Looking for previous content from "Artful Living on the Bluff"? It's still available! Find Vol. 1 at artfullivingonthebluff1.blogspot.com


Smoking Pipe Dolls

My friend Mary and I often go to Mineral Point, WI for a day of shopping, browsing and eating. In one our favorite antique shops was a small basket filled with old smoking pipes. This was during a time when I was trying to figure out what my next "thing" would be and, though I hadn't quite committed, I was leaning heavily toward making art dolls (which is a bit odd since I never really played with dolls as a child). The only way to describe what I had then was "a vision"! I saw myself making dolls using these pipes!

I bought 12 pipes that day - some just the bowls and others full pipes. Here's a small selection of what I have:

They do require some cleaning! There's an old trick of filling the bowl with sea salt and then wetting the salt with alcohol. I believe vodka or Everclear works best but since we are fresh out of vodka, I simply use rubbing alcohol. It pulls some of the tar out of the wood (don't use this method on meerschaum pipes - it will make the bowl crack. Been there... done that...). The smoky smell never quite leaves the pipe but I think that's OK. Sometimes the pipe is full of creosote, which forms a thick hard layer inside the bowl. That's when I need to get out my Dremel and grind it out. It's SOOOO messy and requires wearing a face mask - yuck.

Now, I know some people will say, "Oh, you shouldn't do that to old pipes! They might be valuable!" Not the pipes I'm using. Most are cracked or so caked with creosote, they are simply unsmokable. I love vintage as much as the next person (probably more!) but these are not collectible pipes.

So, anyway, back to my doll idea...
With a group exhibition looming and no new work to speak of, it was time to actually try making one of these dolls and, Voila! here are some photos of the first pipe doll I made. She is not free-standing but can be leaned against something or, with the aid of a small loop on the back, hung for display. She was finished in time to be part of the art show and the first item to sell! A woman who collects folk dolls bought her to add to her growing collection. The quick sale was a pleasant surprise but not completely unexpected - she is lovely...

After the opening, I received a call from the gallery manager saying she had requests for more pipe dolls. I guess I'm on to something here! A second doll had already been started. This time I wanted the doll to be free standing so I decided on a stump doll. Wrapped in some of my weaving and trimmed with rabbit fur salvaged from a scarf, she looks quite regal to me.

I already have the bowl picked out for the third doll - this meerschaum pipe. Notice the cracks? This bowl was already in bad shape when it came to me but it cracked completely in two when I tried the alcohol method on it. It's fixed and ready to go! Maybe something in a palette of winter white? Please feel free to comment - I would love to hear your opinion! Thanks!

No comments: