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

AU Takes Action on Boko Haram, Defers on S. Sudan

African Union is moving forward with a request for a military force to stop the spread of Boko Haram insurgency in West Africa; Ban Ki-moon welcomes decision to form a five-nation force More

Mass Protests Held for 58 Killed in Pakistani Shi'ite Mosque Bombing

Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims took to the streets across Pakistan Saturday to protest a powerful bomb blast at a mosque in Sindh province during Friday prayers, killing dozens of people More

Williams Wins Australian Open with Straight-Set Victory over Sharapova

The win is Serena Williams' sixth in Australia, and her 19th overall Grand Slam title 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.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

Singer Leyla McCalla takes up not only the guitar, but the banjo and cello to perform songs from her new disc, “A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” music that mixes the Creole rhythms of Haiti with the French Quarter flavor of New Orleans on this edition of "The Hamilton Live."