By Salt, Pipe Photos by Toto

Created by glassblowers for glassblowers, the Pipe Classic is hosted by the Bern Gallery in Burlington, VT in the third week of every September. The Classic is a true celebration of pipemaking featuring 12 amazing glass artists to competing head-to-head in a competition.

If there was a pipe competition before the Pipe Classic, I don’t know about it. Even if there was, it’s safe to say that the Classic changed the game by establishing itself, at first, by the simple fact of existing.

Pipe-makers and pipe consumers of the world wanted to see a pipe throwdown years before it actually happened. Plus, “right out of the gate,” the Classic offered its 12 competitors a chance to win a GTT Delta Mag, which is like the Mercedes of torches. But this wasn’t just the stock model. It’s like an S-Class sedan, and boasts a price tag of $4,000. Basically, it’s one of the most coveted and professional-grade torches ever made.

One element that sets the Pipe Classic apart from all other glass artist events is that the Bern Gallery provides a place for the artists to stay. Other competitions and shows might be centrally located in a hotel, but the Bern goes the extra mile and rents a house, or sometimes a series of houses.

This has proven to be increasingly difficult with passing years. The space required to house a dozen artists, some of whom bring spouses, and even children -- plus the Bern staff always stays at least one night – is enormous. And, of course, a few crashers always appear and find their way to a chair, a couch, or an open patch of floor.

I can fill volumes describing the various circumstances explaining why the owners of every house that has ever been rented by the Bern Gallery has made it clear that we were not welcome back. I imagine that when September rolls around, the landlords of Burlington clench their 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. Our community is growing, 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 meet-and-greet stage. What I do know is that J-red is a beast. He has been crushing the glass scene for 15 years and comes from the time before the social media ruled the way we communicate. 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 completely in the dark. that How had I not known about his work?

J-red told me he enjoys the challenge of using new and different techniques and the process of learning. This guy can do anything from line work, to stringer drawings, to sculpture.He’s an artist – and humble. But J-red is more than an artist. For many years, he has worked closely with Momka helping to develop their color line: consulting, pulling color, testing, and more. This gives him a technical base that few possess and a unique perspective that shows in his aesthetic. He actually mixes and designs his own special blends, part of what makes his work unique.

Ryno makes an array of different types of pieces that have the look and feel of a three-dimensional piece of graffiti. He has been working on a narrative style, reminiscent of Spy vs. Spy from Mad magazine, in both its look and sense of humor. More recently, he has branched out and now creates an array of rubber duck-themed work that still has a strong graffiti feel to it. Most recently he seems to have merged the two styles together. Ryno’s work is the type I would buy. I love work that has the feel of graffiti. It’s honest and apt.

Never too far from the Bern Gallery during Pipe Classic season is my man, Kurt B., who’s 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. In my opinion, he’s one of the best “artists” in our whole scene, one of my personal favorites. 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 handgun 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’s traveled around a bit during her career, but has recently put down roots in San Diego. 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, pipemaking 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’s just what it is.

Lacey has never let this discourage her. All you have to do is look at the list of her accomplishments to see that she’s earned her place at the head of the table. In fact, she actually pushed it so hard leading up to the event and got pretty sick following her competitive set and was basically down for the count. She told me that it’s the nature of competition, that she only knows how to put it all on the line, and go full force.

At last, the time arrived that we’d all been waiting for. Everyone had completed their pieces and the Day of Judgment was at hand. I’d seen all of the competitors’ entries as they worked, but now the other judges and I had the chance to see the work up close, at room temperature, and compare the entries. The votes were counted and in the end, my choice was the people’s choice: Kurt’s hand was raised. Second went to Ryno and third went to J-Red.

The Pipe Classic pushes its participants to reach a little further, to blaze new trails. Their work is epic, unforgettable,. Come to the next Pipe Classic and find out what the “pipe game” is all about.

Copyright © Bern Press 2013

The 8th Pipe Classic will be held September 16-22. Visit 135main.wix.com/the-pipe-classic. Check out the fabulous pipes from Pipe Classic 7 below!

Bern Burtoni fashioned smokeable flamingos.

Coyle created a stoner with a pipe and bong with only one thing on his mind.

Creep's mythological piece was the ibis-headed Egyptian god Thoth, who's holding an ankh in his talons.

Doshworld's pieces are always delicately balanced and beautifully symmetrical.

Eric Anders allows you to look into the heavens with this high-powered telescope.

Joe Peters' mutant tree features branches that toke up all by themselves!

J-Red's bong, engulfed with flames, took 3rd place.

Kurt B took 1st place with this exquisite piece whose shadow created a silhouette of Sherlock Holmes.

Laceface, a past Glass Artist of the Month, once again demonstrates her sleek, feminine technique in pipe-making.

Ryno's duck took 2nd place and featured a devil and an angel battling it out on its shoulders.