I have been a great admirer of the master pipe carver Hans “Former” Nielsen from Holme Olstrup Denmark for over three years now, and this past year has been one of enlightenment with regards to not only being able to spend quality time talking and learning from the man (which was better than meeting Santa Clause as I remember) but also experiencing his pipes and coming to understand his philosophies on pipe construction and pipe maintenance.
Hans has been making some of the most sought after pipes in the world now for over forty five years, during which time he has instructed pipe carvers who have used what they have learned from him to propel themselves to the forefront of the Danish freehand movement. This is no mere accident as I can attest to the mans encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the gentle art of pipe smoking and pipe carving.
This past May I was lucky to be able to spend much of a four day weekend with Former at the Chicago pipe show at the Pheasant Run Resort- it was a memorable weekend and I found myself the recipient of a wealth of information, also I obtained an absolutely unbelievable freehand pipe from Hans, the shape of which has been deemed a “pick axe” by collectors- Hans just calls it a freehand stating happily that he doesn’t bother worrying about naming his shapes. Similarly Nielsen has the same simple approach to his system of grading. While many other pipe carvers have a confusing grading system in order to accommodate collectors Hans has only two grades he marks on his pipes, FREEHAND: for the pipes that are made only using sanding and minor sawing- which are consequently the more expensive and sought after shapes (because the work is so labor intensive), and HANDMADE: for the more standard shapes that have been constructed with the assistance of a lathe, which can sometimes cut down on the amount of time involved shaping the bowl of the pipe.
Some time has passed since the Chicago Pipe Show this past May and life moves on. Much has happened in the pipe world, one recent event that shocked and saddened the global pipe carving and collecting community was the passing of the great Bo Nordh, who was considered by many to be one of the most talanted pipe carvers of our time. The same earthquake sadness and terrible loss was felt by so many when the father of Danish pipes Sixten Ivarsson passed on in the spring of 2001.
Many pipe enthusiasts the world over are asking themselves, and others: What now? Who out there will be the next to pick up the proverbial master carver? Jess Chonowitsch and Lars Ivarsson certainly come to mind. Both men carve some of the worlds most sought after pipes, and indeed Lars is the son of Sixten- surely he is at the apex of his career, of that there is little doubt.
With the experiences I have had as a pipe smoker and collector I have turned a critical eye over many a pipe by many a carver, but I find myself gravitating always to my Formers. I love his pipes, I admire them for their form as well as function, and I admire Former for his openness- the fact that he is not secretive with his knowledge and his willingness to pass on information to those that seek it is one of my favorite qualities of him.
It is my wish that he gets the recognition that he deserves from pipe smokers and collectors alike. Not that he needs my help- he has been busy making pipes every day now professionally for over forty five years I remind you, but it doesn’t hurt to speak my mind from time to time I’ve found. I think Hans would appreciate that.