Andrew Marks, Master Carver and Magician

By Thomas Martin

There’s magic in the foothills of the Green Mountains, Vermont. I’ve seen it before, and I’ll see it again in the studio workshop of Andrew Marks, Pipemaker. When I see the “Bear Crossing” sign, I know I’m almost there and a far cry from Boston. “Moose Crossing,” even closer still and time to start looking for the first dirt road at the top of the hill where the guardrail ends. If I see the sign for “Otter Creek Brewing,” I know I’ve gone too far.

The Magician, Andrew Marks has been turning briar burls into work of art for 35 years. I use the word turning a bit differently than one might expect when talking about contemporary carvers. I do not mean turning the wood on a lathe. I mean transforming, and shaping the briar burl into a pipe in a fashion that allows him to hold the wood in his hands throughout the process, something important to his aesthetic, and appreciation of the material. He has the greatest respect, appreciation, and confidence in his briar which he imported some thirty years back. And I have the greatest respect, appreciation, and confidence in him as he teaches me his craft.

His barrel of mistakes serves to remind him that nobody is perfect, and neither is the wood. Learning from mistakes is what the life, and the life of a pipe maker is all about. At the bottom of the barrel are rejects probably as old as I am, and at the top, mistakes made as recent as last week. It’s a lifelong learning process and as he continues to learn, he continues to innovate. He is a remarkable force in an industry that is again relying heavily on artisan carvers rather than factories. He learned largely from craftsmen in such pipe factories, each with a specialty and expertise. It takes two hands to count his mentors. He learned different skills from each specialist and developed his own handmade process. He freely shares this information with me.

Before arriving at his shop, I went “down town” for a burger and a beer. There I bumped into someone smoking one of Andrew’s pipes, it was painter and author Douglas Lazarus pictured here smoking one of my pipes. Another famous painter and fellow member in the Pipe Smokers Hall of Fame, Norman Rockwell also owned pipe(s) crafted by Andrew. After driving through the Green Mountain National Forest in the fall, I saw nothing more colorful than Andrew Marks. Sitting in his rocking chair sharing a smoke was the highlight of this visit. I offered him Prince Albert from my pouch which he humbly accepted citing that I “was the first to ever offer him PA with a straight face.” We, each men of briar, enjoyed it out of our favorite cobs. Mine with a Cumberland stem, his a full bent!

The timeless charm brought my imagination to riverboats and Twain. Andrews studio (an old chicken coop) is at the end of a small footpath lined with little piles of stones (cairns), the occasional Native American fetish, and if you tread lightly enough… gnomes. I told you there was magic in the hills Trees: Birch, Maple and Pine surround his studio. The beauty and the spirit of the wood somehow commingles with the briar he stores upstairs. And like Geppetto, Andrew brings this wood to life. Never once, while visiting Andrews shop has he ever turned on a light. Doug Lazarus told me a story about how once he saw Andrew fix a stem in the dark. I have only seen the warm glow of his alchohol lamp as he huddles over it bending stems as if huddled over a crystal ball. I believe Andrew could make a pipe in the dark, guided only his faith in his process.

I’ve sat through several of his “Crits” as we called them in art school. He’ll tells me with dignity, sincerity, and respect his honest opinion. Some critiques good, some not so good. All of them invaluable. If he says nothing, he’ll show me later, “I noticed your having problems here” pointing to one of his own pipes and suggesting how I might improve. Like most pipe makers, he’ll show you the natural flaws of his pipes, or perhaps something he wished he had done differently. Never does he point to the beauty and quality of craftsmanship. I noticed this same trait in our SHPC pipe maker emeritus Tim Hynick. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Andrew invited me back in six months, but this time not to critique my work, but to show me his. As mentioned in the Pipes & Tobacco Summer issue, Andrew Marks Master Carver and Magician has some exciting, innovating, and thoroughly artistic tricks up his sleeve. If you’d like to visit his studio in Cornwall, Vermont, you can reach Andrew at (802) 462-2112 to make an appointment. If you can’t make it to his studio, check out some of his pipes on his website www.p-i-p-e.com.

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