When they released their first pipe, designers Jess Baer and Zach Hastings were surprised to find it was a controversial object. Two years ago, noticing marijuana’s progress toward legalization, they thought it might be time for a second look at smoke delivery design.
“In art school, kids were always making ceramic pipes,” says Baer. The two felt some nostalgia about those handmade efforts. Now that they, and cannabis, were all grown up, she adds, “We wanted to create a well-crafted and well-designed version, beyond what you’d find in a college town head shop.”
But when they put their perfected pipe up for sale on Etsy — the popular online marketplace for artisanal goods — it was quickly removed from the site. It hadn’t dawned on the couple that their creation would be deemed “drug paraphernalia,” which is prohibited on Etsy.
Since then, Baer and Hastings have found other ways to bring their pipes to market. Because marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, and because their studio is in Worcester, they can sell within the state. The pipes made their way to the Outer Cape via artist and illustrator Keith MacLelland, who, years ago, worked with Baer at Apple and now co-owns Longstreet Gallery in Eastham.
The gallery displayed it alongside the couple’s collection of handmade ornaments last Christmas.
They still don’t think of themselves as “cannabis people.”
“We make teacups,” Baer says, “but we aren’t tea people.”
The two have day jobs. Hastings is an industrial designer who specializes in medical equipment. His claim to fame is an Aircast boot for sprained ankles. Baer creates online courses for the University of Massachusetts. She took up ceramics after taking a class in 2007 and stayed with it. Three years ago, she began working in a studio space she shares with two other artists in Worcester.
The couple also have a little boy. “He’s our best collaboration so far,” says Baer.
Their collaboration on the pipe started with doodles. Hastings then used CAD (computer-assisted design) to articulate the drawings in three dimensions. Baer then worked from a version produced on a 3D printer to create a physical mold. “There were lots of handoffs,” Baer says. “It was like a game of football.
“Zach hasn’t done ceramics since high school,” she adds. “It’s too dirty for him.” Baer is the hands-on “maker.”
Both enjoy exploring the relationship between materials and design. They could have worked with hand-built or wheel-thrown clay, Baer says, but they decided on stoneware instead. “We chose slipcast because we wanted a really exact design that would be highly repeatable,” she says. Still, Baer estimates they’ve made a grand total of only 200 pieces.
Before getting to a precise design, the pipe-making process involved a lot of trial and error. At first, Baer says, “you cast a bunch of terrible ones.” Friends took on the task of “usability testing.” And over a year-long period, as the design inched closer to perfection, Baer tried some 20 different tests of glazes and colors.
Only the top of the pipe is glazed, Baer points out. Leaving the bottom raw allows for a good grip.
Because they started their design pre-pandemic, the bowl is relatively large — big enough for communal use. “It’s a coffee table piece,” Baer says. It’s pod-friendly. But next up, she says, is a pocket version. “And a new teacup.”
Jess Baer can be found on Instagram at baer.ceramics.