Is there a pipe-maker having more fun today than Cornelius Manz? (also spelled Maenz) How can he not be having fun? His pipes are sold out within a few hours of being posted. His re-orders from retailers are occurring at a non-stop steady stream. In terms of business, it seems like Cornelius is doing well. This isn’t the fun part for him though. This just provides for him and his family. His wife is a fashion designer and both Cornelius and her just welcomed their brand new baby boy named Mimmo. Yes, they named their son after the Italian briar maestro. Cornelius is actually having so much fun, mainly because he has been making the pipes that he wants to make, for pretty much the bulk of his career. That may not sound like a very odd sentence but ask any pipe-maker out there and most of them are making what they believe the market is asking for. There is a big, big difference.
He is a strong believer in listening to his inner self and doing what he wants to do, rather than what other people may think he should do. It is not seen as a safe way to work in this business however Cornelius is all about doing things in his own way, with his own style. This is his mantra. When his mantra is singing loud and clear, he feels that he makes his most beautiful pipes. There is a very strong personal philosophy behind those words which you will read about shortly. He also provides some good advice to burgeoning pipe-makers.
Cornelius has risen to fame so incredibly fast. He has not just arrived at the top of the scene like so many other pipe-makers, he has arrived at the top and taken one of its top spots. To do this in just over a decade, it is clear that this is an incredibly gifted and very talented man.
In addition to his gorgeous shapes, he brings a host of small details to his pipes which make them that much more unique. For example his use of bamboo is out of this world and now his approach is being copied by other pipe-makers all over the world. He is his own man, doing his own thing and listening to his own voice. That is the main thing you should take away from learning about him. Oh and also that his pipes look so outrageously gorgeous, you feel like you are staring at masterpieces.
I kept as much of his real voice as possible, edits were required but it should feel like you are hearing him talk. Find some time to read this when you can sit back and load up a pipe and relax. I hope you enjoy the interview.
David M. (DM): Before you began pipe making, what was your life like?
Cornelius Manz (CM): I grew up with 2 brothers, we had a very good relationship, one of the best things in my life actually. My parents are both artists. My father passed away in ’90. They both painted and drew. My mother is still alive and still doing some art exhibitions. The surrounding of my youth was always full of color. My father was a strange guy, a real pure artist type. Somedays he would be incredibly enthusiastic and some days the complete opposite. He had a lot of emotional up and downs. My father really influenced me in the sense that one day I feel my work is great and the next day I look at my work and am bored. Before pipe making I wanted to study art like my parents but I decided that it is not a good idea because it is hard to make a living at that. By coincidence I started getting into textile design, textures for the furniture industry, wall-paper and the like.
DM: This means designing the fabrics.
CM: Yes, this was an old fashioned way to learn. At the end of my time there we started using computers but before that, we just drew everything out by hand. We also painted. This was a very conservative education somehow. Also by coincidence we met a Swiss textile agency and they traveled around the world selling their designs to big companies like IKEA. We started to work for them in 1995 and this was my full time job. A lot of hard work for little money.But we loved the work.
DM: Do you see any connection between textiles and what you did then to what you do now? Any strong parallels, whatever they may be?
CM: Before that in my teenager years I painted and drew quite a bit. When I was 7 years old I got a swiss pocket knife from my grandfather and from that day forward, I loved carving wood. I believe that this feeling is still in my pipes today. Just the pure love for working with wood. That year when I was 7, I made my first pipe out of a small piece of wood. I put a straw on it and my Mom had to put one of her cigarettes inside to make it smoke. My whole family actually smoked. In the 70’s, in Germany, everybody smoked. I was also attracted by smoking and all the things around that.
DM: So you were an artist deciding to go to Textiles. How many years was that going on and what events directly led you to deciding to be a pipe maker?
CM: For 8 years, almost full time, I was doing textiles. Then in 1998 I began carving pipes. I purchased a pre-drilled block and made a pipe. I was immediately mesmerized again, just like I was back in childhood, with the pipe. In a town close to us, I met this guy who was the first in Germany to deal in Estate pipes. He knew all the pipe makers very well and just by coincidence I met him and showed him one of my very first pipes and he gave me a great response. He invited me to come visit him and he showed me his amazing collection.
CM Cont’d: Pipes from the early years of Bo, Lars and Nanna and all the big pipe-makers. I was immediately and totally attracted to them. Of course this retailer had no idea about technique but he showed me so many pipes that were so attractive. So it was this contact and buying pre-drilled blocks that I just decided that I wanted to make my own pipes, with my own equipment, with my own tools. Back then it was not easy to get all these pipe making tools. Now it is easy. It was quite hard to get started and get enough knowledge about all the pipe making techniques. I bought all the pipe magazines I could get my hands on and I read about great carvers like Rainer Barbi & Joura. I always read that they don’t share their information and they keep all their secrets to themselves. No need to ask them because they wont tell you was the message. That is what I read. So I was too shy to contact them on my own and I kind of struggled for a few years.
CM cont’d: Then when I bought myself a lathe in 2001 and I did not know how to use it, the gentleman who sold estate pipes, he recommended that I call Wolfgang Becker. And this started everything. Wolfgang had no secrets and he taught me everything he knew and this was really the start of my real pipe making career. We are now very good friends and all the knowledge he shared with me is very special to me.
CM cont’d: Then in late 2001 I met a German collector, Jorg Lehman and he introduced me to the pipe world. He invited me to a local pipe club meeting and I went there with my first 20 pipes and I sold 15 and that made me so happy.
CM cont’d: The textile design business was always very tough to make money in and I started to work half my time as a pipe maker. So I started working on pipes much more and it still took me such a long time to make a mouthpiece for example.
DM: How did you feel during that time? Anybody starting something new has trouble and especially with pipe making, it must be very difficult.
CM: Of course and it was ridiculous somehow. My friends would say: ‘What? You want to make pipes? No don’t do that’. I did not know where pipe making would take me to at that time. I think when I look back that I was really very lucky. At least in Germany in 2001 and 2002 there were very few young pipe-makers. There was Barbi, Joura, Safferling, Brandt, Becker and Paul Becker but very few others. So when I came up, my pipes were not that great. Yes, they looked normal and everything but there was no style to them. The briar was not very good. But still, people became crazy for my pipes because I was young and they wanted to support me. I think pipe makers now a days have a much harder time to break into the market. So I was very lucky and Jorg Lehman introduced me to Per Bilhall from ScandPipes and of course I knew that internet home page of his and always looked at the beautiful pipes he had and when they just wrote my name there for the first time on that web-page it was absolutely crazy. It honestly still feels like a dream to me.
DM: Why do you call it a dream?
CM: Because I have been so lucky. My life was always up and down. Private and Business was always hard. Finding my way was difficult. Just in 2003 when it was quite easy to make a decision to become a full time pipe maker, because the textile business was basically doing very bad, I jumped into the water and said okay I will do this. And it worked somehow. Of course my aim was always to become a real good pipe maker and to be able to just make my pipes without making too many compromises. People would ask me if I can make them this or that shape and of course I always tried to. It sometimes took me up to 10 blocks of briar to make this or that one shape. I think this is the problem for every pipe maker. Customers are obviously always asking for a specific shape and learning that shape feels like a requirement so a lot of pipe-makers struggle with this. I was just so lucky, maybe because I was used to work with wood and my background as a designer, it all just came together so perfectly. Working with my hands with this wonderful material and after a while I saw that hey, I am really able to make a good techincal pipe. And after that, I was even more lucky to start to have an idea, find the right piece of briar and I was able to make the pipe look like the idea I had in my mind. Honestly, the best pipes, they just happen and its like wow, I can’t believe I made this. I don’t even know how it happened but here it is. Crazy. But a very good crazy.
CM Cont’d: You have to say this really loud from the beginning I was able to just make the pipes that I wanted to make, in terms of shape I mean, even up until today. I was making my own work, my own style and nothing else and people liked my work and my own style. Of course I was influenced by all the Danish pipe makers and all the nice pipes you can see on the internet, like most of us. I have a close look at the Bang or Chonowitsch pipes and you can see my influence from them easily. Of course it is hard to ignore all the pictures I see on the internet today, because I say to myself that I should not learn these images so that they don’t influence me too much. Just like the beautiful Bang I saw yesterday.
DM: It sounds like your somewhere else in your mind when you work. Your mind drifts.
