Friday, September 24, 2021

Open Studios Art Tour is Back

After nearly two years, the Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour is back! This wOpenstudios21 Postcard-4x6-front-72ill be my 20th year opening my studio to the public. I am listed in the Artist Guide as Artist #253 and will be open from 11 to 5 on October 9-10 and 16-17. A preview exhibit is opening at the Santa Cruz Art League on First Friday, October 1.

What will be different this year is that my exhibit will be outside only and next to my studio. (Hopefully the rains will hold off!) The Arts Council is also suggesting visitors wear masks when visiting artist’s studios. They have given artists a set of masks to give out if necessary.

I have several new pieces to show, and I hope to see you here on the second and third weekends in October.

Because there was no Open Studios in 2020, the Arts Council created the Visual Arts Network. It is still active online and is a good place to see the works of other Open Studios artists.

New Work

Porter Dulcimer Cane w-standA few months ago a customer from Oregon wanted me to build her a dulcimer cane. I had built two of them before, and one sold, but, unfortunately, one was stolen from a gallery showing. My customer had seen the one I sold on Etsy, and she wanted one similar. She uses a cane, and I asked her how high it was. I built her dulcimer cane to the same height. This one has a maple body with salvaged black walnut handle and fingerboard.Porter Dulcimer Cane-head detail2 There is also salvaged ebony for accents. It has a very bright tone.

While making this commissioned piece, I decided to make a Dulcimer Cane2-72second similar one but with a different carving and several inches taller. It is made with the same woods. Dulcimer Cane detail2I finished it around two weeks after completing the commission and put it up for sale on Etsy.

That didn’t last long. It was on Etsy for barely 10 days and sold. It’s going to a new home in Colorado.

Other instruments that have been very popular this last year are the Saxon and Germanic Lyres (Rotes), both full sized and the smaller “mini” sizes. Because of the popularity, I had to make a few more.They are also on Etsy.

One of the newest instruments I crafted is the Mbira, also known as an African thumb piano. The first one I built sold on Etsy right away, so I made a second. It also sold right away. So, I made another. This one is salvaged mahogany sides and back, salvaged first-growth Douglas fir top, flamed maple binding, and a black walnut and maple soundhole. Like the other Mbiras I made, it has a bright lovely tone. It is available on Etsy.

In the Studio

There are several pieces I’m currently working on. Lately, I’ve been working a little more  on my Ottavina (Octave Spinet). I added some old-style hinges to the key cover and the top. I also made a post for holding the lid up. (Like a Ottavina-opentop on a grand Ottavina-closedpiano.) The next “big” project is to layout for the strings, then make a rail for the jacks (plectrum) that will pluck the strings. I originally started work on this octave spinet (which is a type of harpsichord) back in the mid to late 1970s. The case I built then was not up to my standards today. I made a new case of black walnut using angled dovetails. The stand is also black walnut.

On my workbench are parts for another teardrop-style dulcimer. Once again the woods are salvaged. The top, back, and sides are cocobolo, which is a Central American tree. I’m about ready to carve the head and tailpiece, which are hard maple. Cocobolo dulcimer-parts-72Once I finish carving, assembly will go fairly quickly. The whole process takes around 20 hours or so over two to three weeks.

In addition to my studio, I have a shop in my garage where I have my large power tools, like my table saw, 17 inch band saw, drum sander, spindle sander, and a large belt and disk sander. This is where I work on larger pieces and do antique stringed instrument restorations.

12x12-pipe organ-72A project I’m working on now is a small pipe organ. It’s mostly maple and some black walnut. The pipes are pine and oak.  I hope to have it finished in a couple of weeks so I can enter it in the 12 x 12 (x 12) event at the Cabrillo College Gallery later in October.

Recently I was watching a virtual American Woodturners Association Zoom-type broadcast of a woman woodturner who used power carving devices for embellishing turned vessels. One of her power carving tools was a high speed device that seemed to cut through the wood like butter. She swore by it. I had to have one.

