Tucked near the furnace in a small room in his basement, Bill Hunton handcrafts hundreds of clay pipes each year at a small work table, forming clay tubes around dowels and stamping geometric patterns and artistic animals into each one.
Some of his pipes feature abstract representations for zodiac signs, while others have a waspy, flower-like shape that he says represents a human being. Each one is intricately adorned.
After firing the pipes in a kiln in the other room, Hunton cleans them, glazes them and fires them again, before one last wash. The colors come out striking: deep maroons and blues blend together on some, a rainbow mish-mash flows in trippy patterns on others.
Nearby is a much larger workspace where his wife perfects her own artwork and makes some of the stamps he uses to adorn his pipes. She's got the real talent, he explains.
"I call her stuff 'treasures' and my stuff 'trinkets,'" he says with a smile.
Since around 2005, Hunton has worked on making and perfecting his pipes, but it wasn't until more recently, in the last few years, that he actually got into selling them, going to the trouble to get permits and licensing to sell at places like Hempfest and Barter Faire.
Now he makes and sells his wares under the name Cherokee Bill Pipes and Novelties (he's a member of Cherokee Nation) and he hopes to be able to start online sales through a distributor like Amazon in the next couple of years.
His foray into pipe work was nearly accidental: Back when he still used a spinning wheel, he was making a series of bottles when an idea struck him.
"I took the neck and said, 'Now this looks kind of like a peace pipe,'" says Hunton, who says he doesn't personally partake in smoking cannabis but has gotten guidance on how to improve his work from a relative who does.
He still makes other trinkets like marbles and dice, but the pipes have become his main focus. One of the main improvements he's made since those early days is the inclusion of two knobs on the bottom of each pipe so it can rest on a table bowl-side up without rolling around.
He also touts the pieces as tough. Although not at all indestructible, they're much less likely to break than some other materials.
"It'll still break on ya, but it's a lot better than glass," he says, taking one of his pipes and hitting it on the edge of a table a dozen or more times to show its strength.
That said, he still has great deference for the artistry of glass workers, and says he loves having competition.
For now, Hunton, born and raised in Spokane, still works full time in a local print shop, so the pipe making is mostly a hobby. In winter he makes hundreds of pipes in his free time, then hauls them to events where he can sell them in the summer. But he'd like to make more out of the work eventually.
"I'd love to be able to retire into doing this," he says. ♦
Those interested in buying one of Bill Hunton's pieces can email him to find out more at email@example.com or check to see if they're in stock at Piece of Mind in Spokane Valley.