Salt’s Field Guide to Pipe Classic 7

Story Written by: Salt
Photos by: Toto

If there was a pipe competition before the Pipe Classic, I don’t know about it. And even if
there was, I think it’s safe to say that the Classic changed the game by establishing itself, at
first, by simply existing; the pipe-makers and pipe consumers of the world wanted to see a
pipe throw-down for years before it actually happened. Adding to this, “right out of the
gate” style of precedence-setting, the Classic offered its 12 competitors a chance to win a
GTT Delta Mag. This is like the Mercedes of torches but not just the stock model. It’s like an
S-Class sedan, and it boasts a price tag of $4,000.00. It’s basically one of the most coveted
and professional-grade torches ever made to this day.
One important thing that sets the Pipe Classic apart from all other events is the fact that the
Bern Gallery provides a place for all of the artists to stay as part of their participation. Other
competitions and shows might be centrally located in a hotel, but the Bern goes that extra
mile and rents a house, or sometimes a series of houses; this has proven to be increasingly
difficult as the years have gone by. First of all, the size of the space needed is large
considering you’ve got a dozen artists, some of whom bring spouses, and even children, plus
the Bern staff always stays at least one night, and of course there are a few crashers just in it
for the ride who find their way to a chair, a couch, or an open patch of floor.
I can fill volumes describing the various circumstances explaining why every house that has
ever been rented by the Bern Gallery has made it clear that we were not welcome back,
including one particular year that ended with a less-than cordial letter from the landlord,
but in the interest of time I will just say that we have consistently worn out our welcome
each time. I imagine that when September rolls around, the landlords of Burlington clench
butt cheeks in unison and wait for the force of nature that is the Pipe Classic to blow over –
and I can’t blame them.
J-red came to Burlington with his wife and three-month-old son. Personally, I felt a sense of
hopefulness about being able to maintain some of what this lifestyle entails while making a
family. As I alluded to earlier, our community is growing, and in more ways than one. I had
met J-red a few times before but I hadn’t really spent any time with him beyond the meetand-
greet stage. What I do know is that J-red is a beast. He has been crushing the glass
scene for fifteen years and comes from the time before the social media ruled the way we
communicate, and most often the best artists kept to themselves developing their own styles
and approaches. When I first met him, the sheer scale and diverse nature of what he was
crafting made me feel stupid that I had not already known about his work. J-red told me he
enjoys the challenge of using different techniques and loves the process of learning and
trying new things with his pipes. This is probably why the guy can do anything – from line
work, to stringer drawings, to sculpture; and while he’s humble about it, he is good at all of
it. J-red is not just an artist, either. For many years, he has worked closely with Momka
helping to develop their color line, consulting, pulling color, testing, and so on. This gives
him a technical base that few enjoy and a unique perspective that shows in his aesthetic. He
actually mixes and designs his own special blends that are part of what makes his work so
Ryno makes an array of different types of pieces that have the look and feel of a
threedimensional piece of graffiti. He has been working on a narrative style, reminiscent of Spy
vs. Spy in both its look and sense of humor. More recently, he has branched out and now
makes an array of rubber duck-themed work that still has a strong graffiti feel to it, and most
recently he seems to have merged the two styles together. I really like Ryno’s work; it’s the
type of work that I would buy. He has a message which is sincere and really matches him as
a person in this subtle and difficult-to-define way. Plus I love work that has the feel of
graffiti. I think it’s honest and apt.
Ryno showed up to the event with what had to be an intentional Hulk Hogan look. I admit to
funning with him a little about it, but honest-to-God he was pulling it off. He told me that
other than his participation in the 1-hour slide competition at C.H.A.M.P.S. 2012, this was his
first time competing on the torch. I hadn’t gotten to really kick it with Ryno before this Pipe
Classic beyond a quick “what’s up” and “nice work” conversation that you might have when
you meet an artist you admire for the first time. Once again the Pipe Classic reveals to us
some of its true charm by allowing its participants to spend real time together.
Never too far from the Bern Gallery during Pipe Classic season is my man, Kurt B., who is
really good at making all types of things. Since 2000, Kurt has been making pipes and
developing his approach to artistic smokables. He uses a vast array of techniques and makes
things with a sense of cleverness that you just can’t teach. It seeps its way into the concept,
the style, and the methodology of his work. He is, in my opinion, one of the best “artists” in
our whole scene and, as you can tell, one of my personal favorites. You know Kurt B. from
many different types of work, but some of his most noted pieces are Stars and Pipes, the
Honey Bear mold-blown bong replicas, his porcelain china series, and, of course the Glock
hand gun bubbler; all different and all expertly executed.
Also competing in the last heat of the Classic was Laceface. Lacey has been making pipes
since 2004. She has traveled around a bit during her career but has recently put down roots
in San Diego, where she brings a feminine quality to her work that is all too often lacking in
our art form. She has been making and refining her version of the female figure for most of
her career, and her work usually has a vibrancy and fluidity that sets it apart.
For whatever reason, pipe-making is kind of a boys’ club. There are probably ten times as
many guys as girls making pipes today, so like any boys club, the ladies have to work a little
harder to be taken seriously and to get the business they deserve. I’m not saying it’s right, it
just is what it is. Lacey has never let this discourage her, and all you have to do is look at the
list of her accomplishments to see that she has earned her place at the head of the table. In
fact, she actually pushed it so hard leading up to the event that she got pretty sick right after
her competitive set and was basically down for the count from then on. She told me that this
was the nature of competition and that she only knew how to put it all on the line and go full
force. In the end, you have to be on your game to make your best work under the pressure of
I wish I had a higher word-count to work with, to show you the Classic through the unique
perspective of each of these amazing competitors, but alas, the time finally came that we all
had been waiting for. Everyone had made his or her piece and the day of judgment was at
hand. I had seen all the competitors’ entries as they worked, but now the rest of the judges
and I have the chance to see the work up close, at room temperature, and compare the
The votes were counted and in the end, my choice was the people’s choice and Kurt’s hand
was raised. Second went to Ryno, and third went to J-red. We retired back to the Bern for a
heated and flamboyant auction that was run by a mysterious and obnoxious fellow that went
by the name of Ron Bergandab. He had been conducting interviews for the movie and
honestly being a general asshole the whole time, but he really did put his all into the auction.
Most of the pieces sold quickly and for pretty pennies, leaving only the last harrah of the
wrap party standing in the way of yet another successful Pipe Classic.
The party itself was a blur. There was a ridiculous amount of food, much of which featured
bacon, there was a DJ and an MC, a hot tub, simply immeasurable amounts of alcohol, and, of
course, an amoebic and ever-growing circle out on the patio.
You don’t need me to tell you that the Pipe Classic pushes its participants to reach a little
further, to invent new tricks and to really go for it. All you have to do is look at the work that
this one-of-a-kind event has helped to produce. That growth is an amazing force for our
little movement and this year was no exception. The work was epic, unforgettable, and was
not to be missed. If you get the chance, you should come to the next one which surely will be
just as good if not better. If you do come out, you will see what this thing we call the “pipe
game” is all about.
Copyright © Bern Press 2013


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