Monday, June 2, 2014

Norwegian Pipe Models with Acanthus Ornamentation

by Hakon Kierulf

This article does not focus on a particular antique meerschaum pipe, but on meerschaum pipe bowls in the typical Norwegian style decorated with acanthus ornamentation. All the photographs are by the author.

The Norwegian Pipe Model

The true origin of a specific pipe model that is considered typically Norwegian will never be fully known, but its design and configuration are supposedly from around the turn of the eighteenth century (Pritchett 1890, 25). It is a fairly simple configuration cut from a flat, narrow block without any distinctive separation between the bowl and the shank.

Side view of a typical, plain, meerschaum pipe
bowl in typical Norwegian form; the identity of the ‘AR’ of
Christiana (Oslo) is not known.

Viewed from the front or from above, it has straight or nearly straight, parallel sides. Viewed from either side, it appears quadrangular, but rather than four similarly proportioned angles, the lower side is most often curved. The sides are even or almost even, as are the ends. The upper ends are sharp-edged, each end having a hole, the nearest for insertion of a pipe stem, the farthest being the tobacco bowl. The lower edges are usually graded or have softer forms. Originally, this particular pipe was made of wood, usually birch, much later of briar and, to a certain extent, of block and imitation meerschaum. The most common variety was undecorated, but some were, and some even had silver mounts.

The Acanthus Décor
The acanthus motif derives from the Mediterranean vegetable family, Acanthus. Through the ages, two species, Acanthus spinosus and Acanthus mollis,

Acanthus mollis.

with their large, floppy leaves and prominent veins, have been used as ornamental design. The Greeks used this motif c500-600 years B.C.; the Romans adopted it at the time of Emperor Augustus (63 B.C.–14 A.C.), and since that era it has been part of European art history. 

The time from when the acanthus, as a carved ornament, was used in Norway lies in a hazy mist, as does the origin of much earlier designs. The existence of primitively carved tendrils is documented as far back as 800 B.C. (Magerøy, 1983, 43, 148–222). Through time, influenced by the European Renaissance in the 16th century, artists employed simple acanthus ornamental décor in church interiors and, to some extent, on profane furniture and everyday objects. But it was not until the Baroque trend arrived in Norway in the seventeenth century that the acanthus became a popular and widespread design applied in woodcarving, in ironwork, in the traditional Norwegian rose painting of house interiors or on furniture, and on assorted utensils. From then on it spread and became popular throughout the country. Although allowance for woodcarving was reserved for members of the town guilds, it was, nevertheless, also employed by district locals. 

In Norway, woodcarving is divided into three main schools: Karveskurd (cut carving), e.g., patterns with triangular cuts; Flatskurd (relief carving with an almost even surface); and Krillskurd (deep, three- dimensional, plastic carving). Cut carving was also used for pipe making, but in the context of acanthus is of no interest, whereas the other two are. 

Districts, counties and valleys came to adopt and develop different carving styles. Flatskurd was common in the county of Telemark, while Krillskurd, especially in the nineteenth century, dominated in Gudbrandsdalen, because tradesmen in the towns of Trondhjem and Christiania - the former name of Oslo - through advertisements, encouraged local farmers to carve first-class souvenirs, such as pipe bowls, for the tourist trade. Merchants established workshops in which competent woodcarvers from the districts were engaged; moreover, carving schools were established to fulfill this purpose (Sveen, 2004, 18–19, 43, 49, 64, 96).

Early Norwegian Tobacco Pipes
The first written documentation of the use of tobacco in Norway, one of the poorest countries in Europe, prior to and in the beginning of the twentieth century, stems from a criminal case in 1612 in the town of Bergen (Gierløff 1928, 57). Due to the country’s seafaring traditions and contact with England and Holland, tobacco, pipe smoking and clay pipes probably arrived much earlier from the west. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, meerschaum pipes exhibiting typical German models - with long stems and flexible mouthpieces - became fairly common among the more wealthy families. Tobacco was expensive, yet it was smoked at all levels of society, but meerschaum pipes never became commodities for ordinary people. Norway had a long tradition of making everyday utensils in wood; hence, wood copies of imported meerschaum pipes were produced, as well as the earlier-mentioned Norwegian model.

