Beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder. Person A and Person B, with their different histories and their different personal reasons, will always see the same one object through a different personal lens. How do we travel beyond such highly susceptible differences to try and come to an elevated form of conclusion on a subject? Impossible? Perhaps. Still, this is the question I am asking as I review the work of Michail Revyagin. His work travels in an odd and perplexing direction and I am trying to better understand what it is he is doing and what it means for the pipe community at large.
Michail started making pipes back in 1999. He was attracted to the pipe hobby & industry because of the general lack of structure and major market forces at work. There are clearly still economic factors and various other embedded ‘systems’ in our pipe world, however compared to something such as Architecture, the pipe hobby has a lot less constraints associated with it. This loose environment afforded someone like Michail, a greater amount of flexibility and artistic freedom to pursue his desired path.
He did not begin his career by making extraordinarily unique pieces of briar. He began like many other carvers, by learning the basic’s of pipe making first. Revyagin told me: “It was my goal to train myself and copy the best of Bo Nordhs shapes. I swallowed my pride and literally killed my personal artistic desires and forced myself to learn all of the classical forms. It was a very important first step in my career” One cannot deny that he was rather successful in this early stage as he produced perfect copies of many classical shapes and began to lay the foundation for what was to come.
Some seven years later, Michail began to slowly branch out into the unique and unusual. It was fairly evident that he was no longer challenged by classical shapes and he was ready to start something new. His shapes started gradually taking on certain fantasy as well as real-life elements. He began to search for inspiration and he found it in some unique places. He spent some time playing with the concept of organic degradation as seen in rotten fruit. He even tried to capture some of the natural asymmetry seen in the average human face.
Michail told me: “You have to be flexible to go in both directions, both in learning classical and then exploring beyond. I did not want to be imprisoned by the classical shape system. I feel like I can freely fantasize now with all the knowledge I learned in copying classical forms”. He was ready to unleash his artistic freedom and allow it to express itself in any way it saw fit. The results were nothing short of extraordinary.
At first glance, many of Michail’s shapes cause us to scratch our heads in confusion, as we are faced with the unique challenge and difficulty of properly orienting & positioning ourselves around an object which seems to be breaking the rules with our system of comprehension. This is in fact exactly what Michail is going for. He tells me: “I am working off a new alphabet and gambling with unplanned possibilities. All the while I am searching for new connections in the realm of the unknown”. As we take some of his shapes in, we have no choice but to categorize him as a big risk-taker. The results of his search for something to latch onto are nothing short of intriguing.
There is however an enormous purpose behind his maddening pursuit into the unknown. That is his search for a new way of approaching pipe design. He has taken the extremely difficult task upon himself to find something both new, yet at the same time useful, two traits which are part of the very essence of experimentation. This is a trait that will always be connected to Michails work. A desire to explore and to find something previously untouched. When I spoke to collector and sales manager of a clothing company in the US, Dustin Babitzke, he expressed this general essence found in Michail’s work: “I have been collecting Michail’s work for several years. My favorite piece is one of the earliest pieces I purchased from him, a beautiful fantasy cross grain blowfish that I believe is still the most stunning piece Misha ever made. The first thing I noticed about the pipe when I picked it up was how different it was from anything in my collection. I have been collecting blowfish since I started smoking a pipe and today have over 55 in my collection. Of those,there is not one that comes close to the beauty and unique shaping of that original fantasy blowfish. Each line of the pipe mirrors the wood’s grain as it twists and turns, yet at the same time the comfortable feel it has in my hands, shocks me each time I pick it up.” This is the type of pipe you receive when obtaining a Revyagin. A version of something old, done in a new way.
Michails imagination seems to know no bounds. Although again, many of his pipes I am myself not fully accustomed to, meaning that I would find it difficult to put most of his pipes in my mouth. I am still unable to look away from 100% of his designs. Quite the opposite. When evaluating his pipes, I find myself covering every single square mm on the piece, something I positively do not do usually. This is new and fun for me. A natural unexpected side-effect. Trying to understand not only what I am looking at but trying to figure out how he came to this particular juncture. This process is incredibly fun and fascinating with Revyagin pipes because you will constantly be surprised by where your next thought takes you. It is a pleasure to analyze his work. Even in contemplation Michails pipes provide refreshing new thought. Michails treatment and interplay of grain and birds eye is especially fun to explore. He has mastered the art of expressing the grain in so many additional facets that we are not accustomed to seeing, so if it’s the grain and birds eye that we are after when looking at pipes, it doesn’t get any better than what we see on a Revyagin.