New carver-72After some research, I finally found the carver at an online storefront. As the woman woodturner said, it does cut through wood like butter. My Foredom and Dremel with flex shafts run up to 15,000 rpm. My new Marathon III Micromotor runs over 30,000 rpm allowing me to make highly detailed carvings. What is also nice about the Marathon is the handpiece has a quick change feature. Extremely easy to change bits. No wrenches needed!

Restorations

Since my last blog, I’ve restored three more zithers. Two were German made concert zithers, and one was a U.S. made chord zither.

Done3-72This one is a Circa 1900-1910 Job. Bartholom√§ Concert Zither. Bartholom√§ has been used as a last name in Germany, especially the Bavarian region, but now is more commonly spelled Bartholomew. Bartholom√§ is also a small town in the hills east of Stuttgart and southwest from Nurenberg. It’s very possible this zither could have been made in Nurenberg, which was a major center of concert zither manufacturing in the late 1800s to just before WWI. Stuttgart also has had some zither manufacturers but is now an industrial city where Mercedes and Porsches are made. Read my repair log here.

Completed-72This larger one is a Circa 1903-1917 August Schulz Concert Zither. Because of the size, it was sometimes called an Alpine zither or a harp zither. This fine zither was crafted in Nuremberg, Germany by August Schulz. What I could find from my research was that the workshop was in operation from 1902 to 1917. Operations probably ceased because of World War I. There were actually more August Schulz guitars made than zithers. August Schulz also made lutes. Read my repair log here.

Completed-72

This chord zither on the right is a Circa 1900 Home Educational Co. Mandolin Guitar-Harp. Of course, this is not a mandolin or a guitar. It is closer to a harp because it is plucked.

Chord zithers, often called Guitar Zithers, were extremely popular from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. Hundreds of thousands were made by several companies, including Friederich Menzenhauer, Oscar Schmidt, and Phonoharp. Phonoharp, of East Boston, Massachusetts, made several different models of chord zither, each one manufactured in the thousands. These were primarily sold in Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs as well as door-to-door. Some Phonoharp models, called Mandolin Guitar-Harps, were distributed by the Home Educational Company of Concord, North Carolina, who applied their own labels inside the instruments.

This zither need extensive work to restore it. You can read my repair log on my website.

Do you have a zither or other stringed instrument needing restoration or repair? Is is a family heirloom you want to play and/or save for posterity? If you do, send me an email, along with photos or the instrument (especially problem areas on the instrument), so I can give you a quote on my services. My email  is ron@roncookstudios.com.

That’s it for now. Remember, Open Studios is coming up. My studio is open 11-5, October 9-10 and 16-17. See you then!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

One Year Ago…

We are now one year into our pandemic self-quarantine. It seems incredible that exactly one year ago, my wife and I were in San Diego volunteering for the annual Left Coast Crime book convention and anxiously awaiting the impending excitement of it when notice was posted at the end of the first day that the event was closed and after one last evening of nervously socializing we hurried home to lock ourselves up for the duration. We're doing well and finally got our first "anti-Covid" shot a few weeks ago. We'll have our second one shortly. There have been no arts and crafts shows during this time except for a couple of virtual gallery exhibits at the end of last year. I've been making a lot of sawdust in both my studio and my shop and working on new furniture, instruments, and carvings, and also been working on antique instrument restorations for customers. I've been writing! (I have to use my gallery for something, after all, so I use it for writing.) To read more about what is going on in my little corner of the world, see below.

In the News

50th Anniversary Dulcimer

Fifty years ago I made my first mountain dulcimer. It was a simple coffin-shaped instrument with mechanical gears from a broken guitar. The frets were reclaimed from that same broken guitar. It was coffin shaped because I hadn't yet learned how to steam bend wood for curved sides. The woods I used were cheap mahogany and pine. I played it on stage in one of the bands I was in back then. (Photo below on the left.)

