Craftsman / Artist
Behind many ten minute successes lie hours of preparation. According to my dentist during a little buffing after a $200 smear of white Bondo. Lately, at the secretive Luthier Laboratories, pushing boundaries past conventional instrument repair, we’ve found those preparation-to-execution numbers to be a bit skewed.
In this case, hours and hours were spent converting this “Sold For Parts” French violin into a viable instrument. As we near the final cavelletti, hands and clamps in piaffe and pirouette, this early 19th century Mirecourt nears a milestone. Sound post and tone tap, the first in 120+ years we surmise (the repairs of 1886 were never completed).
At every step, to poke, prod, shave, raise, lower, scrape, and in general convince the parts to obey, our Lie-Nielsen ⅜” chisel is there to assist. An extension of my fingers but with enhanced fingernails. A2 Tool Steel, hardened to Rockwell 60-62, cryogenically treated and double tempered.
Our mortised end block holds us up no longer. After this Mirecourt skipped the entire last century, we’ll soon be having a conversation. Talk about dropping out! Welcome back!
Waiting for the “right job” to come up was taking forever. I’d been wanting this compact manganese bronze hand plane upon first sight online, and began rationalizing the purchase as a ‘deserved’ luxury item after handling one at a Lie-Lielsen Hand Tool Event® a year ago.
Opportunity came in the form of a mid-19th century French-made Sébastien Kloz violin. She wanted a little nip and tuck fitting back into her old clothes. With chisel and file, it could have been done. But for precision, and in a far more civilized manner, she wants the Lie-Nielsen Violin Maker’s Plane. Perfect results, as anticipated! Depth of cut adjustment was exact and did not ‘creep’ after tightening. You spend more for quality, but you get more satisfaction. Long after the price tag is forgotten.
At about the same time, a Depression-era Antonio Stradivari copy – probably a copy, but one never knows – came knocking for a bit of fingerboard thinning. The Stanley Handyman again, at 9-1/4″, or the Lie-Nielsen 101, at 3-7/16″? The USA-made vintage Stanley performs admirably but is a bit top-heavy and too big. The Lie-Nielsen 101 finished the job with perfect control, but is a bit too small for shaping a 4/4 violin ebony fingerboard. Maybe a Goldilocks Plane exists, juuuuust right. The Lie-Nielsen 102?
Where the Lie-Nielsen came through with presidential prowess? Cutting a tiny bevel along the edges of the fingerboard. I forgot to put them in when the nut and strings were off, but the 101 is perfectly suited for close, delicate work. Since the nut was already glued, a gentle swipe with my Lie-Nielsen scraper seamlessly finished up the last bit of bevel.
Summers come and summers go. The Rockdale Boys made it to our local county park. Debbie Durant never sounded finer. The Zona saw continues trimming violin bushing pegs closer than a dime. A pile of late 19th century built-in drawers junked near Penn campus? We grabbed a stack of drawer bottoms.
John-Anthony dropped off his 1935 Bacon & Day Silver Bell plectrum banjo for peg fitting and an ebony buff. John is a true trade musician, performing swing music of 1920s and 1930s on a period instrument. Solo.
More USA-made Juzek tools are en route. A cello peg hole reamer and peg shaver. We’ll be ready for the next onslaught of performing arts high school cellos. Five sound posts, eight bridges, and all two dozen of the instruments seem to have something wrong with the pegs.
Fresh hide glue, alignment and clamping, a bit of planing and scraping, the occasional epoxy wood filler, listening to the Beach Boys wind up my summer with their summer hits. Written when Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro were dancing their can-can across the northern Caribbean.
After the failed U.S. attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and while the Kennedy administration planned Operation Mongoose, in July 1962 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with Cuban premier Fidel Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt. – Office of the Historian
Two years ago we visited garden-themed mosaics displayed in this same hall. Today, the spotlight falls back to pottery. Americans love their crafts. So important in colonial America, the tradition of turning clay and glaze into objects of beauty and utility remains vibrant.
Katrina Piechnik is a local instructor, practicing a centuries-old skill of saggar pottery. Packing materials against pottery as it is fired to produce color and texture. From her creativity another generation of artisans are born, thrive, and continue. She opens our imagination.
