Pipe Maker Q+A with Michael Addis of Maddis Pipes

How well do you know Michael? What follows in an insightful, honest, and entertaining interview. 

I hope you all enjoy it.

DN: Before we get started, tell us a little about yourself. 
MA: I'm a bit of a mutt. Born in Oklahoma and lived there until I was ten, then Southern California until I was 20, then Northern CA, then Seattle, and now Central Massachusetts for the past 21 years.

DN: What got you into hand made pipes?
MA: My father was an avid sculptor and painter when I was growing up. He also smoked a pipe. When he passed away in 2009 I just started smoking a pipe and thought it would be a great way to connect with him if I tried carving one.

DN: What is your greatest achievement as a pipe maker?
MA: Anytime I make it all the way through a pipe without a fatal flaw showing up and it looks like I imagined from the start! But more seriously, I would say developing a steady and growing group of clients who own several of my pipes. 

DN: What has been your biggest struggle/ challenge?
MA: Well I started with ZERO tooling experience. On the plus side, I grew up looking a sculpture and was surrounded by ceramics, photographic journals, etc., but I had no instruction in how to glue two pieces of wood together. So I think my eye for composition was far ahead of my ability to technically pull things together. Fortunately, that seems to have balanced out over time.

DN: Do you have any pipe makers you draw inspiration from or admire?
MA: When I began to take this seriously as an avocation, I realized I would need to get some mentorship and I looked long and hard for someone whose work spoke to me in particular ways. When I first saw Abe Herbaugh's work I knew he was the guy. Fortunately, he has been very generous and willing to work with me. I pay attention to a lot of current makers such as Li Zhesong, Nate King, Clark Layton, Micah Cryder, and others.

DN: When you're not in the shop, what hobbies do you have to fill the time?
MA: I have been playing guitar since I was nine years old. There's always another ragtime tune to learn on the guitar, or some tricky bit of slide work that's been nagging at me.

DN: How many pipes do you make a year?
MA: I knew this question was coming! I've avoided counting, but I'm guessing somewhere around 50-60. 

DN: What is your ideal smoking setting?
MA: For me, pipe smoking is an activity unto itself. I can barely keep a conversation going if I'm in that zone and I like that about it. It seems to create a context of mindfulness that can be difficult to find otherwise.

DN: What is your favorite pipe show, and why?
MA: So far I've only been to Chicago and that was a hoot through and through!

DN: Do you take commissions? If so, what is that process like?
MA: I do. It depends on the client, whether we've worked together in the past, what they're looking for, etc. Ideally, they are familiar with the work that I do, and are looking for a variation on that work. Occasionally, I've had commissions for a shape that I've never tried before, but I tend to take those only from repeat customers -- where we both know that this is an experiment and that's part of the fun.

DN: What kind of pipe is your favorite to make? 
MA: They're all fun. But if I had to specify, at this point it's probably a squat 1/8 bent tomato.

DN: If you could pick one pipe maker to hang out with for a day and learn from, who would it be and why?
MA: Maybe Maigurs Knets. He seems to be able to venture far outside of the box in ways that make intuitive sense compositionally. That's a hard balance to achieve.

DN: What is the coolest pipe in your collection? How did you come by it?
MA: My collection at any point in time is quite small. The bulk of my available resources goes into pipemaking supplies so I can only afford to hold onto a high grade pipe long enough to study it for inspiration and guidance. That said, I have a couple of pipes by Abe Herbaugh that will never leave my possession, including a ten knuckle bamboo freehand.

DN: Tell me one thing that most people wouldn't know about you.
MA: I'm a published author, having written several books and scientific articles in my non-pipemaking life.

DN: What is the coolest material you have used in making pipes?
MA: I was gifted a sperm whale tooth from a client whose grandfather was a whaler in New Bedford, MA. Because I did not purchase it, and will not sell the pipe, it's perfectly legal. The material is quite beautiful.

DN: Where do you find value in pipe making?
MA: Everywhere. It gets me out of my head on a regular basis, which can be a frustrating place at times! The combined visual and tactile elements of pipes are also appealing. I have the sense that I develop a relationship with each pipe from the initial sketching on a block, right through to packing it up for shipping. I enjoy watching each pipe evolve.

DN: Just as every burger joint has a 'secret sauce' to make their burgers stand out, what do you think sets you apart from the crowd with your work?
MA: I'm honestly not sure about that. I strive to make each pipe a fluid and coherent composition when viewed from every possible angle, but that's not what every artisan pipe maker is or should be working on. I do know that a couple of my repeat clients have said they can recognize one of my pipes anywhere, but (fortunately?!) they won't say why or how.
DN: What is the best way to get in touch with you?
MA: You can contact me through my website: www.maddispipes.com

DN: And finally-- a curveball: Ask me anything!
MA: Why American Pipe Makers in particular?
DN: That's a great question, Michael. I like Americans because of the quality of the work, chiefly. The past ten years have shown that Americans have a unique voice and talent.. and the relationships I've made with these guys are enjoyable and sustainable through pipe shows. There's really something to be said about buying a pipe, having it exceed your expectations, and then having a drink and laugh with the maker at the next pipe show. With everything these days being shipped elsewhere, I find a lot of pride in giving voice to American craftsmen. My collection started with American handmades, and I haven't strayed far from that.