News / Arts & Entertainment

Former 'Opium Fiend' Gives Drug Gear to University

Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars hold antique opium pipes. (VOA/T. Banse)
Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars hold antique opium pipes. (VOA/T. Banse)
Tom Banse
It's taken weeks to carefully unpack and catalogue all the opium implements and accessories former addict Steven Martin has decided to donate to the University of Idaho.

He estimates the collection includes at least 1,000 pieces of opium-smoking paraphernalia, including ceramic opium pipe bowls, ornamented heating lamps, traveling kits, scrapers, old photographs and mug shots.

Martin is working with University of Idaho historian and curator Priscilla Wegars, who stops to admire an elaborately decorated, 19th century Asian pipe bowl.  Clearly some upper-class drug users indulged their habits with style and pizazz.
Ceramic opium pipe bowls; the center one has a toad design.(VOA/T. Banse)Ceramic opium pipe bowls; the center one has a toad design.(VOA/T. Banse)
x
Ceramic opium pipe bowls; the center one has a toad design.(VOA/T. Banse)
Ceramic opium pipe bowls; the center one has a toad design.(VOA/T. Banse)

Martin's expansive collection started just over a decade ago with a spur-of-the-moment souvenir purchase of an opium pipe.  

"I had what I like to call a collector's epiphany," he says. "I really became obsessed with it from that moment. I decided I had to collect more."

At the time, Martin worked as a Bangkok-based freelance writer who often took jobs updating travel guidebooks.  

"So my collecting meshed with my work," he says. "I was able to travel around and look at antique shops in different cities in Southeast Asia."

In the name of research, Martin also visited rustic smoking rooms - so-called opium dens - in Laos, possibly the last in existence.  

"I did, around that time, start experimenting with opium-smoking myself," Martin says. "At the time, I was able to rationalize it as research for my collection."

In his new memoir, "Opium Fiend," Martin describes his long slide from occasional experimentation to full-blown addiction. Eventually, he says, he was smoking 30-to-40 pipes a day. He kicked the habit in late 2007 by checking himself into a Buddhist monastery which specializes in narcotics rehab.

Even before that, however, Martin was thinking about where to donate his opium-smoking paraphernalia. Some institution in San Francisco? Or maybe turn it into a for-profit attraction in Las Vegas?

He eventually decided to send the forbidden treasures to the University of Idaho, after coming across an archaeology book, edited by the university's Priscilla Wegars, which included a chapter on opium-smoking artifacts.
Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars examine and catalogue the donated opium artifacts.(VOA/T. Banse)Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars examine and catalogue the donated opium artifacts.(VOA/T. Banse)
x
Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars examine and catalogue the donated opium artifacts.(VOA/T. Banse)
Donor Steven Martin and University of Idaho curator Priscilla Wegars examine and catalogue the donated opium artifacts.(VOA/T. Banse)

"I was very, very impressed by what knowledge they were able to glean from these mere shards that they were pulling out of the ground here in Idaho and other parts of the Western U.S.," Martin says. "I knew that they would take my collection seriously."

He was right. Wegars was eager to add Martin's ornate objects to a research collection of artifacts related to Asian immigration to the American West, her area of expertise.

She explains that immigrant Chinese laborers popularized the custom of opium smoking in North America in the mid-1800's. The drug could be legally imported into the U.S. until federal laws banned it in 1909. However, some states and U.S. cities could and did outlaw it earlier by local ordinance.  

Wegars says this led to numerous police raids on illicit opium dens where Chinese were arrested, while Caucasians in attendance often managed to escape. The pipes and other drug paraphernalia were usually seized and destroyed.

"It is amazing how quiet the room becomes when you hold up an opium pipe, an opium pipe bowl, and have the lamp there and start to demonstrate how this was used," Wegars says. "People are fascinated."

The University of Idaho had already acquired a few opium-smoking accoutrements from archaeological digs at Western “ghost towns,” or abandoned mining settlements. Those objects are very plain and utilitarian compared to the newly donated paraphernalia, according to Wegars.

The university did seek permission from state authorities before accepting the Martin collection.

"Because opium-smoking paraphernalia - any kind of drug paraphernalia - is forbidden to own, we did get an opinion from the attorney general in Idaho," Wegars says.  "Because it was for teaching, research and study purposes and would be securely housed at the University of Idaho, it would be OK for us to have it."

Besides, both Wegars and Martin point out, most objects in the collection are no longer functional.

The antique drug paraphernalia will not be on public display except when items are loaned out to museums. The collection will be open to scholars and researchers by appointment.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.

Blogs

African Music Treasures