CM: Pipe making takes so much time, so many hours a day and now the little guy is there so time is really short. I love to just be in nature. My work-shop is a 30 minute walk away. I have to walk through the woods to get there. Just being in nature and having contact with nature, is really calming for me. Also, close to my shop there is a hill and I go there quite often and relax. When the stress of pipe making is not too big, my focus is very small. When I am in a good state of mind and I am working, I just see the lines kind of drawing themselves on the piece of briar and I think to myself okay, as I turn the block around and around and I see if I sand here a little bit, I sand there a little bit, turning the pipe around and around and now, for me and my feeling, it’s done. Of course not every pipe is a master piece but for me, all the lines I have in my mind are really there and when I see all of them appear on the piece, at that moment I am able to sit back and say to myself that the pipe is finished and I think, this is it, this is the good moment. The pipe is done and the process for that piece is complete.
DM: What is stressful about pipe making?
CM: The stress is to make enough pipes and to make a living out of it. I am a slow worker so I am happy that I can make a living off the few pipes I make. People always tell me that I speak about this a lot but that they are good problems to have. From the very beginning and for many years now, always, I am always completely sold out. All my dealers are in a non-stop waiting mode for more pipes from me. It maybe sounds arrogant but it is really stressful. For example I send 10 pipes to one of my dealers and they sell them in one day and they call me on the phone at the end of that first day of selling out and they say that ‘we need more pipes’ and wow, I say okay, but that will take me three weeks and I still have to fulfill my orders from my other dealers and believe me, for me, this is stressful.
DM: Your very much in demand, it is an automatic side effect of your incredible work.
CM: Of course I am more than thankful for this and part of the problem is that I cannot say no. So I guess I ask them to at the very least, to please be patient with me. The same sentence I am using over and over again. And they are frankly patient with me and they are waiting so long for the pipes, I think they are never content with the amount of pipes that I send them. They are now getting used to it though, even when they know that I would love to fill all the orders as quickly as possible. With the large amount of orders I do have, it is simply impossible to do it fast.
DM: Do you have pipes going to Asia?
CM: Yes. The Chinese market is really a boom somehow. There is not one week without one or two emails from China from some new dealer asking to do business with me. I had one inquiry from a Chinese dealer who asked me if he could buy my whole annual production. Of course, it is a nice idea and I was proud but I had to tell him it could not be.
DM: How many pipes are you making a year?
CM: I think around 180 to 200. I think I have 8 or 9 dealers so it is easy to count how many pipes they get. And some of my friends of course get some pipes, maybe around 10 to 15 pipes a year.
DM: Do you let collectors contact you directly for pipes?
CM: No I don’t. I only let friends contact me directly. Sorry for all the collectors but they will have to buy my pipes from my dealers. I do have one golden rule collectors can take advantage of, my highest grade and best stamped pipes, I do sell on my own. That is the only item I don’t share with my dealers.
DM: How many have you had of those in your career?
CM: Two pipes.
DM: Who else was influencing you at the beginning of your career?
CM: From the first beginning and up until now, it has been Jess Chonowitsch. Jess focuses on a few certain shapes. He has been making these shapes for some 30 years. Each time I see them I am blown away. He is fantastic. I was in Zurich in December I think and I saw some of his latest smooth pipes. It is always the same. I see them and I want to have them. His work is so inspiring me, just because of his proportions and his angles. The shapes are not out there shapes and of course he has very nice briar and he is very strict with his briar, he throws away so many of his blocks or make sandblasts. The smooth pipes are always really nice straight grain pipes. It is the technical part though, the difficult part, this is what is amazing, it is always perfect. Everything fits nicely and perfect together. It is his proportions which amaze me.
CM Cont’d: Of course it is always nice to see the Bang pipes as well, they have very nice shapes. Those guys truly have their own styling. Their lines are always moving. When they take their time and apply their patience and come up with new ideas, the outcome is almost always absolutely brilliant. The flow in their lines is very attractive to me. Tom is also so innovative. Innovative and fun shapes and he is producing like hell. He is inspiring to me in the sense that he is always working and moving all the time. It is good for me to see and know this in his work.
DM: So the classic shapes are not appealing to you? I think I understand why but can you explain how a classic shape conflicts with your approach to pipe design?