Meerschaum Pipe Makers of Norway
Not only did Norway have an established tradition of using wood as a popular material, but it also had a tradition for embellishing wooden utensils with exquisitely carved designs. Meerschaum pipes were imported in the beginning, but local wood-turners and wood-carvers, whose names are now long forgotten, started making pipe bowls in birch. Some of these pipe makers decorated their pipes with relief-carved motifs or various traditional designs, and the acanthus was one of the very popular designs.

Pipe production on a larger scale did not occur in Norway until the wood turner and carver Gudbrand Larsen (1815– 1902) from the municipality of Ringsaker in Hedemark County started his pipe factory in the small town of Lillehammer in 1844. Sometime earlier, he had visited Eskesehir, Turkey and established contact with raw meerschaum exporters. This was his incentive to make meerschaum pipes. As a wood-carver, Larsen knew the acanthus design very well, as did his carver-employees, among whom Jehans Odde (1836–1899), August Larsen, Gudbrand’s son (1856–1914), and Lars Prestmoen (1871– 1957) are the most famous. They were exceptionally competent carvers of miniature objects who, from time to time, carved extraordinary and beautiful motifs on the pipes, but their production was principally focused on pipes meant for smoking, not as gifts for special occasions. Quite a number of the pipes from their hands exhibited some degree of decoration, and the acanthus was the most significant. These carvers, working in G. Larsen’s factory never signed their pipes. The pipes bore only the stamped factory name. From 1844 forward, this Lillehammer factory dominated the Norwegian pipe- making market, but supposedly some local, independent carvers also carved meerschaum pipes before as well as after the factory was established.

Acanthus-ornamented Meerschaum Pipes of the Norwegian Model
Meerschaum pipes, the bigger the better and, when ornamented and silver-mounted, yet better, symbolized the status of their owners. Tobacco, meerschaum and silver demonstrated that the owner was a wealthy man. Neither of the two pipes shown in this article is large, but both are representative of the Norwegian ornamented model in meerschaum.

Pure meerschaum derives its eventual color from tobacco smoke, as is shown in the illustration,

Unusual, almost pentagonal, Norwegian meerschaum model with achanthus decoration in krillskurd.

the first example of these pipe bowls. It measures 6.6 cm in length, 5.1 cm. in height, and 3 cm. in breadth. Its silhouette, somewhat unusual for the Norwegian model, is almost pentagonal, and its top edges are graded. Otherwise, it has the typical features of the model. It is decorated on the sides, front and bottom with acanthus leaves, and there is also a flower on the underside. The carving is done artistically with deep cuts, giving the acanthus an animated look typical of Krillskurd, the Gudbrandsdal acanthus style. It has a few surface cracks, and it has been smoked, although not long enough to change its colour uniformly and completely. Rather small in size, and of the simple Norwegian model, yet of meerschaum and exhibiting a relative high standard of carving, the pipe probably belonged to a man of some means. It is stamped ‘G. Larsen’ and it dates from about the second half of the nineteenth century.

The ornamentation on the silver-mounted pipe bowl,

Silver-mounted Norwegian meerschaum pipe model with acanthus leaf decoration in flatskurd.

is also acanthus, but more Flatskurd-like, i.e., Telemark acanthus. Its measurements are 6.7cm. in height, 8.2cm. in length, and 3.2cm. in breadth. It has some minor cracks,
has not taken on any colour, and the meerschaum quality is questionable, i.e., whether it is block or pressed meerschaum. Its silver mountings bear no incised stamp or maker’s mark. This bowl, however, is also stamped ‘G. Larsen’ which must be taken as a grant for the quality of the silver. The mark S-830 is, per the Norwegian Silver Act of 1891, a required stamp on all silverware produced for sale. Nothing precise can be said regarding dating. It was most probably produced in the last half of the nineteenth century, and without any silver stamps, it is possible that it was made before 1891, although it does not have the older, required silver stamp. Due to its origin, the pipe material, silver and carving, this pipe bowl was obviously bought and smoked by a man of a certain high standard of society.
Both pipes have acanthus ornaments but of slightly different styles although carved at the same factory in Lillehammer, the gateway to the Gudbrandsdalen valley where the Krillskurd style was dominant. The fact that Flatskurd carving was employed at G. Larsen shows that pipes were carved at the factory without any affiliation to local traditions, but according to the prospective buyer’s taste and purse. Although the two styles in question originated in different areas, both were popular and also used by local unnamed pipe carvers elsewhere in Norway, depending on their manner and carving competence.