Borrowed from UpInSmokePottery.com, a partial list of colorants:
Copper Carbonate – greens, blues, maroons, reds
Copper Sulfate – greens, blues, maroons, reds
Cobalt Carbonate – blues
Ferric Chloride – reds, yellows, oranges
Steel wool – blues, grays, pinks
Banana peels – greens, grays
Copper wire – can be red, black, blue, green, whites, depending on wire, thickness, and temperature of the fire
Sawdust – black, gray, blue-gray,
Cow pies – depends on what it ate; blacks, yellows, greens, grays, browns
Bacon Grease – brown/greens
Sodium Chloride – Orange, yellows, salmon, peach, gold
Coffee Grounds – browns, greens, blues
Nails – Neat blue/gray dots with halos
Leaves – brown/greens
Grass clippings – brown/greens
Red Iron Oxide – browns, maroons, rust
With a bridge firmly grasped in my hand and a small rectangle of 220 grit scratch cloth carefully laid on the supine violin, I move a delicate piece of carved maple upon the paper, sanding the feet into the curved shape of the violin top. Sometimes one foot wants a little more off than the other. I compensate. Tradition says the rear is to be 90˚ to the top. The front appears pitched, as it is cut to 87˚. Christmas Day we worked upon a beautiful mid-1960s German violin set up by a Reading shop. Their luthier’s trademark? He set up the right angled side forward. A second bridge in the case from the same shop was identically cut. Further reading indicates bridge orientation has no bearing on sound though tradition (and superstition) reign.
We work in fractions of a millimeter. Fairly precise work. Five seconds, about one distracted thought away from disaster. No speakerphone calls, please. Cello bridges, there is more room for error. But getting the bridge shaped to sit plumb on the cello top? A bit more work.
After doing a few by eye, I lust for an edge. A third hand. A bridge jig. When the right job came in, we turned, naturally, to Juzek, the American manufacturer of fine luthier tools. Off to the Performing Arts high school for summer session with a dozen cellos. Juzek again turns out a valedictorian performance. Our cello bridge feet come out square and plumb. Quite the time saver!
That other tool? A leg spreader. Not used with violin bridges but for the cello bridge, quite necessary. The leg spreader simulates what happens to the cello bridge when the pressure of the strings are upon it.
SINCE 1932, if you can visualize it, they can make it. When the Frank Lloyd Wright organization wanted to reproduce their Waterlilies Art Glass as a tapestry throw, they turned to MWW, Inc. You’d think custom woven would be expensive? This is what MWW does, they do it efficiently, beautifully, and the product ends up priced to be bought, not languish on bookstore shelves. From Hendersonville, North Carolina, MWW brings textile, home decor, and gift solutions throughout America and across the globe!
There are no pictures on the walls. A smile from our guide. Yes, Mr. Wright thought the architecture, the wall itself, was art enough. Expansion, contraction. Counterpoint. Music in geometry. 6th Century poet. Welsh ancestors. So much information, flowing like water.
Frank Lloyd Wright practiced his trade up until his last year (d.1959), leaving several projects to his apprentices. Five of those apprentices still live onsite in dorms built when Taliesin West (pronounced “Tally-essen”) was the western hub of Mr. Wright’s practice. This is where he worked six months a year. Where everyone lived. If you take a 2-week or 2-month course of study at the School of Architecture at Taliesin, this is where you will live. Heck, go full boat. The comprehensive program towards a professional Master of Architecture (M.Arch). Have a family? No problem. Onsite apartments for the husband (or wife) and kids are available.
I took the basic Insights Tour. The first tour of their new 8:45am time slot on a Friday. A perfect May day in the desert. Bees enjoying the spray from tumbling water. A heck of an informed, passionate tour guide. The eastern horizon dropping below the sun, just as Mr. Wright saw it. The surrounding few hundred acres looks just as it did in FLW’s time. Beyond, much new construction. Viewing the Papago Mountains and Camelback, power lines obstruct our view. What would Frank have said? He did say, actually.
Of the nearby power lines, which so disturbed Wright that he wrote to President Truman requesting that they be placed underground. When Truman refused, saying it would create a precedent, Wright replied: “I have been creating precedents all my life.” – from an article by Thomas Swick, South Florida Sun-Sentinel