CM: Yes but that is not really true. I love to look at classical pipes. They are somehow very motivating and they do inspire me, because it is so easy to see if a Billiard of Prince or any classical shape frankly, is done correctly or not. So easy to see. So for me it is very inspiring to see a very well made Lovat for example, in the right proportions. But I don’t have a big longing to make them myself. It is not my personal way of working. I do things different and I like the asymmetric pipes. This is my personal feel for the briar.
CM Cont’d: Everybody has a different focus when they approach pipes. Of course I turn pipes like Billiards or Pots and recently I made something like a Bulldog shape and I do it with the help of my lathe because I think it is done more properly than when I do it with my hands. In the end though, for me, my feeling for the briar, for the material, is that is alive. So to me, in nature, nothing is really symmetric. When you look at a leaf or whatever, it looks nearly symmetric but it actually never is. This is what really attracts me personally. I like symmetric things maybe done in architecture or arts or whatever, its nice to look at but when I go further with them, it feels like a thorn in my side when it is a perfect 90 degree angle, I think to myself, what does this really represent? In nature I cant find a perfect 90-degree angle, only an 89 degree angle. So this is what attracts me. This is my perspective though, everybody is different.
DM: So this is like a life philosophy for you, since reality does not show everything so perfect, reality is much more bent so to speak. Through this sensible view of nature, it forces you to give respect to it in a sense. By not doing those unrealistic lines but rather real lines.
CM: Yes, and you know I think that Sixten looked at the briar grain in a similar way. He found this out by inventing the new way of drilling the pipes and shaping the pipes, he came up with the Danish style, because he just saw that the type of grain in briar fits perfectly for these asymmetric pipes. It is so rare to find a briar with straight grain that actually fits very well to those perfect shape pipes. From my perspective there is always a more common slightly bent style that exposes itself in the grain and it is much more easy and more sensible for me, to follow those natural briar lines in an asymmetric way.
DM: So when you were learning, what were you learning, especially when your teachers were mostly making classical shapes?
CM: Of course when I spent time with my friend Tom, this happened. First I’d like to say that it his personality and his atmosphere that he is giving to people he meets. He is very open and sharing. It was amazing to see how easy it was for him to show me to make pipes. I remember he told me one day, Cornelius, we are going to make a Ukelele shape today. He just got in his first shipment from Mimmo and was impressed by the grain. So he said come on, let’s make an Eskimo pipe now. He turned it, drilled it and made a mouth piece. The entire pipe was basically done in I think, about 20 minutes. And I was so impressed. Just by his way of pipe making, he is kind of like a pipe making God. Any shape he thinks about, he can make it. He has every single tool imaginable. He has such a large amount of experience and the way he starts to make a pipe, he just picks up a piece of briar, looks at it and goes right into making it. It’s as if he is playing, rather than working. It looks so easy with him. And it is easy for him. It was amazing. And I felt totally stupid at that moment. I actually also thought that maybe I should stop pipe making because I would never arrive at this level that he already achieved.
DM: It seems like today at least, you are not focusing on classical shape pipes. It frankly seems like you have come up with something new. The subtle and gentle nuances in your pipes create their own style and I see it on a regular basis now. Your design is not 100% Danish, its not German, it is really and truly unique. It seems like you have come up with your own aesthetic. Rainer Barbi had something similar. I am not trying to pump you up but I have to talk about it. You are easily one of the top 2 or 3 best freehand pipe-makers in the world and you seem to have your own style that is clear to see in all of your pipes. In my opinion, this should be the ultimate goal of any artist. Your pipes are truly noticeable from 100 feet away. What do you think about that?
CM: Of course, if you would have told me this 10 years earlier, I would have just died. [laughs] I remember after I met Wolfgang Becker, I was brave enough to contact Rainer Barbi and Joura and we met at a pipe show in 2004 and I saw that what was written in the magazine was wrong, of course they talk to you and tell you everything they can. Rainer Barbi was also a big fan of my pipes and in the beginning he said to me, now you have to find your own style. Ok, I thought, he is right, I have to find my own style but how do I do it? It turns out it’s actually very easy. I think this is what I want to tell the new pipe makers who are just starting. Some very friendly advise to those pipe-makers who want to find their own style. Not everybody wants to do this so only to those pipe-makers who are looking for this type of expression. I have a feeling that more pipe-makers want to express themselves but they are afraid to.
