Jack Howell: Steel City Excellence

Having grown up just a few miles north of Jack Howell’s current stomping grounds in Pittsburgh, PA, I know his current hometown all too well. That being the case, being from, being part of, or just representing the ‘City of Champions’ can at times come with the price of an expectation of perfection. This can be hard to live up to on occasion (ask the Pittsburgh Pirates!), but it does not seem to have been lost of Jack Howell.

The Golden Triangle has produced such greats as Roberto Clemente, Mario Lemieux, Terry Bradshaw,  Andy Warhol, Henry Mancini, and so many others. Great sports teams, great musicians, and great artists have come to be expected from the ‘Burgh. But Pittsburgh is also known as the Steel City. It earned that moniker because the majority of the world s best quality steel was manufactured here right along the banks of the Monongahela, and Allegheny Rivers (that converge to form the Ohio), but now it is called the Steel City because of the tenacity of the people that live there. Rising up from a depressed dirty city as the steel industry began to collapse in the 1970’s, technology and culture has sprung up in the compost of the steel mills. Excellence in culture and the arts, including world class briar pipes. But what has not changed, is the blue-collar work ethic that has always been home to the city of Pittsburgh.

Jack Howell”s work is nothing short of incredible, but hard work and dedication will do that from time to time. In his biography posted on his web page, Howell Handmade Pipes, Jack reports like so many other artists, to having worked on his craft from a young age. An interest in working with his hands, eventually morphed into carving pipes, and dang good ones. Jack put’s it this way:

“I’ve been making things ever since my Dad gave me a file and a pile of cedar shakes and let me make, well, sawdust, mostly. But it wasn’t too long after that when he gave me my first Scout knife, with which I made, well, shavings, mostly, and bloodstains of various sizes…One never knows what fortune will bring, but my goal is to complete at least 50 pipes this coming year, and for each one to be better in some way than the one before”

An accomplished clarinet player, working in several area orchestras and chamber groups, Jack also teaches at prestigious Duquesne University. While maintaining a watchful eye on the quality of each piece, the variations on classic themes such as Billiards and Dublins, and modern shapes like Clams and Volcano’s and Sphinxes are amazingly progressive, and quality befitting a well educated and well accomplished intellectual. Howell pipes show a facet of sophistication no matter what the shape or finish – that just seems to come out.

All told, in this short spotlight, Jack Howell produces some of the most excellent works I’ve seen. Here’s to being able to do an in-depth review for you sometime soon.

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