Having just returned from the biennial General Meeting of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, I have a deeper sense of the group's purpose: to unite a group of independent-minded people and to create a community for sharing.
Though gathering violin and bow makers can be a bit like herding cats, the meeting, held May 9–13 in New Orleans, was a thrill-ride for those interested in the history of violin and bow making.
Every good meeting needs a focus, and the speakers’ talks revolved on the theme of “Regional Traditions in Violin and Bow Making.” While the titles of the talks (shown below) sound esoteric, the truth is they were fascinating peeks into events like the Thirty Years War that transformed history and violin making.
To those who are unfamiliar with the AFVBM—or, as its members frequently refer to it, “The Federation”—its mission is “to enhance the public’s understanding and appreciation of the violin and bow families, and of related areas of expertise, including the making of new instruments, as well as conservation and restoration of historical and modern instruments.” In short, it’s a tight-knit group of experts devoted to sharing knowledge of violins and bows. And after spending a long weekend around these women and men, it’s safe to say that many of them are perpetual students, curious to learn the latest research unearthed from both dusty municipal archives and scientific study done with the latest technology.
What follows is a brief re-cap of what happened.
First day talks included Jan Strick’s Old Flemish Violinmaking from 1650 to 1750, Isaac Salchow’s Eugene Sartory: The Stylistic Evolution of a Maker, Yung Chin’s examination of bow maker Nikolai Kittel, and Jean-Jacques Rampal’s overview of the career of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.
Representatives of the federal government took part in a legal panel moderated by Carla Shapreau, during which Special Agent Michael D. Manning of the Department of Homeland Security's Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations, http://www.ice.gov/cultural-heritage-investigations/ addressed customs issues, and Gary Lougee of the USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), discussed the big issues facing makers, dealers, and players. Mainly, they focused on the Lacey Act and the possible addition of ebony to the CITES Appendix III. The discussion details of t he Lacey Act in particular are complex and enforcement will evolve with input from makers and players. The biggest single takeaway from this panel discussion is that the policy makers are genuinely interested in working with players and makers to develop an effective policy that also follows the letter of an unarguably essential law designed to protect natural resources.
I urge you to visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/lacey_act/ to catch up on the latest, to sign up for the newsletter, and to reach out APHIS's lead on the Lacey Act, Gary Lougee to discuss your concerns.
200 Years of Greatness: A Collection of Amatis & The Instruments Inspired By Them
Also tied into the meeting’s theme was an astounding collection of over 30 instruments brought to the show for display and study. The theme was “The Amati family and its early followers,” with the core of the collection coming from the Chi Mei Foundation, which sent eight incredible instruments from its collection in Taiwan. Spread out on a table for study, all of these instruments made repeated visits to the room a requirement—except for when the armed guard was on duty. Sorry, photos weren't allowed.
A short list of the instruments and bows for study includes:
- 1588 Antonio Amati (with original label and f-holes by Andrea Amati)
- 1645–50 Nicolo Amati early “Grand Pattern”
- 1667 Antonio Stradivari
- c.1670 Francesco Rogeri
- c.1680 Giovanni Grancino
- c.1700 Girolamo II Amati “Grand Pattern”
- 1703 Giovanni Battista Rogeri
- A quartet of bows by Nikolai Kittel
The show’s second day was mostly Federation business, which included electing a new president, Chicago violin maker and shop owner Peter Seman. Peter will serve a two-year term, following departing president Jerry Pasewicz, from Raleigh, North Carolina. There were also a pair of talks that afternoon, with Paul Childs’ presentation on J.P.M. Persoit and His Work and Duane Rosengard's look at the most famous violin collector and his effect on local makers in his talk, Count Cozio and Milanese Violin Making.
The show’s third day featured talks from Eric Blot on The Neapolitan School: An Unsolved Puzzle, Jim Warren offering a dealer’s perspective of Tourte’s bows, Philip Kass’s in-depth look at Violin Design and Construction in the 17th Century Piedmont. Two leading lights in scientific study of violins, the Smithsonian’s Bruno Frolich and Gary Strum, gave an great talk about what we can learn from the technology.
Like any good show, you want to end on a high-note and Milanese violin maker and historian Carlo Chiesa’s animated and informative discussion of The Followers of the Amatis in Cremona and Northern Italy would have been hard to follow in any other way than cocktails and a banquet at Arnaud’s Restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
The final day of the show was a denouement, with a string clinic from Connolly & Co. vice president Christopher Rohrecker, and a Players Meet Makers session.
Events like this leave the brain and the heart brimming with ideas and inspiration.
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