the long duration of intense compression in a moist environment."

"The partial carbonization has produced a material that is not volatilized by the heat of normal flame and smoldering leaf. It is the natural and more esthetic equivalent of composite carbon used for high tech smoking pipes."

"If smoking out of the wood of life (Lignum vitae), the tree of music (Mpingo), walrus ivory, an oosik or an 18,000 year old bison bone does not impress your friends, you can move up to a 5,400,000 year old early Pliocene log from an Ent, and blow that smoke into the party conversation."

"The Ligniwood is harder, heavier and more lustrous than the Mpingo wood."

When you need to blend in Pipe

"I made this sterling silver tie tack so my artist colleagues know what I do when I show up at those functions where smoking is wisely frowned upon."


"On to my next adventure"

Bon Voyage, Doug!

Ice vault where the next Alaska Stories are secured.
We are fortunate that you shared with us the very genesis of each of your masterpieces, skillfully executed in native materials, and intriguingly connected to history through the thoughtful selection of coins of significance as bowl rims.

Inuit smoking a traditional St. Lawrence Island, Siberian Style Pipe

May this be the first of many portraits of contemporary artists who possess your kind of talent and depth of humanity and whose voices need to be heard.

"Eskimo Woman 'Hitting the Pipe'." Photo by F. H. Nowell of Nome.

P.S: Doug tells us that the traditional St. Lawrence Island, Siberian Style Pipe made of lead inlay (melted bullets) in walnut (broken gun stock wood), is not made anymore for obvious reasons.  One of the most recent, if not last, makers of these pipes is reported to be "Old Kulowiyi", "Father of John", manager of the Savoonga Native Store for many years, known for this style of Siberian pipes back in the 1960's and 70's.

 Readers, we would love to hear from you if you can help us gather more information on Old Kulowiyi's work...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

World's Fair (Weltausstellung), Vienna, 1873

Carefully inspect this pipe bowl. What do you see?

What's all the talk about mixed mediums when it comes to antique pipes? An antique meerschaum pipe would be composed of a meerschaum bowl and, most likely, an amber mouthpiece. 

This image is of only the bowl, but what a bowl! There is meerschaum, inset turquoise and amber beads, appliqued enamel, chased silver and gold-plate decor, and a diamond. And where is this diamond? It's inside the crown high atop the wind cover. What visual impact!

And what do we know about this bowl? 

We instantly recognize the four allegoric figures--Art, Science, Trade and Technology-- that appear within the delicately incised arches of this Gothic-style high- and bas relief- carved masterpiece.

What is not readily apparent are the Imperial arms, the Austrian double eagle, and the rotunda that are etched (they can only be seen close-up) into three of the four oval amber medallions inset into the wind cover. 

The "Rotunda," is considered to have been the most important iron-constructed, circle-shaped, exhibition hall at the World's Fair (Weltausstellung), Vienna, 1873,

Vienna, the imperial capital on the Danube, had developed into the leading artistic center in central Europe. The Austro-Hungarian monarchy was enjoying a never-before-experienced economic boom that made itself felt in a general spirit of optimism on the art market and gave rise to an enormous amount of building activity. 

The Viennese Ringstraße, one of the largest building sites in Europe at the time, was gradually taking shape, the Court Opera, Court Museums, Parliament, and Stock Exchange.

The World Fair of 1873 was the perfect opportunity for Austria to present itself as a world leader and the equal of England and France. This fifth World Fair taking place from May 1st to October 31st, would be hosted for the first time by a German-speaking country.

The structure that served as the focal point and ideological locus for the Vienna Exhibition was its striking Rotunda, a feat of engineering and design.

"On May 1st, the streets of the Ringstrasse were wet with a cold drizzle. More than twenty thousand Viennese citizens came out to see the festivities, yet the area around the Rotunda, Leopoldstadt and Praterstern, did not seem even half full. 

Emperor Francis Joseph appeared at noon, signaling the beginning of the ceremonies. The program was unusually brief; it concluded in less than thirty minutes and lacked any type of formal speech.

However, the one characteristic that immortalized that day was the music. You could hear the strains of the Imperial Opera's orchestra...

The Viennese Imperial Opera performing in San Francisco in 1894

...and the voices of two Viennese Glee Clubs united in performing Georg Friedrich Händel's March,

Johann Strauss's Vienna Blood Waltz...

and Johann Strauss's Blue Danube Waltz.

The opening ceremony concluded with the Austrian national hymn, sung to Lasst uns mit geschlungnen Händen ("Let us with joined hands") written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1791.

...and directed by Otto Dessorf (conductor of the Imperial Opera from 1860 to 1875). 

Conductor, composer, Felix Otto Dessoff (14 January 1835 – 28 October 1892)

While the music emerged as a high point of the initial celebrations, the atmosphere in Vienna was hushed.

Just a fortnight after the opening ceremonies, the Austrian stock market underwent a severe crash, wreaking havoc on the domestic economy...

Black Friday at May 9th 1873 at the Vienna stock exchange, Schwarzer Freitag an der Wiener Börse, wood engraving from 1873
A crash that would spread to most of Europe and North America by 1873, 

The Panic - Run on the Fourth National Bank, No. 20 Nassau Street [New York City, 1873]
and would last until 1879.The depression became known as the Great Depression until the 1930s, but is now referred to as the Long Depression or the Gründerkrach.

Not surprisingly, the atmosphere in Vienna during the fair was not as jubilant as had been seen at other exhibitions.

But inside the Rotunda, inside the hearts of the Viennese, there was music. When words aren't enough, music and masterful craftsmanship, as demonstrated in the finesse of this magnificent meerschaum pipe, speak volumes.


For this was truly an example of captivating art and craftsmanship.

Incised in the fourth amber medallion, one could find the signature of its maker: "J. N. Menhard, Wien.

Menhard received the Medal of Merit for this work of art. 

This exhibition piece was one of the first objects acquired for the historical tobacco collection of the Austrian Tobacco Monopoly and housed at the Austrian Tobacco Museum.

 It is now the property of the Schloss Schoenbrunn Museum, Vienna.

Read about and see more of this pipe bowl in Herbert Rupp, "Viennese Meerschaum," Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine, Winter 1996.

Also on display at the World Fair was the "Europa" pipe, another masterpiece in its own right.