Pipes & Tobaccos Magazine, Cover
Click the image above to open a PDF version of the cover story article (the first
two pages) from the 2008 Summer Pipes & Tobaccos magazine article on Will Purdy.
To view the entire article, Pipes and Tobacco subscribers may click here
to log on, and those of you
new to this great publication may also subscribe using the same link.
I own an amazingly beautiful and incredibly great smoking Will Purdy Volcano smooth
straight grain with dense, eye popping 3-dimensional birdseye floating on its wide
bottom. Every time I look at its graceful aesthetics I experience abstract images
from Tolkienesque fantasy worlds and yet concretely find myself contemplating how
converging and diverging lines and curves can intertwine into exotic, complex, organic
harmony. The well cured and long seasoned briar coupled with Will's perfectionist
construction technique provides it with wonderful smoking qualities. Will Purdy's
style is one of the most unique, original, and functional in all the pipe world.
Will Purdy, the Anti-Cliche
In our hobby we have our own set of cliches. "This guy's pipes are great. He's the
next - insert famous pipe maker here." Or, "These pipes are so distinctive. You
can pick out this guy's pipes from across the room." You know, stuff like that.
And really those cliches could be aptly applied to Will. But that isn't really the
full picture. There's really nothing cliche about Will's pipes, or his path to making
As for Will's pipe making education; no cliches there. None of the ubiquitous, "Well,
I picked up a PIMO kit and visited the workshop of -insert famous pipe maker here-,
and now I make pipes." Will is perhaps the truest example of the autodidact as our
already insular community has. And more importantly, it shows. Don't believe me,
look at one of his pipes and say, "Yes, I see that this pipe is in the blah, blah,
school." Or, "Well, I see the influence of so and so here." Liar, no you don't.
You see Will, doing his thing.
As for the pipes themselves, no cliches there either. Like many of you I have heard
myself say, "I like so and so's pipes, they're distinctive." And that's a great
thing. I demand that in the pipes I collect. Fortunately for American pipe collectors,
or should I clarify, collectors of American pipes, we have a plethora of unique
voices to choose from. Many of those guy's pipes will be recognizable from across
a crowded, and smoky showroom floor. They'll yell, "Hey, I am a unique shape by
a uniquely American voice!" And that's awesome. I own many of those pipes and treasure
them. But that's not Will. Will's pipes don't yell anything. They whisper.
Now, if you are looking for "Hey, they made a Ramses, I'll make a Ramses." Or, "Hey,
I can make a blowfish that stands up sideways, and is pierced by bamboo, and has
an ivory spear tip and is accented by six exotic woods." Well, you should probably
close this site. Look elsewhere; there are plenty who will charge you handsomely
to accommodate you. If you want superbly shaped, unique, and subtle creations that
eschew cliches and provide smoking qualities second to none and manage to accomplish
all this at a value, give Will a call.
Nothing wrong with cliches, I embody a few myself. But, I'm here to tell you, Will
isn't the next (insert famous pipe maker here). Will isn't the next anybody. He
is quite simply the first Will Purdy.
Style In The Highest
When I smoke one of my Purdy pipes, I feel immersed in the moment. The effortlessness
smoking experience facilitates a transcendent, reflective state-of-being that I
relish when I'm with my pipe. Will's pipes are servants of that experience; they
I am not the collector I was before I started collecting Will's pipes. Through his
work, I have fallen in love with the organic and the subtle. I believe that Will's
aim is not to dazzle or shout but rather to for his pipes to be in the world on
their own terms - just like him.
Having spent a lifetime in the arts, it has been my experience that those qualities
that one finds in an artist and in his or her art are too often dissimilar. With
some artists, it is as if their work found its way through some dark, brambled labyrinth
to emerge miraculously bright-faced and unscathed. To compare Will's work with many
other artisan's work feels absurd. It would be like looking at a flower and suggesting
that the flower might be more beautiful if a petal had curled more at the tip. It
is what it is. Because of that authenticity, Will Purdy's work feels real and true.
With apologies to Gertrude Stein, when I think of Will Purdy's aesthetic, I believe
that there is a "there there."
Will once told me that pipe-making is a vocation where "you can't wait for the muse
to sit on your shoulder. You must work when you don't feel like it." That discipline,
humility, and perseverance feel tangible in his work. Clearly his muse - like me
and other Purdy collectors - respects and loves him.
Writing about agriculture as art, in his essay Of Discipline and Hope, Wendell Berry
wrote that it "grows not only out of factual knowledge but out of cultural tradition;
it is learned not only by precept but by example, by apprenticeship; and it requires
not merely a competent knowledge of facts and processes, but also a complex set
of attitudes, a certain culturally evolved stance, in the face of the unexpected
and the unknown. That is to say, it requires style in the highest and richest sense
of that term."
Wendell Berry might have been describing Will Purdy's pipe-making with those words.
Neill Archer Roan
I love beautiful hand-made pipes. I love the craftsmanship, the play of tradition
and innovation, and the great smoke that they can provide. That must explain why
I have more pipes by Will Purdy than by any other pipemaker. Will is a serious and
exacting craftsman, but his sense of play and creativity imbue every pipe with a
boldness and originality that make it a treasured friend.
I've bought pipes Will had on hand and I've commissioned some. He is a pleasure
to work with and I've always beenÂ very happy with the design, finish, amazing stem
work, and impeccable smoking quality. Will's a fine man to deal with and I believe
his handsome pipes are among the very finest available.