Much of Michail’s current work is based off of a single design he found in 2008. A design that he calls the ‘Bumble Bee’. This was a ground breaking shape for him as it opened up an entire new realm of shaping possibilities with the briar.
From this new foundation, he has spawned an entire new way to approach the shank and he has either pioneered or made popular again, (I will not debate the former since the latter is at least true), the concept of a ‘reverse calabash’. The common thinking in standard pipe design is to have a large head and a small neck, as is similar to our human bodies. A body pipe shape connection that Michail cannot go without discussing at least once every few minutes. He adores the relationship between what we find beautiful and how it mimics real life. What Michail is however doing with this new approach to the head and neck, is creating a whole new design and he does not see a difference between the head and the neck. Michail says: “Although I am breaking a lot of traditions, it helps open up a new world of design possibilities for me. A democratic way to approach the design since the head is no longer the key and most important ingredient.”
While Michail may be changing the fundamental design in a pipe, part of his reasoning for this new approach is directly related to functional engineering logic. He has a grand vision connected to this shaping system. He explains: “The head (bowl) is where the pipe will take in the majority of the heat. In reality however, the head is rarely able to handle the intense heat that is produced in there. In a normal pipe, that intense heat will travel from the head down and through the very small neck (air way) and come directly in contact with the smokers mouth. This transfer of intense heat is virtually continuous and without interruption. The mouth is bombarded with practically the same high degrees of heat that are cooking within the bowl.”
This high heat transfer issue has bothered Michail since his early days of pipe smoking, it’s what we commonly associate as tongue bite. We all eventually get acclimated to tongue bite to one degree or another, the question he however asked himself is, do we even have to? Are we required to burn our tongues while enjoying a pipe? It’s a fair question.
Led by this idea towards finding an engineering solution to the high heat issue, as well as a desire to make the briar more functional, Michail has focused a lot of effort on finding a way to enlarge the shank in order to create an entirely new chamber for the smoke to cool in. The results are phenomenal. The words ‘cool smoke’ have never meant as much as they do, as when smoking a Revyagin pipe.
All of his customers rave about the smoking qualities of his pipes. Mikael Pertot, an IT consultant from Sweden tells me: “Not only does Misha give pipes a new design, he has created a totally new principle for smoking with the ‘reverse calabash’, of which I own 5. They are absolutely great smokers.” Another collector, this time Dustin Babitzke, a Clothing Store sales manager from the US tells me something similar: “People like Michail have proven that not only can a pipe be artistic, but it can smoke like a dream. I own 8 of Misha’s pipes and not one smokes wet or harsh.”
I myself have smoked one of these reverse calabash pipes and for all intensive purposes, any harshness associated with my favorite strong english blends, completely vanishes. This does change the way I experience my strong english blends since they taste less prominent or harsh, however I can’t help but think that this new method of combustion and air flow is for all intensive purposes, a much more smarter and more sensible approach to pipe engineering, when compared to the general methods pioneered over 400+ years ago. If you have yet to try this system, slowly being incorporated by many pipe makers around the world, you are missing out on a new way to experience the taste as well as the side effect to taste, in your tobacco.
Slowly but surely, over the past few years, Michail and his alternative way of doing things, has been gaining the attention of the global pipe smoking community.
One big reason for Michails meteoric rise both in the US and other global markets is because of his partnership with pipe dealer Nick Miller of QualityBriar.com. Nick Miller is Michails exclusive dealer in the United States. Nick told me how he first heard about Revyagin: “It was through Alex Florov. I was always asking Alex to tell me which Russian pipe makers were ready to take the next step and Alex told me flat out that Michail Revyagin was at the top of the list. I then spent some time researching Misha and his pipes and I was very quickly hooked. When I first started Quality Briar, I knew that I had to find someone to build the site around, some high profile type of figure to launch the business with and Michail Revyagin was that pipe maker for me.” Since that time several years ago, Nick and Misha have become good friends. Nick tells me very frankly that he considers Misha to be one of the best pipe makers in the world today and along with Eltang, Negoita and Knets to be one of the most original and innovative. Nick also said: “Greg Pease told me that Misha changes the way you look at pipes and I couldn’t agree more. I can’t even wrap my mind around some of the things that Misha is doing today. His finishing techniques, including reverse calabash, dragon skinned and now see through acrylic on high grade briar pipes, it’s just amazing to see what he is coming up with. It may not be every collectors cup of tea but Misha’s peers from every corner of the world seem to think very highly of him and his new designs.” More on those see through pipes to come.
