Croatia

Davorin Denovic

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I was born and live in Croatia. I have been engaged in pipemaking for fifteen years and in the enjoyment of pipesmoking for the last thirty-five years. A few years ago I got to know my present companion, Darko, top master carpenter, who for some time now has been collecting and processing semi-petrified oak wood (abonos, bog-aok, Mooreiche, morta). As a result of our collaboration, pipes made of this material also. As expected, like any hobby pipemaker, I began working in briar, mostly from the Adriatic coast, I followed working in olive wood, and now, as a peak, in morta (in pipesmoker’s world this type of material is commonly termed morta).

As a principle, I do not sell pipes, but rather I enjoy in presenting them as a gift to my friends. My domicile country is rich in natural resources of all materials of which pipes are made nowadays (briar, olive-wood), while in history it was one of the largest manufacturers of clay pipes. So in Croatia top briar, olive-wood, and various sorts (colours) of morta, including “golden”, “copper”, and black, can be found. Curently I am preparing “red” and “blue” morta, as a very rare kind.

Unfortunatelly, these days the tradition of pipesmoking in the whole world has been reduced to a smaller number of enthusiasts, a few of whom regularly meet in our Society and Club in Zagreb. I am also president of Association of Pipesmokers “Lula” (Pipe). And just to mention, in a “real” life I am a manager in a foreign company’s branch in Croatia.

My pieces are signed by the letter “D” stylized from the old Slavic Glagolitic script – Glagoljica, impressed with a hot stamp. Glagoljica is an Old Slavic alphabet created by the mid 9th century, which remained in use in Croatia until the 19th century. The tradition holds that the script was invented by St Cyril (by the realname of Constantin), a Byzantine monk from Solun (Thessaloniki)

In this way I wanted to create a symbolical connection between old material, morta, and the oldest script of the Slavic peoples.

Davorin

MORTA

What is abonos – morta?

The soils that are mostly wet, sandy, gravel – and clay-like, deep and fertile usually found above high underground waters are the most suitable habitats for the growth of oak forest (quercus robur). The largest oak forests thrive best on lowland and slight upland soils of the diluvial geological era, the vallies of river basins being especially suitable sites for this type of oak.

Variations in the water level, floads, marshes formation – all are conditions that in a very special way promote the growth of this particular tree. Because of a continous change of the direction of the river flow on a greater or lesser degree, the mainstreams weave through the vallies constantly forming live meanders. In its meandering course, the river undermines the banks covered with forests, the trees fall in to the river and get drifted away in the water. When the trunk gets trapped by its branches and roots to the river bed, in time it becomes covered with the layers of mud, sand and gravel. Deprived of oxygen the wood undergoes the process of fossilization and a long process of abonos formation (or Croatian “Crni dub”, English bog-oak, German Mooreiche, in the world of the pipesmokers known as “Morta”).

During hundreds and thousands of years, under the influence of the minerals and iron from the water, the decomposition of oak timber is consideraby slower. In the formation of abonos a special role is played by the currents of the underground waters, providing solution of the ingredients which make compounds with larger quantities of tanin from the wood and in this way induce darkening of the wood colour. The centuries-long process of timber change, often termed “maturation” results in colour alteration from golden-brown to completely black, and its hardness is incrased to such a level that later it can only be carved with the use of specially grind and exceptionally hard tools.

The time necessary for the oak to transform from the end of its biological growth to abonos is various. Acccording to the conditions under which “maturation” takes place, this process can last two, three, or seven thousands years. Due to the ecological reasons menitioned above no two trunks can be found of the same colour.

Sites of abonos wood in the world are very rare. In the sites expected to accomodate it (in Croatia mainly in the valley of the river Sava and its branches) abonos is hard to find, the access to the river bank and its bed is usually difficult, and abonos recovery usually results in failure. Therefore, excessive preparations and engagement of a large nuber of professionals skilled in diving in the murky waters and in complete darkness, are necessary. Abonos is found in the entire dark and its pulling out of the water is in fact the first sight of it after many thousands of years. The age of abonos found in Croatian rivers ranges from several hundred years in the rivers on the southern part to the oldest retrieved so far in the river Krapina being 8290 years old. Saving the quality of wood as the material for potential further processing is a very delicate matter.

The process of wood desiccation is complex, but despite greatest care most of raw wood is unsuitable for further processing. For this reason the price of quality abonos raw material is very high.

Aesthetic effect of abonos is based on the very experience of naturally formed colour, noticeable wood structure, its “imperfect” appearance, and the fact that parts of the wood are combined which by their variation in the colour, directions of growth rings, or certain “damage” convey a strong aesthetic and ethical message about the immensity of the past times. Deep impression of the passing of time is also grounded on the knowledge of longevity of wood and the miracle of its intactnes indicates that wood is not affected by usual weather conditions or vermin which naturally spoil the looks and strenght of wood. Semidry abonos wood is exceptionally hard, sometimes of the golden or copper colour, or with a tint of some other hue. Older wood can be completely black. This colour is particularly specific so every conoisseur of materials is able to notice the profound permeation of the wood structure by darkness, noble black colour of “live” wood so different from that of black fossil or coal.

Saving the quality of wood as the material for potential further processing is a very delicate matter.

The process of wood desiccation is complex, but despite greatest care most of raw wood is unsuitable for further processing. For this reason the price of quality abonos raw material is very high.

Aesthetic effect of abonos is based on the very experience of naturally formed colour, noticeable wood structure, its “imperfect” appearance, and the fact that parts of the wood are combined which by their variation in the colour, directions of growth rings, or certain “damage” convey a strong aesthetic and ethical message about the immensity of the past times. Deep impression of the passing of time is also grounded on the knowledge of longevity of wood and the miracle of its intactnes indicates that wood is not affected by usual weather conditions or vermin which naturally spoil the looks and strenght of wood. Semidry abonos wood is exceptionally hard, sometimes of the golden or copper colour, or with a tint of some other hue. Older wood can be completely black. This colour is particularly specific so every conoisseur of materials is able to notice the profound permeation of the wood structure by darkness, noble black colour of “live” wood so different from that of black fossil or coal.

This value of deep darkness is a special feature of abonos as construction material whether it be used for the making of semi manufactured goods, veneer, planks or bams, depending on purpose of the final product, or for final goods: floor coverings, furniture, doors, window frames, sculptures, and various decorative objects and items for everyday use.

Abonos – morta and pipemaking

Abonos – morta is a very specific material. The trunk (or root) of oak wich lay uder the ground for thousands of years, having been washed by the river water and precipitated with mineral is an ideal material for pipes. Percentage of minerals is considerable, reaching up to 12%, which makes abonos especially resistant to burning, and thousand-year- long washing erased all traces of tannine, resin and similar ingredients, giving a completely neutral taste during tobacco smoking. To tell the truth, this is no material for beginners. Abonos is hard to carve, some parts can be supple while others extremely hard, the percentage of hidden flaws in material is huge, which all may cause the pipe during its final production stages to crack, and dozen of hours of work to be in vain. On the other hand, finalized piece is beautiful, the structure of wood can be strikingly stunning – unique, and pipesmoking is a special pleasure. Tobacco when smoked yields neutral taste, positively neutral, of course.

Today there is a relatively small number of pipemakers who make pipes of morta; to purchase quality material is much too complicated, the processing of material is difficult with a relatively high portion of discard.

More info on Morta

Davorin's Morta Pipes


  
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