My 50th anniversary dulcimer (photo below on the right) is shaped the same, but with much better wood than my first: nice figured maple. Whereas my first had a simple head stock, this one has a head carving. It also has hand-carved tuning pegs. My first dulcimer had a very sweet sound and my new one sounds even better.

Symphony #3

This is the third of my popular "Cantigas de Santa Maria" symphonies. It is made of white oak with maple pegs, tangents (button keys), wheel and handle. The soundboard is 100+ year old salvaged first-growth Douglas fir. The tangent ends are black walnut. The bridge is laminated salvaged ziracote. The handle shaft that turns the wheel runs into the box through the wide-open mouth of a character's face that I carved out of a tagua nut. It has two melody strings and two drones.

Like my other symphonies, this one is also based on an image in the 13th century Spanish illuminated manuscript "Cantigas de Santa Maria" by Alfonso X, which is a series of songs and prayers to Mary profusely illustrated with images of characters playing the instruments of the time. I've made several of the instruments.

Resonator Dulcimer

Before I completed my 50th anniversary dulcimer, I finished another I had in the planning stage for several years, a resonator dulcimer. The 5 inch "paint lid" resonator is hand-spun aluminum and has a biscuit bridge similar to the National Guitar style. This one is 28 inches from nut to bridge. The body is several inches longer than my traditional dulcimers and a little thicker. The resonator and the large "box" size give this dulcimer a very interesting and lovely sound.

Restoration of Aug. Richter Zither

This year started out with a restoration of a lovely German concert zither that was made sometime in the 1920's by Aug. Richter, who belonged to a family of instrument makers in Munich.

The owner purchased this through eBay and got a great deal on it. It had no strings, the metal bridges were lost, and five of the tuning pins were missing. Fortunately, the frame was solid and there were no cracks. I just finished restoring it, and I'm now putting together the repair log, which I'll post on my web site when it's finished.

Finished2-72

Restoration of West German Jubeltone Zither

Earlier this month I was sent another Jubeltone chord zither to restore. I restored another identical instrument a couple of years ago. That one I had to totally disassemble because it had cracks on the front and back and some failed glue joints. The one I just finished was in better condition. It did have two shrinkage cracks in the back and some corrosion on the hardware and strings. It was missing only one string, and I was able to salvage all the existing strings. This brand of zither was made in the 1960s before German reunification in 1990. It even has a stamp on the back stating it was made in Western Germany. It might have been made in Munich, which was a zither manufacturing center since the 1880s.

Etsy

The instruments and folk art pieces I completed in the last twelve months are all on my Etsy shop. More coming soon.

It's been a good year, and several of my instruments have gone to good homes. I believe people who are sheltered in place have put their time to good use by playing music or learning to play music.

Behind the Scenes

I took some time out from working on instruments and medieval furniture to build a bookcase for the back of the loveseat sofa in our living room. We've accumulated so many books over the years at mystery book conferences and bookstores. They were stacked by the bed, three deep in our large built-in bedroom bookcases, and stacked in piles in the living room. Now we have much more room for them. It's all black walnut. One side had a large open knot, so I filled it with a turquoise epoxy. It turned out wonderfully. It is so wonderful that my wife wants one, too, for her craft room.

Hot off the Press

Besides loving to do woodworking for over 50 years, I've always loved to write and have been writing stories since grade school. I recently published my third book, "On Guard in the General's Chorus." A semi-fictionalized memoir of my time in the army, 1966-1968, primarily during my time in Korea in the entertainment corps.

A little over a year ago, I published "A Young Upstart", a series of poems and stream of consciousness writings, along with some of the hundreds of contour drawings I made in the late 1970s.

"Onward Through the Fog", published several years ago, is a series of short stories and two mystery novelettes, many that I started writing in English classes at San Jose State back in the mid 1980's.

All three books are available at independent bookstores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

      

That’s it for now. Later today we’re getting our second Covid-19 shot (ouch). Now two weeks more of sheltering, then we can look forward to getting out a little more (still masked, of course). As I always say, onward through the fog…