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Blue Smoke

May 5, 2010

Chris Garlasco, Owner & Managing Partner - Founders Insurance Group

There are moments in life that we spend time anxiously awaiting for their arrival only to find out that through all of our anticipation, that they don’t quite live up to the hype. The 2010 Chicagoland International Pipe Show, sponsored by the

Pipe sculpture by Erik Nording from Denmark at the Chicago Pipe Show

Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club, was one of those moments that lived up to those expectations and beyond. Those that regularly read this blog know that I like to intertwine insurance entries along with commentary relating to the political environment and as well as items that are part of who I am as a person. The man behind the insurance guru!

My hobbies and interests often tend to mirror my image of insurance in that like insurance, I often feel that they are not always understood by those on the “outside.”

The reality is that the vast majority of Americans could care less about pipe collecting, or the incredible, eclectic group of craftsmen that carve pipes. It is functional art. Yes, it is related to tobacco, and as a result simply demonized as bad for the body. That may be true, but I find it just as good for the soul as my favorite butter laced chocolate chip cookie!

The Chicago show draws collectors and carvers from all over the globe. The journey to the show begins in

Smoking Tent at the Chicago Pipe Show April 2010

Denmark, Japan, Italy, Germany, the corners of America, and places too many to mention. It appeals to the casual pipe smoker and the avid collector, with pipes reaching as much as $15,000 or as little as $10. The show is like a gathering of a couple of thousand of your friends, some just waiting to make your acquaintance. Your place of origin, age or political persuasion simply doesn’t matter as a common bond is shared by all. Even by those dressed in kilts or as Abe Lincoln himself!

In addition to the show area, nearly as big as an airplane hanger, there is a smoking tent the size of a football field filled with couches, tables and a bar. Although the show officially begins on Friday night with the free welcome buffet, collectors, carvers and retailers have been gathering in small “room” parties for several days trading, buying and catching up with old friends.

Several minutes after arriving at the resort, I was greeted by a new friend I had made at the New York show in the early spring. I took him up on his invite to one of the rooms where I found three pipe carvers as well as a couple of enthusiasts. They greeted me like an old friend and I soon fell quickly into the conversation. Two of the pipe makers I had recognized from their web sites. Bob Swanson, owner of Perry White pipes and Dr. Bob Kiess, an Ivy League med school grad that found his passion in pipes. I ultimately bought one of Dr. Bob’s pipes and it is outstanding. The remainder of the weekend was spent socializing, attending seminars and the show.

Chris Garlasco (L) and Steve Morrisette (R) at the Chicago Pipe Show

The highlight for me came on Saturday night when I left the huge tenth anniversary party hosted by to join pipe maker Steve Morrisette in his room to view a couple of his remarkable pipes. Over a glass of very good spirits, I bought my first Morrisette pipe and then spent the next several hours discussing politics, music and pipe making. Like many pipe makers. Morrisette has had an interesting journey that led him from a recording contract and opening for acts like Hall and Oats to a career in photography, photographing the likes of Margaret Thatcher and George H. Bush and ultimately to pipe making. Toward the end of the conversation, Steve grabbed a block of briar, the most common wood of pipes, and quickly pointed out the grain and then penciled out a pipe on the surface of the wood. A block of wood that will in its finished form easily sell for more than $300! However, Morrisette, like most pipe makers, does it for the passion as it’s not a “get rich” industry for the majority of pipe makers. Steve’s pipes can be found at Finally, with it well after three in the morning, I crawled into bed, already in anticipation for the next day’s continuation of the show.

Too soon, I was on a plane home to Connecticut arriving to find blogs throughout the internet with individual experiences of the show. One of my favorites is Neill Archer Roan’s “A Passion for Pipes.” There you can find some wonderful stories as well as see some terrific pipe photography. Other notable sites that relate to my interaction at the show are:


All of these fine folks I purchased from or spent time with at the show.

If you are a member of the ninety nine percent of America that is unaware of this interesting hobby, I hope that you found this interesting. The point of this diatribe isn’t to drive you to pipe collecting, but rather to encourage you to find your passion away from the day to day grind that life often becomes and reach out for it. I hope to share with you another passion soon; after all, insurance isn’t the center of the universe, is it?

Chris Garlasco

Neither Chris Garlasco, nor the Founders Insurance Group, Inc is compensated in any way for any statements made in today’s entry.


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