CM Cont’d: You know you look on the internet and you see a lot of really talented pipe makers. They make beautiful pipes but as we all know, most of them look the exact same. When you put them in one box, it would be quite hard to tell them apart. So, I just would like to tell those people who do want to find their own voice, I would tell them to just make your own pipes, it is that simple. Of course we are all influenced and it is good to practice and copy shapes and get used to shaping by copying other masters. This is normal. This type of work though should be just for practicing and learning. In the end you have to just make your own pipes. For me the secret in the end is not to make something known. People should just avoid several shapes which are too closely originated to the first maker. Like the Ballerina or the Snail or the Ramses. It does not make too much sense to me to constantly make a Ramses shape pipe because this is what Bo invented. This is Bo’s shape and Bo’s style and it is his. There is no need to make pipes like this so much. Okay, if a collector asks, this is different. When you have the opportunity to make something that is your own, wow, the feeling is so much better, at least for me. I just try to keep the contact focused on myself and what is in my mind while I am working to make pipes that I really truly like. It is because of this goal in my head, to make what I want and being constantly aware of it, after doing it like that for so long, I am used to it and it really has become very easy for me to make my own pipes. It took work but because of the work I put in, now it is simple. I now know what I mean when I say the idea that I want to make my own pipes. Any new pipe maker who wants this and who works on this can get to the same place. You have to be patient with yourself.
DM: You know that this is very difficult for a lot of people.
CM: Of course, you can’t force it, when you start to hurry, you get lost. Trust me, I know. Obviously there is the money side to it. You think to yourself, today I have to make money and that is one side to it. In the end though, for me, don’t we have to keep to yourself and make what you really like? If you always end up with a Billiard shape, then it seems that this is your pipe and what you do best. It never is and finding yourself by only making a Billiard shape is obviously difficult. When you make your own work, maybe 10 people will say, Oh, this is a boring shape and you have to expect that criticism, but there will be other people who will see the style or the idea behind the pipes. You have to trust in that.
DM: The market does not know what it wants until it see’s an idea of what it could want. Since the market mostly shows one version of everything, clearly the carver’s are feeding the closed minded approach to new ideas. Obviously one of the responses you will get to why people do not do what your saying is that the market demands that they make classical shaped pipes. ‘My customers ask me for this shape’ is what we will hear. So they feel like they must take their true self and put it aside and make what the market wants. That is obviously one of many types of explanations and how a lot of people look at it. Clearly with you, the market is asking you to make whatever your style is so that type of reasoning is not completely solid. Do you think that the differences come down to personality? It seems to take a lot of courage for people to do what you are doing. Maybe not courage but rather the answer is that you don’t have something inside yourself, that these people do have. What do you think it is about you that allows you to think so different?
CM: I think what I already said, I was so lucky. The start was so easy for me. Right from the beginning, people loved my pipes. Every comment I was able to hear was ‘lovely new shape’ or ‘this is interesting’ and ‘keep going in this direction’. I started out like this and I have not focused my attention on anything else. So this is what I am. As you said, this is like a Manz pipe, of course for me, some pipes, okay maybe some of them are pipes that I can tell that I made but often I myself cannot see the ‘style’ in my own pipes. I don’t know the differences between all of us and I don’t have too much contact with young pipe makers so I don’t know how they are trying to reach the market and build up their own market and their own work. Some of the new pipe makers I see on the internet from all over the world are all working too fast. I have a lot of respect for the old Danish pipe makers. They are first living for the pipes and second they then made a living from the pipes. They had really hard times and they are still there. Younger pipe makers are able to make nice pipes and they think, Wow, this is easy, I can make hundreds of dollars. This is only the money part of it but it actually shows you much more about how they are thinking and perhaps approaching their work. I think they should be much more patient because becoming really a good pipe maker with a stable market, it takes a long time.
DM: This is part of your personality and this internal element that you possess, allows you to live this approach. And your right, these young pipe makers are pushing themselves so much that they are pushing and pushing and going past themselves and what they could have done.
CM: Yes. Like you said, they come up with some nice pipes. It is easy to sell them through the internet. But once customers and even retailers start asking them if they can make them this or that shape, with a steady production, those guys quickly find out that they are not ready. Normally this takes a longer time.
