The ‘Exploring Pipe Evolution’ Series focuses on the idea of reviewing any aspect of significant growth, change and/or evolution, within the world of pipes, usually through the work of a pipe-maker. Discussions can range from watching a simple design idea like a small fin added to the end of a stem by Peter Heding and then watching another pipe-maker, Boris Starkov, take the idea and allow it to grow & evolve into an extravagant, all encompassing pipe design element. As we saw in the last Pipe Evolution series article titled Boris Starkov’s Fin. From fins, all the way to what we will look at in this review, the stems of Viktor Yashtylov.
This time around, we will look at stems. The basic pipe stem as seen here, in it’s more general form.
Pipe stems, in their basic state are a simple & functional tool. They allow us to inhale our tobacco and it is the stem which delivers that final element of pipe comfort in the mouth. It is quite a simple element when looking at the pipe as a whole. The stem is usually not the priority design element which the pipe-maker focuses on. And we ourselves as collectors, at least in the aesthetic sense, also place the stem fairly low on the priority scale. The bulk of the ‘wow factor’ in pipes for most of us, usually sits within the briar.
Now however the question becomes – Is there room for this basic element to be more, whatever that ‘more’ may be? The answer is yes it can. And in fact, we have several pipe-makers making the stem ‘more’ of what it can be, day in and day out. One such pipe-maker in particular, takes the stem to entirely new and far reaching, absolutely out there & unexpected, different heights. His name is Viktor Yashtylov.
Viktor Yashtylov, the Russian artisan plying his trade in St. Petersburg is in my opinion, the closest thing that the pipe world has to a fashion designer. From the beginning of Viktor’s career, he always had a certain ‘flair’ for fashion. Not just in his pipes mind you, he may in fact be the best dressed pipe-maker in the business.
It is no coincidence that his pipes have followed suit with his flair for fashion and looking one’s best. I asked Viktor why he spends so much time applying these beautiful elements and accessories to his pipes. Viktor tells me: “It is hard for me to explain the why. I do it because I can. I enjoy spending time on small details and little nuances in pipes. I definitely like to design just for the sake of designing”.
This ‘design, just for the sake of designing’ as Viktor puts it, has been with him for quite some time. A lot of Viktor’s early work focused on finding ways to express the usual in an un-usual way. As we see here in two of his pipes from 2009 and 2010.
Viktor tells me that: “Pipes show the character of the pipe-maker”. I ask him why he makes his stems so elaborate. “People don’t pay enough attention to stems”, he says. Even as recently as 2011, Viktor was still making basic stems as seen in the following pictures.
Something however happened around 2012 and Viktor began to completely transform the concept of what a stem can be. He treated it as a fashion designer would & he gave this small area of the pipe, his full attention. “I began to get bored with parts of my work and I did not like what I was producing” Viktor continued: “I never like what I see and I always want to make it better. One week after making a beautiful pipe, I won’t like it anymore and I will start to think about how I can make it better”. It is around this time where we can easily begin to spot and then trace, a significant form of evolution in his treatment of stems. The normal, boring, sticking out of the shank element will slowly be thoroughly manipulated by Yashtylov .
The first step in Yashtylov’s stem evolution was simple. Separation of the stem from the briar and beginning to defiine it as it’s own element. Viktor did this by adding a parallel step or plane to it. This step or plane was made parallel to the briar. This will be a significant first step as you will shortly see.
Viktor then began experimenting with both concave and convex shapes in the stem. Sometimes, as seen in the below picture, Viktor did this to accentuate and at the same time balance out, the harshness of the back of the briar bowl. We see his stem’s begin to interplay with the shape of the briar. Additionally, he began adding the usual accents with one of his favorite materials, the yellow Boxwood within all of this interplay. Viktor is beginning to add different layers of elements for our eyes to watch, enjoy & play with.
Up until now we see the main item as Viktor’s separation of the stem from the pipe. Beginning to definie the stem as it’s own true element. As if un-connected to the pipe and standing on it’s own. Almost as if you could remove the stem and it is it’s own piece of art. That is where his work is heading.
We also see the interplay of the added step begin to interact more with the shape of the briar. And now, as seen below, Viktor begins to take this interplay of shape to a new level. Viktor is allowing the stem’s shape to impact, in a very dynamic manner, the shape of the briar at the end of the shank. Now, the stem is in fact beginning to guide the shaping within the briar. Notice the two parts begin to interact with one another.
