The umpteenth person was about to die of boredom on a dreary summer afternoon in 2004. Too much silence and inertia could kill anyone, even more so if you lived in a quiet town like Solingen, where the intense green lawns owe their aspect more to copious amounts of rain than to gardening skills, and above all where somebody like Frank did not count patience as one of his virtues. However, such days may turn out to be electrifying. There had already been some signs of a change in the previous days, when Frank, feeling dissatisfied, had surfed the net to view specialist sites, and something was bubbling inside him, as if to announce his imminent burst of genius and creativity.
Suddenly, on the screen appeared the image that sparked everything off: a Volcano pipe made by Tokutomi. Perfection, indeed, thought Frank, and he had decided he would try to attain it too. For someone like Frank who was used to carving marble, it was extremely exciting to think of shaping a totally different medium like briar wood that would accommodate heat. When you are forty, the path towards finding your own identity also involves sudden bursts of intuition, when it is necessary to shape the undefined molten mass of dreams. Indeed, that was the moment to let loose his creativity. How many times had he sought self-control in his hobby of archery, which taught him patience and restraint. Hitting the mark consists of a combination of fluid gestures, concentration, timing and discipline. However, that afternoon, there was no room for self-control with the Volcano before his eyes.
The first thing to do was to print out the photo of the Japanese pipemaker’s work of art so that he could hang it up in his workshop, so that it was always present, a kind of sacred icon watching over his new exploit: making pipes. Within a few weeks he had acquired all the necessary tools to shape the wood and also the raw material on which he wanted to experiment his new-found creative frenzy. He himself had smoked a pipe for more than half his life, and he also bought a new one every year, which had also turned him into a collector of sorts. He would never have dreamed of being able to make one on his own, and even less so when it came to making it for others. But what at first seemed pure folly soon turned out to be the right decision. His experience as a sculptor had served him well, and he was extremely talented, as well as the fact that his passion for his work drove his imagination.
Nowadays Frank Axmacher is numbered amongst the greatest pipemakers. You only have to see his pipes to understand that under the apparently cool exterior lies a turbulence that led Frank to come across the Volcano on summer afternoon. He draws inspiration, like his first brilliant insight, from the artistry of other pipemakers, but also from architecture and design that have nothing to do with pipes. For beautiful objects are based on other beautiful objects. For instance, in his laboratory, apart from his bow and arrow which he uses to practice shooting when he needs to calm himself and regain concentration in the midst of all the chaos, there are also some vases made by Per Lutken, a Danish glass-worker. The Danes are not just good at making pipes.
When he thinks of the events that have brought him to where he is now, he acknowledges the great generosity of those who have preceded him in this craft. The Internet was his first teacher, but dialogue and communication with other pipemakers was where he really learnt the craft.
He smiles when he thinks of the first day that he started working with the lathe, as now he knows how time-consuming and tiring it is. How could he think that a pipe could be finished in one day? Pipes take time to shape. “Each pipe is the product of small and large decisions” as Frank is wont to say, who would prefer to keep his pipes a little longer after finishing them.
He thinks that by looking at the end product and mentally going over the various stages involved he can see where things could be improved or changed. However, the market does not allow this, as his creations are sold almost immediately. Never mind, he is reconciled to this fact when the money arrives in his bank, he says ironically.
He will be fifty next year and his insatiable curiosity, which may be the result of his impatience, drives him to seek new projects. Indeed, he is already thinking of learning to work with glass and make knives in the next fifty years. He likes knives, and no wonder, as Solingen is known for its long tradition of knife manufacturing. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy his pipes, and remember that if you listen carefully on some rainy days when the North wind blows, you can hear the volcano bubbling inside Frank in his moments of inspiration. Then suddenly a bowstring is drawn and vibrates, followed by a hiss and thud. He has reached his goal again.
Special thanks to Mr. Frank Axmacher for his precious contribution
Milano, January 2013