DM: In general, each pipe maker is an individual, all of us are own people and we should be seeing more individual style in the pipe world. However it is unfortunately not enough in my opinion.
CM: Yes and also, at the moment, it is a hard time. Somehow I am a little bit anxious or afraid because of all the new and really talented pipe makers who are making all the same stuff, the Danish style. I love this style and when I see it out there so much, it becomes somehow boring. You look at a forum today and you see someone asking for critique on their pipes and when you look, all you see is the same and same stuff again and again. Why? We all know this is happening and for me, when I see it, it seems to take some of the shine away from something I find very beautiful.
DM: They feel like it is the standard. To begin showing what the market already understands and to me, it makes the whole market’s true art knowledge, a little bit less.
CK: Of course and then there are some super really exciting new guys. Like Revyagin, the Russian guy. Totally new ideas, totally his own unique world.
DM: Are you worried that the good times will end for you?
CM: It’s so crazy how over the last few years, it started out or me like a rocket. And of course I have kind of already reached my plateau, for me this is good because I had to practice and become more professional in my production. The last three years it seems like it is only going up, up and up, seemingly with no end. It’s impossible that it always goes up. This gives me the feeling that it will end some day. Maybe I will be out of ideas as well. For young pipe-makers it is good that they are here, I just hope that some of them have the same luck that I have and to meet the right person at the right time and maybe feel brave enough to make their own things and not to be too tempted to make all of the pipe shapes that you can now see. It was actually easier for me to follow my own path because when I started the internet was very small for pipe making. My exposure to all this pipe shape information was much more limited than what young pipe makers have today. Young pipe makers today are exposed to so much information, almost like information overload, it is bound to be absorbed and they are bound to make some conclusions about what they see. All of us should still try and see what we can do but this is hard in this environment. On the internet a new shape comes up and okay it is cool to see it for the first 5 times, maybe even 10 times but after you get to 15 or 20, clearly it becomes very boring. Before it was something new and really attractive but now with the internet it feels like it has a small negative associated with it because it becomes dangerous to this new creation experience.
CM: The speed of the internet has nothing to do with the speed of the life of a pipe maker.
DM: That’s a very good sentence.
CM: Yes, because sometimes you have an idea and you can look for a piece of briar and you look through your stock and say to yourself that this might be the right piece. You start to work and oops, you find a crack and you say I have to start over again. Constantly finding flaws in briar, which is very common, it might then take you 2 or 3 days to actually start this idea. If you tell somebody about this idea, he tells his friend and they all contact you via email and suddenly you have customer requests saying we heard you are making something new and you have not even finished one single pipe yet. This, for me, was the worst problem. I have now fixed this issue for myself because this was far too stressful of an environment for me. There are some really big talents like Former or Tom who can make a pipe in one hour. That is insanely crazy and great for them. This is still too fast for someone like me.
DM: Do you sketch out your pipes before hand or do you even sketch designs in general, on paper? How do you, if you do, criticize your work and is there some type of design goal that you have in the back of your mind that you are reaching towards?
CM: I don’t sketch a lot of pipes. Today, sometimes I see kind of a line inside my inner eye and I just imagine the lines on the shank looking like this and I try to make a very quick sketch drawing just to not forget it but normally I don’t make drawings or sketches.
DM: That’s very interesting. So that whole sketching out and thinking long and hard about how to approach the pipe process, at least the in-depth version and approach to it, seems like an interruption to your personal process. All that time of thinking too much seems to be going against your way of being which is much more fluid and natural rather than intensely planned out.
CM: Yes and also when I do make a drawing and I have it on my table and I look at it several times a day, it also becomes boring. You see the line there and you think to yourself, ok, I can see the line right there, do I really have to carve this now? My interest is not so strong after I make a drawing. Somehow, making a pipe is like painting for me. I was really not into the work part of it, just in the painting and creating part of it. This feeling is very common for me and when I have it, this is a great day to make pipes. This is when I am just kind of drawing lines into the briar and I feel great about it.
DM: So your goal is always on the pipe you are currently working on. Your focus is not on some lofty goal for your career, or the next pipes you have to make but only on that pipe that is currently in your hand.
CM: Yes that is correct.
DM: You don’t take too many commissions then, from retailers or otherwise. You are likely mostly only making pipes that you want to make.
