Thursday, October 23, 2014

Meilleurs Ouvriers de France MOF 1991

Early 1992, in a solemn ceremony in the salons of the Elysées Palace, French president François Mitterand lauded and decorated the best craftsmen of France for 1991,

among whom three pipe makers,

Alain Albuisson, Gilbert Guyot and Paul Lanier

whose masterpieces were rightfully celebrated.

Perfect grain briar,ivory and gold by Albuisson

Meerschaum, amber, jayet and gold by Guyot


"Horses", Extra Briar, flamed, with rubis inlays by Lanier


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pierre Morel Père: a Master Pipe carver

Pierre Morel "Père" is second row second from the left

Pierre Morel "Père" (1908-1979) was an artist at heart. He graduated from the Beaux Arts Academy in Paris where he taught for two years before settling back in Saint-Claude.

All his life he would draw, 

from caricatures 

to cartoon characters

to advertising 

to designing canes which he manufactured in his workshop in Saint-Claude and sold to the most exclusive designers in Paris.

Pierre Morel Père in his workshop, 1951.

Before the start of the Second World War, his workshop employed over seventy workers. 

Panther Sculpture by Pierre Morel Senior

 In 1961, he moved his workshop to the neighborhood of La Coupe. He would soon turn to what would be the passion of his life: carving briar pipes free hand ("fait main"). A first for French pipe makers.

Up until then, all production of briar pipes in Saint-Claude was machine driven, calibrated and normalized. The artist in him saw the potential of shaping the pipe by hand, thereby freeing his creativity, searching for unicity, inventing new forms in a dynamic exchange between creator and ébauchon.

He was also the first to make the outer part of the briar burl ("la croûte de broussin") an integral part of the design.
Here is a catalog, dated 1973 and addressed to the German market, of some of the masterpieces he produced. 

La Naja

La Corolle de Fleur aka "Fleur" aka "La Fleur de Bruyère"

La "Croûte de Broussin"

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Constantin Brancusi's Pipe

Constantin Brancusi, born in Hobita, Romania in 1876, was a sculptor, painter and photographer who made his career in France.  

Photograph taken by Edward Steichen in 1922

He is considered today as the pioneer of modernism and one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th-century. 

Edward Steichen - Brancusi's studio, 1920

In 1923, he began working on the group of sculptures that are known as "Bird in Space".

"There are idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things." Brancusi.

Brancusi was an inveterate pipe smoker:

 "As far as tobacco is concerned, of which he used large amounts, the ration (during WWII) was barely enough. There were tobacco plants at the Flower Market but the merchant could only sell one plant per customer." Sir, look at my beard and my moustach" Brancusi said. They are yellow because I am a heavy smoker. Be kind enough to sell me five...". The merchant was finally convinced. Brancusi planted his tobacco in a large clay pot, and lovingly took care of his plants. Thanks to the natural light coming through the glass roof, they became enormous and produced enough leaves to insure an appropriate supply for his pipe and cigarettes". [ Bibliography: Pontus Hulten, Natalia Dumitresco et Alexandre Istrati, "Brancusi," Paris, 1986, n°234, p. 319]. 

His well smoked pipe, the "essence" of a pipe, was sold at auction on November 30, 2010, for 15,301€ ($19,886.94).

"PIPE", 1934, precious wood, 4 x 15,2 x 3,4 cm (1 5/8 x 6 x 1 3/8 in)

From the collection of Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati, a gift from the artist later inherited by current owner.


Courtesy of Artcurial, Paris


Sunday, October 5, 2014

MOF 2007: The Making of a Masterpiece by Pierre Morel

By  Pierre Richard

«Let us be modest and pay a respectful homage to our peers who invented it all. »

                                                                                                       (Pierre Morel)

The subject for the «Meilleurs Ouvriers de France 2007» competition was the fabrication of an Ulm tobacco pipe. These exist in two versions; the Ulmer Kloben and the Hungarian form,

which was the one imposed for this competition.

In Germany, apart from the rare lead, iron and clay pipes that date, apparently, from the Thirty Years’ War, pipe smokers would only smoke pipes made of wood; elm root, alder, birch, maple and boxwood up until the end of the 18th Century. They were called « Ulm Pipes » even if they were not only produced in that town, but also in the vast neighboring countryside.Thus the oldest known archive document (1695) doesn’t come from Ulm itself, but from Geislingen.

This historical reminder will definitely help the connoisseur to better position in space and time these marvelous objects, witnesses of a custom refinement now disappeared. One should know that a pipe was so precious back then that it was passed on from father to son.

A quick look at a pipemaker’s studio around 1835 with the various phases of production: filing, drilling, assembling and polishing.

Two different basic shapes for this pipe; the "Ulmer Kloben" with a protruding angle on the underside of the pipe bowl and the Hungarian form with a tall, narrow bowl which always exceeds in height the neck of the pipe. The pipe bowls were adorned with luxurious covers and silver chains.

Months of reflection, information and raw material research were required for Master Pipemaker Pierre Morel to finally produce this masterpiece imposed for the attribution of the "Meilleur Ouvrier de France en 2007" award.

Months of planning, research and hard work rewarded after decades of work and global recognition of his talent by his peers from all continents over the years.

Classified to the level of art pieces, his pieces (all hand-made) are only produced in small quantity, each bearing a tiny detail that differentiates it from the others, invisible to the layman or even a connoisseur who dreams of having his own "Morel".

I hope that this article will shed a new and instructive light on the few different manufacturing stages of this award winning pipe, a Masterpiece really.

