Friday, February 26, 2010

Very Busy for a Short Month

For the shortest month of the year, a lot has transpired. Somehow, every day seemed full of work, exhibits, meetings, mini-vacation/anniversary, and, unfortunately, the small health problem that I mentioned in my last blog.

Studio Notes

I’ve been incredibly busy carving new pieces and finishing two instruments that have been on the workbench way too long. The Starnina harp-72Starnina-head1-72Starnina Harp, which I’ve been working on for over two years, is finally done. I’m happy to note that it looks and sounds wonderful. The  beautiful woman I carved as a figurehead doesn’t have a name yet, but we’re working on it.  Today I’m completing the display stand for it. Professional photos are coming next week.

The second completed instrument is “The White Lady” Mountain dulcimer. This has been a year in the making, because there always seemed to be other projects and exhibitions getting in the way. White Lady Head1-72White Lady-72Also, this dulcimer has more intricate carvings and salvaged, segmented ebony binding. The binding alone took a few weeks to complete. She sounds and looks wonderful. She’s mostly birdseye White Lady tailpiece-72maple, with a spalted maple  fingerboard lamination over pine and with  salvaged ebony decorative features. The “White Lady” is a legend that pops up in several cultures and can refer to a beneficial angel or a harbinger of birth or death. My “White Lady” is patterned after the Irish Banshee, singing out (wailing) with  her captured souls (the tuning pegs). I’ve tuned the dulcimer to the Aeolian (minor) mode, and it sounds great when I play those wonderful old ballads, like “Three Ravens” and “Matty Groves”. Even contemporary ballads, like Richard and Mimi Fariña’s “Another Country.”

Meanwhile, back in the studio, there’s a lot more carving going on. There’s two more medieval stools in the works and well as a large number of chess pieces. There’s also the other long-term project I need to get back on: my portative organ. It’s been in the works now for over a year and a half.

Other News

I had another piece on exhibit at the Santa Cruz Art League, my small medieval harp, and got back Courting Dulcimer #2 from where is was exhibited in Pennsylvania. I’m a member of the Santa Cruz Woodworkers, and I still have two pieces on exhibit at the Rittenhouse Building in downtown Santa Cruz. Now, in about two weeks, I’ll be heading for Scottsdale, Arizona, for the Scottsdale Arts Festival.

A little over a week ago, my wife and I celebrated our 30th (we met on Valentine’s Day 30 years ago) by spending a couple of days in the West Marin County communities of Inverness, Point Reyes Station, Olema, and Bolinas. Actually, the reason we traveled up to those locations was to attend a Baulines Craft Guild meeting at the new board president’s home and studio in Inverness. There were three people at the meeting who gave very interesting presentations, including Katie Nartonis of Bonhams & Butterfields Auctions, who talked about the auction used as a source for selling contemporary crafts; Carol Sauvion, who was instrumental in putting the “Craft In America” series together and aired on PBS and talked about the series (and to meet the Baulines); and Tom Killion, who is an incredible woodcut-style print craftsman, and, hopefully, a future Baulines Craft Guild Master Member. He gave a talk about his materials and technique. The meeting was capped off with a tour of Bruce Mitchell’s studio and seeing his fantastic pieces and works in progress. A good time was had by all.

I’ll write up the next blog after I return from the Scottsdale Arts Festival sometime mid-March. I should have some nice photos to post of the show. Until then, onward…

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sawdust in My Veins

Punxsutawney Phil said we’re up for six more weeks of winter, and California is definitely getting hit with winter’s wind, rain, and mudslides. The weather mavens say it’s another El Niño pattern, but I put more trust in Phil’s prognostication than in theirs.

In The Shop

FINALLY!  The Starnina Harp, which is loosely based on an altarpiece painting by Gherado Starnina (Italian-active, 1387-1413), in the Laurentian Chapel of the Certosa, a Cartusian monastery near Florence, is nearly done. Originally, around five Starnina Harpyears ago, I started on this piece as one of my Chapter House Series of instruments. I made all the parts, including a soundbox, and began carving a woman who I called Rapunzel. I planned to  have her hair curl all the way down the post almost to the base of the harp. Other projects kept taking up most of my time, and I never got around to completing the carving. About a year and a half ago, I decided to go a different route with the harp and redesigned my piece to the one depicted in the Starnina altarpiece. I built a new, coopered-style body, similar to others I’ve made, and just last week finally completed the carving and assembly. I now call my carved harp, “Diana, The Huntress,” since she looks kind of like a bow that’s pulled back. She just needs some tung oil finish and then stringing up and she’ll be done.

The year 2010 is my year of change. I’ve been working on musical instruments since 1972 and had an occasional foray into the period furniture/cabinetry realm up into the 1980s. I was 3-legged stool1-in shopbuilding early American pine furniture then, and now I’m studying  medieval European furniture to go with my early European instruments (Sound Sculptures). My first pieces are different styles of stools: two different three-legged stools and a trestle-style  stool. The first one completed is a three-legged stool that I originally intended to make only as an experiment. It turned out better than I imagined (shown in the two photos). It’s all salvaged poplar, urban forest wood that I was 3-legged stool1-in shop-detail given a couple of years ago. I cut it up and dried it for the last two years before using it. Poplar works fine as a furniture wood, but doesn’t turn well. It has a tendency to splinter. However, this stool polished up fine and will soon get a padded seat similar to those in the medieval period. By the way, three-legged stools were very popular (and depicted in many early paintings) because they were so stable on uneven plank or dirt floors.

Other Work

Close to being finished is my next Mountain dulcimer, “The White Lady”. I spent nearly three hours sanding the sides and back, working from course to super-fine sandpaper, until the wood had almost a mirror finish. Photos will be in the next blog entry.

Also, I’ve started cutting and shaping pieces for a custom Mountain dulcimer that was ordered, and will begin carving the head in a couple of weeks.

Other News

I’ll probably have to take a few days off soon, reluctantly, since I’ll be “going under the knife,” so to speak. This Friday I have to have a “procedure” to remove a small growth from my arm, and it will keep me from making very much sawdust for several days. The “sawdust in my veins” reference in the title means I’ll be leaking sawdust instead of making it. Oh well, if I can’t be in my studio shaping wood, then it’ll be a good time to catch up on my reading. (Current read: A Play of Treachery, by Margaret Frazer. It’s a good, medieval mystery page-turner, number 5 in a series.)

It’s been raining again. Onward… through the winter!