It should be noted that Viktor studied both metallurgy as well as jewelery design. Viktor finds that adding metals and or rings to pipes can make them much more beautiful. Viktor is one of those people who realizes and he even tells me as much, that: “One small element can absolutely change everything”. Viktor continues: “Everything out there looks the same. I mean, it makes sense that a young pipe-maker has to start off by copying other people’s work but at some point in their career, it would be nice to see people move forward and beyond this area”.
Viktor’s internal desire for more passion in design is a direct extension of the artist inside of him. He can’t help but be this way. Producing a beautiful piece of art and dismissing it a few days later. He pushes himself because that is how he is made to be. He searches for and finds small little moments of pleasure which soon after, get over-powered by displeasure and a desire to see if he can make things better. A wonderful trait for any pipe-maker to carry because it allows us to see the work of such difficult & interesting minds evolve at a staggering pace.
Viktor’s stems continued on their fast track of evolution and in the next piece below, we see the stem interplaying with the briar to an even higher degree than previously. Now the stem is beginning to dictate not only the treatment of the briar towards the end of the shank but in fact also, the main part of the pipe itself, the bowl.
Viktor’s extension of this idea throughout the pipe, through the entire piece, produces a triple waterfall of sorts.
The shape begins at the stem & slowly cascades itself, repeating down the entire pipe. What beauty and what fun to see as a design concept evolving. All of this evolution, emanating from a stem. The once ‘simple’ stem, is now no more.
Slowing down for a brief moment on the path of his stem’s evolution, let’s see what Viktor can now do with even the most basic pipe shapes when coupled with an interesting stem. Whatever knowledge Viktor has accumulated from his stem exploration and experimentation, has given him a new found freedom. Viktor’s stem knowledge is now so vast that even with the simplest standard pipe shape staying fully in tact, as in the Lovat shape below, with a few simple modifications to the stem, Viktor can make it stand out so much more. All without excessive additional work & effort. This is the victory of these types of pipe-makers. They explore a little bit here and a little bit there. They quickly find something to focus on and exploit and then – voila. Instant uniqueness. How wonderful and so good for them.
Back to Viktor’s continued evolution in his stem work. Trust me, it still gets better. Viktor has now finished playing with idea of the stem guiding the design throughout the entire pipe. Now it was time to see what other additional areas this fashionable designer could explore. Viktor saw the great effect that the stems shape had on the pipe. Now, he focused more of his attention back to the stem itself and it’s own potential as a shape, standing on it’s own. Viktor found a way to enhance the entire idea of the stem on it’s own by adding his favorite boxwood as a delicate accent to an already dynamic and pointed version of the stem. This time Viktor lets the additional accessory stand out that much more, by gently framing it, within the underlying briar.
It’s almost as if the briar is gently caressing or hugging the stem. Framing it so to speak. As if it were it’s own piece of art. Which in fact, it is.
Earlier in this piece I floated the idea that Viktor’s stems could in fact stand alone as their own piece of art. It is at this point where we can really get the sense of what that idea means. In the piece below, the stem truly is standing on it’s own. The same elements discussed above are seen again but the ‘hugging’ and ‘caressing’ of the briar is simply taken a few steps further. The stem now sits deep within the end of the shank, looking very snug and quite cozy.
And yes, upon removing the stem and allowing it to stand on it’s own, it truly is a stand-alone piece of art, easily removed from the pipe and highlighting it’s impact on the overall piece that much more, when seen on it’s own.
At this point, Viktor has enough different ideas in his ‘stem design’ arsenal to explore a multitude of variations. In the pipe below, he is gathering all of the experiments he did above, compressing and flattening them & gently laying them on top of the shank. The result is a fantastic melting effect.
Beautiful, gorgeous and absolutely exquisite. Honestly, what more can you say?
All of this started out with the simple idea of making the pipe stem look better. This one simple idea, combined with an intense determination in the artist to not just generally play around with the idea but to truly explore the concept as much as possible. To strive to find something new through dedicated, strategic and thoughtful exploration. That is what took us through the above evolution process. That is what we saw in the above steps highlighting the gradual change.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to Viktor Yashtylov for changing the landscape of the basic stem. It is now impossible to look at a basic stem and not think that something may be missing.
Thank you Viktor for allowing us to see the stem differently. We all look forward to you continuing to unlock the stem’s potential.
Viktor Yashtylov pipes can be purchased at the following pipe retailer
You can also contract Viktor directly via his Facebook page
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