As Pierre Morel said: "Once the subject of the competition for the «Meilleurs Ouvrier de France en 2007» competition was unveiled this year, an " Ulm pipe " with very specific plans and dimensions, the most difficult part for me was sourcing the raw material (briar, buffalo horn, ivory, silver ...) to make it. I broke about 160 pounds of briar and examined 50 pounds of buffalo horns. Finding a piece of briar without a single defect in the dimensions imposed by the pipe, harboring a perfect grain, is madness. Not to mention the disappointment after each unsuccessful attempt, because finding the required piece of briar is part of the work required. "

 After an initial screening, 

Selected ébauchons

the briar root is then cut and examined carefully

Initial cutting with a circular saw

and then traced to the dimensions of the pipe on an ébauchon that can contain it.

Tracing according to the candidate’s drawing.

After choosing the best briar plateaux, sawn once to see their interior grain and then sketched for the pipe in the specified dimensions, arrives the moment of contouring with a circular saw, done freehand, following as best as possible the model. 

Contouring with circular saw

Then follows the roughing done with tools specially made by the pipemaker that gives the shape and depth of the pipe chamber (here 10 cm).

The bad surprises succeed, flaws hidden in the briar piece that was believed perfect, defects are discovered, working hours and rejected briar burl accumulate. 

Multiple unsuccessful trials

Finally comes the beautiful briar wood we hoped for, the one that will meet our expectations for the following passes. The tenon turning will allow it to receive the attributes later installed 

Mounting, tenon turning

and allow for the drilling of the draft hole.

Drilling of the draft hole

The pipe begins to take shape, a very sharp rotary rasp attacks the briar for the shaping, respecting a perfect symmetry guided by the candidate’s precise eye before, 

Shaping with rotary rasp

between the skilled hands of the Master, a sanding wheel soften the steel’s bites. 

Sanding wheel

When finally the pipe’s shape, a Ulm pipe of Hungarian form, corresponds to the vision of the Master, it’s his fingers who almost lovingly caress the pipe’s sweeping curves with fine grit sandpaper for a final sanding.

The inescapable hand sanding

Designing unique pipes is also to imagine and build the pipe’s stem to perfectly complement her body in perfect harmony. A candidate for the «Meilleurs Ouvrier de France» competition should be able to do that.

To achieve this, 50 pounds of buffalo horn were necessary, sorted and selected as the horn, like the briar, is disingenuous and often hides tiny flaws that only a trained eye can see before going deeper into the work phases.

Raw buffalo horns

Horn cutting

Horn cutting

At this stage, the pipe’s beautiful body is completed, and must now be adorned with the stem that is in itself a monument of knowledge with its mix of materials, buffalo horns (50 pounds of horn to find the perfect piece) and complex ivory parts that will com- plement each other in subtle tracery and inlay that only a master at the top of his art can accomplish.

Basic elements Stem and inlay

Very difficult creation and fabrication

Preforming the horn with a flattening machine

The finest materials are chosen, and must now be assembled. Inlays and turnings succeed before accomplishing a perfect result. Closely united, from the tip to the base of the pipe, the decorative elements can now take their place on the pipe’s extension.

Turning the 9 cm extension

Turning the 9 cm extension

Stem ready to be assembled on the extension


As Master Pierre Morel said: "I had to find a jeweler who was willing to make the solid silver attributes, parts, chain, rings and especially the cover. I carved it in wax and that was cast in solid silver by a friend of mine who is a sculptor. I even gave up jewelry from my youth to have the necessary material. But the result is beautiful, I have no regrets. "

Fabrication of the assembly screws

Silver parts and attributes

Before final assembly

A lifetime of work, multiple experiences, research and quest for knowledge summarized in one pipe ... A long labor in pain But with joy ...

This Pipe can be seen at the Musée de la Pipe et du Diamant, Saint-Claude
After receiving the personal congratulations of Olga Saurat, President of the «Société des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France» for brilliantly obtaining the title of MOF during the graduation ceremony at the Sorbonne University before the glitter of the Elysée, who better than Pierre Morel could be more elegant with the robe of Saint-Claude’s Master Pipemakers and give me the greatest pleasure to be admitted to this Noble Brotherhood, sponsoring me a few months after such consecration?

Olga Saurat congratulating Pierre Morel, MOF 2007

Admission of Pierre Richard (center) to the Confrérie des Maitres Pipiers, 2007

A final word ...

As emphasized in her speech by Olga Saurat, President of the Société des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France: « Throughout its history, France has counted a large number of artisans and workers, companions, labor contractors and anonymous builders as well as inspired goldsmiths whose talent and passion have left imperishable traces in every century, testimony of hard work and an accomplished technique (...) This excellence pushed to its highest level is the hallmark of the business, but it is mainly the result of a passion, and in a mechanized society oriented in its socio-occupational choices, we can rejoice that the passion that animated our ancestors, the "cathedral builders" has survived and still animates many professionals and young people. »

It is perfectly correct but one should add how the participant in this event sees his life turned upside down. He is, in most cases, almost at the peak of his abilities in his daily work, and doubts on his ability to meet the requirements set by the creators of the subject and starts to fear failure in this prestigious competition.

Then begins for the pipemaker registered in Tournerie, the quest to find the perfect briar, disappointing trials, the sleepless nights, the long days of work often poorly rewarded, false hopes when viciously appears hidden flaws in the wood that take him back to step one. Attributes also mingle with despair, shabby buffalo horn , difficult to work with, etc...

Difficult months succeed before the final test results but with, at heart, the satisfaction of a job well done. Although, as an intelligent man once said, "Only fools are completely satisfied. "( Pehem Sr.)

Then , as Pierre Morel said, let us be modest and pay a respectful homage to our peers who invented it all.