It is now abundantly clear that Michail has found something that he is happy with. His ‘reverse calabash’ affords him ample opportunity to explore an entire new realm of potential pipe design. He is not slowing down at all. He has already created a new version of the shank using a transparent material, providing us with in an inside view to the internal system of pipes. He jokingly refers to this pipe as an AK-47, the Russian made assault rifle known for it’s unbreakable qualities, no matter what conditions it may face. Michail tells me: “Your usual pipe can be smoked one or maybe two times in a row. She (the pipe) will then become soggy and wet and she will not be able to perform to her maximum ability anymore. Enter the AK-47, that can take a licking and keep on ticking. After each smoke, you simply take a cloth and wipe the transparent structure with one wipe, put it back together and you can go at her for another 10 full rounds! Like an AK-47, she just keeps on doing what she was born to do without ever getting tired.”
We have such a unique pipe maker and artist in Michail Revyagin. He challenges himself and at the same time forces us to challenge our established thinking regarding what we hold to be true in pipe design. I find his work extremely relevant and important for several reasons. Michail has brought a wave of fresh air into the pipe community and it is only through these types of people that progress occurs. Some type of forward movement is necessary in any area of life. When I asked collector and University Math Professor, Mr. Chao-Liang Shen why he believes someone like Michail is important to the hobby, he echoed similar sentiments saying: “Pipe Making is a kind of art, a good pipe artisan should be a good artist. Like all kind of arts, connoisseurs wish for artists to introduce new concepts, concepts which are different to the old timer; we need someone who can introduce new concepts on pipe making”. That is exactly what Michail is doing. Without these ‘mad scientists’ we would not have this type of innovation and we would remain stuck in the same old way of doing things. He is truly and completely both lost in the briar and in love with it and we, the pipe collecting and appreciating community, are the beneficiaries of this strange romance.
His work is so important because it reminds us that nothing should ever remain static and the same. Change should be a requirement of anything that we do. I understand that there is comfort in the old and there is a certain amount of displeasure with anything new. I am myself still struggling with most of the designs that Michail produces. I am however unable to deny the wonderful stimulation that Revyagin pipes give my senses. He reminds me of what I crave, which is a healthy and intelligent challenge to the comfort I have found. For me, he is a wake-up call. It is not a rude awakening but a very sophisticated approach to alternative thought.
It takes time for us to get used to new stimulation, but in the end it sure feels good. Whatever your opinion is of his shapes, it is difficult to deny that he has found some new and very interesting ideas, that are laying the foundation for a new approach to pipe making. Several pipe makers are now following his design leads and producing various new versions of the ‘reverse calabash’. How pleasant it is to have these new paths in front of us. Nick Miller of QualityBriar.com asked me to imagine what Michail will be working on, two or even four years from now. It’s a very good point. Seeing how far he has come in just over 12 years, one cannot help but imagine even greater and more mesmerizing things.
While most of his pipes sell in the low four figures, it should be stated that his yearly production is extremely limited. He has yet to produce more than 59 pipes in a single year. This year he will likely not make more than 42 pipes. Believe it or not, he spends an average of 50 hours on each pipe he creates. Some of his latest creations have taken him over 70 hours. In terms of having a return on investment, his pipes definitely have it.
With all that being said, I would like to end part one of this review on Michail Revyagin by showing you several photos of his newest creation. You will not see this new beast of a pipe in final form just yet. I will unveil this pipe in finished form in 72 hours. I would like to have these progress pictures, showing the pipe in it’s pre-final stages, sink in.
See you in 3 days for the unveiling of Revyagin’s new pipe.
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If you would like to learn more about Michail Revyagin, please visit his website at:
He also has a large assortment of videos on YouTube which are easily found when typing his name in the search box.
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By the way, until I can hire a full-time editor, the poor grammar skills will remain.
Too bad for both you grammar hounds as well as you obsessive compulsive types.
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