CM: Yes most of the time but of course sometimes people send me a picture and they say, can you make me a pipe like this again and although I say yes to them, what ends up happening is that they wait a really long time. Normally I should make the pipe but it’s, its actually kind of a problem for me, I am much more tempted to make something new, rather than something old. If I see a nice piece of briar, I immediately want to create something new with it. I smile when it is in my hand, I smell it, I start to sand it, I make the drilling and then…I put it on the table and Oh! I see another nice piece of briar. I take the block I was just working on and I put it down and start the same process with the new piece of briar I just found. So I usually have 10 to 20 pieces that are always nearly finished. Of course it will take hours and hours to finish the pieces with the staining and all of the process’s related to pipes that is what I actually really call work. That part is obviously not as fun as the creating part. I love the rough part, the shaping and refining lines part.
DM: Where does your crazy, interesting and always unique bamboo come from?
CM: I am a big fan of realistic nature. So just by coincidence, my mother in law has an apartment in the southern part of Switzerland. It has a special micro-climate there, like the Mediterranen sea. Palms and a lot of Bamboo grow there and all kinds of other beautiful plants grow there. The city where she used to live used to be an artist’s city and on one hill, there is this one strange building, beautiful but strange and these people a long time ago, built a big bamboo garden on it. So the people living there now, when they clean or clear the garden, they chop off the roots of the bamboo, near the bottom of the plant and whatever else remains of the bamboo plant, most of it is actually stuck inside the ground and covered with dirt, that remaining portion is what I go in and grab. The very first part that comes out of the ground, the fat part, with all these strange looking bamboo rings. I am so lucky to find the great bamboo when I go there.
DM: Your bamboo looks extra terrestrial. It does in fact look dirty, with irregularities and spots all over it. This is nature though and this is natural and the un-cleaned, un-perfect effect looks stunning and so beautiful. It is different the way you’re doing it. Most people clean their bamboo and look for exact spacing between knuckles. You’re taking a different approach.
CM: Although it is nice to sometimes find the perfect 10-knuckle bamboo that is all shiny and nice, most often, for me this is completely boring. After seeing millions of bamboo pipes on the internet, you get to know the look of the general bamboo pipe. It is always the same. This just doesn’t interest me. I love it when there are spots and cracks inside, of course I love this because this is what nature has given us. Also in the briar, of course the grain has to be straight but in the end it is just a piece of wood that just comes out of the ground. The burl did not know that it will be cut into pieces and will then sold for hundreds of dollars. [laughs]
DM: There are so many beautiful things in any art. I myself am very interested in art. Believe it or not it upsets me when I think about how there are not enough people who are doing what you are doing. I would like to see more new ideas, so people can see what it means to truly express themselves and be themselves. That way pipe collectors could see some new work and there is always a chance to be constantly inspired and pleasantly surprised.
CM: I do not know if you can take the function and encourage the young. I was lucky because my parents have always been very supportive. After school, the owner of the textile agency, both a sales-man and artist, always encouraged all of his employees to just make what you want. Because even the stupidest guy who works for the worst company in some country around the world, even that guy can look at a design and quickly see if the design was done by just you or if you just tried your best to make something that is not common or if you are trying to mimic some new trend. He encouraged me very much to never follow a trend and just to make what you want. Something that at least you can be truly and honestly satisfied with. I am lucky, a lot of people really like my pipes. It would make me really happy if many more pipe makers could have a similar experience. That they have somebody who encourages them to ‘No, do not make a pipe like this!’ Feel free to make what you want, Try and make some experiments and maybe you will make a crazy stupid pipe and you don’t have to sell it but you at least made it. Try to feel where your limits are and how far can you go. When someone gets a beautiful block showing great grain, they immediately know that they can easily sell that pipe and they will automatically focus on making something safe. Just look at all the pipes today and how they look. This is happening too much and it is very sad to see.
DM: Are you coming to the Chicago pipe show?
CM: I came once in 2008 but because flying is not something I enjoy and man oh man, wow, the trip in 2008 was so difficult. It was a big thing for me to get on that plane and manage the entire experience. It was so big in fact that I will likely not be coming to Chicago anymore. Flying is too much for me. So I only travel here in Europe by train or by car.
DM: Do you like sandblasting?