There "is" something special about a Will Purdy pipe. Many pipes I own smoke special
and Will's are no exception in that category. That's not what I'm talking about.
There is something above all else about how he shapes his creations and that's the
hook for me!
My first impression? WOW! This pipe is really something special. Hard to define
as there is nothing "fancy" about it, it's just,.. well it's just perfect. The fit
and finish from the drilling to the highly polished surface is pure perfection.
Even the tobacco chamber was smooth as glass.
The bit work on this one is almost delicate but enough of a button to make it secure
when clenched. The shaping of the pipe is also so perfect that you'd think all pipes
should be this same shape. Obviously I don't mean that all pipes should be this
same shape, it's just that this one seems so perfectly balanced and natural that
it could be no other way.
Add to all this, the grain patterns follow the unique shape so perfectly. Yeah,
I know, it's really the other way around but it just doesn't seem that way. On your
website you said "Finally, I found another Organic Tadpole block!" and I guess that's
what I mean. The grain and shape are one. Incredible!
I've spent most of my adult life as an autobody repairman. I was good and I worked
on many show cars. The point is I have a feel for surface shapes,... you have to
be able to sense the slightest change in shape with your hands to be able to say,
that's right. I cannot tell you how perfect my Purdy Tadpole is. If you look at
the photos on the website, trust me, that does not tell the tale. Running my fingers
over the bowl reveals so many subtle shape changes and each one is perfect. Each
one belongs there and the pipe would not be the same without them. You are a gifted
artist Will and I'm proud to own one of your creations.
I was reluctant to put fire to this beauty. I wanted to keep it just as it was.
It was perfect and I did not want to change that in any way! Weird!
Fortunately I quickly got over that and the first bowl of Embarcadero tasted oh
so good! :-D
BTW, you may have noticed a repeated word in all this, I just noticed it. "Perfect",
that is the keyword for this pipe.
A happy smoker of a Will Purdy pipe!
I have been collecting pipes for many years, and I generally purchase pipes from
people who I have come to know a bit. Every pipe in my collection has a memory attached
to it. I remember the purchase, the carver or merchant, and even the setting in
which it was purchased; although some were commissions or otherwise purchased from
a distance from a carver I know. I must say that in general, I can endorse several
carvers; there are some very talented people out there. However, it is a smaller
population of carvers who are making a mark with pieces that I believe are uniquely
distinctive. Many carvers today are experimenting with forms and styles and their
work is all over the place. That's not necessarily bad, they make some fantastic
pipes. Carvers with a hyper-focus in certain essential elements of form and style,
however, are rare. Will falls into that group. When you see a Purdy - you can tell
it's a Purdy. How?
I was talking to Will one time about stem treatments, bands and / or inserts, that
type of thing. Will told me he preferred not to use them. Not because he could not
craft them, but because he said that the addition added an element of uncertainty
to the pipe. If the pipe is simply briar and a stem, one only needs to concern oneself
with the expansion and contraction of two elements. Adding a third element, a material
that will behave over time differently than the briar and the stem material, increases
the chances of something becoming loose, misaligned or cracked over time. He may
have also said that he prefers a pipe to be the essence of simplicity. He did not
say anything about 'gilding a lily' but I think that concept has a role in his thinking
as well. He makes his pipes from block and rod; that's it. I like that.
As it relates to workmanship, I can say that one can be certain of ideal engineering.
How can I be so sure? First off, the man is a fanatic. Ask him to tell you about
airway design and you will get the idea. Second, I own Will Purdy Pipes. I smoke
them. They are perfect. I have his first Roma Series pipe from 2002. This is a Volcano
with no nomenclature; I don't believe Will was selling his pipes at this time. I
have his second Roma from 2003, a Dublinesque pipe with an unusually organic shape.
I also have the honor of owning his Roma 2004, the Cornucopia; his first Turtle
But the most important Purdy that I own is a Tapered Shank Dublin with no nomenclature.
It was at the 2002 Chicago Pipe Show that I met Will for the first time. He was
scouting the show, talking to people, and showing a few of his own hand carved pieces.
One evening I was sitting with my wife and some friends, Tony Deissler, Ken Lamb,
Greg Pease, and a bit later Sykes Wilford and Jon Tillman. I'm not sure who introduced
Will, it may have been Tony or Greg, but in any case Will was there too and we were
all sipping some 20 Year Old whiskey (Old Rip Van Winkle) that I had brought along
to share. It was there that I first saw the pipes that Will carved; he had brought
along a case of his early work to collect feedback. A small tapered shank Dublin
caught my eye. I kept picking it up and putting it down. Do you know what it's like
when a pipe speaks to you? This pipe was, to me, perfect in every proportion. I
asked Will if I could buy it and he replied that his work was not yet ready for
I was disappointed, but I respected him. This guy was the real deal. Remember that
wine company that would release no wine before it's time? Well, here we had a pipe
carver that was unwilling to release a pipe with his name on it unless it met with
his standards. I think I asked him to reconsider once or twice and then abandoned
the matter. We talked tobacco and pipes and I kept picking up the tapered shank
Dublin and putting it down again until Will finally put his pipes away.
Months later it came in the mail with a note. Will took pity on me and sent it along.
So what was the big flaw? Well, there is a very small natural fissure on the inside
rim at the top of the bowl. I've been smoking this pipe for years and it never amounted
to anything at all. It is a wonderful smoker, and a wonderful memory.
I write this note with a strong endorsement of Will's work. I will prize the Purdy
pipes that I own, and over time I expect to add more of his work to my collection.
Ernie Carabillo III