Doors open and close spaces, join and divide rooms, reassure and protect, but at the same time enable you to gain access and enter. Doors represent both separation and communication between two domains. There are real doors, such as those of houses or blocks of flats, or the gates to enter a city, but there are also conceptual doors, such as those that open out into the world, the future, or to the others. Moreover, in both Western and Eastern cultures the phrase “crossing the threshold” implies entering another world. Today’s story in a certain sense will be about doors, both real doors that open to welcome and metaphorical doors that open to let you go out or close to keep you in, and we could say that Leo Borgart found himself on the threshold of both these doors.
Cosimo and Leonardo had been travelling for several days now. They took turns to drive, when one was tired the other took over. They had covered thousands of kilometers to meet craftsmen that had been selected on the basis of a list faxed by the Italian Trade Commission. The first stop had been Germany, and then up towards Denmark. This trip was to be called “Briar Tour”, a trip in search of pipe makers whom they personally met at their homes, long before the Internet age when in the comfort of your own home you can open a window onto anyone instantly, compressing time and space. However, there was plenty of time in those days, and in a certain sense this was the beginning.
Thus, on a crisp, autumn day in September, 1989, having parked their car (which in some emergencies had also served as their hotel), the two stood outside the house of the last pipe maker for the day: Leo Borgart. They had already phoned to make sure that he would be expecting them, as they could not just show up on his doorstep without warning. Nevertheless, they were still excited but apprehensive, as they always were when it came to meeting people for the first time, and they always wondered if they would like one another. This is because although Cosimo and Leonardo were offering these craftsmen a trade opportunity, they were above all both pipe enthusiasts. This meant that if there was to be some kind of relationship, it should be primarily human and not commercial. They had already opened several doors on their briar tour, but none were like this one, as no one could have dreamed that the meeting would have such significance for the person who was to open the door. On the other side of the door was Leo Borgart, a Danish policeman, well built with a gentle expression behind his glasses, and a nice moustache, and above all with some secret dreams.
Ding dong. As soon as he heard the bell, Leo could never have imagined that fate was knocking on his door. Thus, he carefully laid his pipe in the ashtray, got up off the sofa and went to open the door, unaware that the door before him would have led him to the most intimate encounter – with himself. We all have a secret room in our mind where we seek refuge to restore our spirits. A room where all our skills are clear, accessible and ready to comfort us, and Borgart’s own secret room had remained closed for a long time. The life he led as a member of the police force had kept him away from his passion for wood and although he made briar pipes as a hobby, he had never thought of turning this activity into a real job.
What he made in his spare time was displayed in his wife’s shop, but that was as far as it went. However, a creation is only real when it is shared, because only sharing the object with others provides meaning to what has been made. Thus, when the two men turned up at his door, whom anybody would have taken to be only Milanese businessmen offering an opportunity, he realized that they were in fact the key to unlocking at long last his secret room and unleash his creativity. Caught unawares by this turning point in his life, his only reaction was to shut the door in the strangers’ faces. At first bewildered, they determined to try again.
Ding dong. A few minutes wait, and then the door was opened again to reveal a one- metre-ninety-tall Nordic man who was sincerely moved, drying a tear-stained cheek. He welcomed them helplessly, as if there were no way out any longer and he had to come to terms with his creative spirit once and for all. He then started to talk about his life. He had taught himself to make pipes just by looking, at a time when Internet had not yet the power to influence creativity. His father was also a pipe smoker, so he was in a way already immerged in this world. The ideas for shapes appeared in his mind, together with chromatic contaminations. He enjoyed mixing modern shapes and colours with traditional material, such as boxwood, or even a South-American nut which was said to be used as a love token between fiancées. As soon as Cosimo and Leonardo saw his creations they realized that they were looking at something that was highly remarkable and they immediately bought his entire pipe collection, and asked him if they could be his sole vendors.
It was the beginning of a wonderful relationship, both personal and professional. If someone puts you into contact with your fate it has to have a special place in your life, so that you are the one to allow your universe to transform itself, and you are responsible for what you have done. Thanks to this decisive meeting, not only did Leo manage to leave the police force and devote all his energy to pipe making, but he also succeeded in making his dream come true (that had been lying there for a while in his secret room) of having a house in the country. Indeed, he and his wife bought an old farmhouse on the island of Lolland, and to pay homage to that door that one autumn day opened physically and metaphorically in his world and led him there, he decided to open his door to other craftsmen. Thus, in the large house he created an area reserved for creativity, called “pipegarden”, a workshop made up of young people where projects came to life thanks to sharing and contributing to ideas. Italy became the destination for frequent trips to choose briar wood, but also to take advantage of spending a few days on holiday, together with their daughter, to meet friends as well as do business in Milan. For years his manual artistry drew on his personal goldmine, presenting the slow smokers’ world with unique artistic models and a hint of the future, until one day in the same unpredictable way that had opened the door to unleash his genius, unfortunately another door closed. Forever.
Milano, March 2013