CM: Yes, I started with rusticated pipes because I was not so good and I had no chance to sandblast them. I used to send some pieces to Wolfgang Becker and now, just by coincidence, I found a local sandblasting-company in my town where I can blast my pipes.. I don’t have that equipment in my shop so I use them for my sandblasting. Of course the result is not so deep and precise as the American way of sandblasting. For me though it is okay. It is really fun to see how the grain comes up. You never know what the pipe will look like before blasting and I love that part of the experience, the surprise.
DM: If I send you 5 random blocks of briar from 5 different places in the world. Do all of them have a chance of becoming one of your pipes? Is the briar itself important is the main question.
CM: Yes and No. I used to work with briar from every cutter who is still alive. I bought a lot of briar from each of them. After a while I developed a really good feeling for the briar itself. When I buy from some countries, I do not know where the burls are coming from because maybe they buy their burls from Morocco or maybe Greece or Spain. So you never really know where the briar comes from. There are some cutters whom I buy from where you always get the same type of wood. This gives me an idea that they always harvest from the same areas because it always smells the same, has the same weight and the grain is always the same, either tight or not. It is always important to see the kind of spots and cracks that come from different regions. But with other cutters, you never know where the briar comes from.
CM Cont’d: Of course we all like to work with well dried, crack free super nice grain briar. I travel around a lot and visit a lot of the cutters and I see how rare the briar that we like to work with exists. You can see the biggest pile of briar in front of you and there are only maybe 10 pieces containing the characteristics of well dried, perfect grain and crack free. The super extra straight grain pieces are really rare. Now I can easily accept the high prices we are paying for the briar. To answer your question though, it absolutely does not matter where the briar is coming from. It is enough if it is a nice piece. Of course another challenge for me is that I have many pieces that are not good enough for smooth pipes and they are only good for sandblasted pipes. If there is no grain but there is still good briar, you can make rusticated pipes. The challenge for me then is to completely ignore the grain. All I care about is shape so I focus on making a nice shape. When people think they have no usable briar that will not make a good pipe, I don’t think like that. You can still make a nice shaped pipe and turn it into a rusticated pipe. This is another way that thrills me.
DM: Tell me about your use of accents and different materials?
CM: Of course at least the natural materials I really enjoy. The horn I really love but it is not easy to work with because it always shrinks for a long period of time. I should actually keep the pipe for half a year before I sell it. Bamboo is something that really attracts me. There was a time when I used exotic woods but I stopped this now. In the end now it is horn and bamboo and what I would really like to do now is work with silver rings. My old friend Benjamin, who is a Gold Smith, I want to ask him to teach me how to work with silver because I like to buy it but I want to make it myself. We will see what happens in the future.
DM: Your very happy with what you have right now?
CM: It sounds strange but I am very thankful for where I am right now. It sounds strange because besides all the stress and pressure and routine, most of the time when I am working, it does not feel like work at all. It’s just like fun. Very often when I am on my bicycle on my way to work in the morning, I just think how I am the luckiest guy on planet earth. Because every day I can really make what I love. People buy my work so I can continue this way of living and working. Its fantastic. Its like a dream really.
DM: Yes, maybe you are lucky however you did take a very different path, and that path clearly has a lot of rewards so, you and your decision to make what you want to make, really had a big impact on you and your career.
CM: What changed for me when I think back to the beginning of my pipe making. Now, when I am in a good mood, it is so easy to make a nice pipe. I take a block and say ok, we will make some kind of strange Volcano maybe and after 2 hours, the rough shaping and drilling is done and then I have to sand by hand the nice and fine lines. It’s just easy now, very easy. The first few years it was a hard and difficult process to make a nice pipe. It was very frustrating. Very often at the end of the day I was angry and saying ‘shit’ a lot. These days, with my experience, I am free now to really go a little further in the direction that I was too afraid to go in the past. Now I am technically able to do this. Technically also comes from my experience of focusing on my own style. They are both connected.
If you would like to order a Cornelius Manz pipes, you can find them at the following dealers:
Hephaestus Pipes, China
Pfeifen Schilde, Germany
Peter Heinrichs, Germany
Wagner Tabak Laedeli, Germany
To learn more about Cornelius, you can visit him at:
His Website: http://www.cornelius-maenz.de/
Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/corneliusmaenz
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