Friday, October 5, 2012

Making Things by Hand: North Bennet Street School

Let's do something pleasant today, like not follow the talking heads spinning off their axes after the debate...Let's turn to violins, instead!

two violins in fieri

While on the east coast I visited Katrina, my son's girlfriend, who goes to North Bennet Street School. Every hear of it? Me neither, but I wanted to take a look. The school's located in Boston's Little Italy section, one of the more interesting areas of the city, and is known for teaching traditional crafts: cabinetry, fine furniture, piano tuning, jewelry, book binding and violin construction. 

Inside, students make beautiful, functional objects. Tools serve as these students' books. And obsolete machinery, the kind you'd find a hundred years ago, is everywhere. 

 Book Presses

 more presses

 Inside the cabinetry shop

K makes books. She sits at her desk all day and works with her hands, practicing tooling, gilding, gouging, binding, and constructing book covers and boxes. She makes her own paper too, or when she has the money, buys it from Cave Paper, a Minnesota company that makes paper, like witches (if they made paper), in big bubbling vats inside a cave.

K works on gouging, while her benchmate Jeanne works on a box
Guilding tools, called fillets and gouges

Handmade books, bound two different ways,
with different papers and covers

Upstairs, above the bookbinders, are the violins. Gorgeous, glowing, intricate: one student said if you're off one centimeter you can ruin 6 months of work. The teacher is diligent and patient, overseeing students' work for three years. What these students were doing was nothing short of extraordinary— making two violins at once!

Danny shows his duo violins' delicate necks

 another student chisels the scroll

A small article appeared in yesterday's LA Times about the Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947). 

According to the article, the city of Czestochowa is renaming its orchestra after Huberman, a Jewish violin virtuoso and native son. But what intrigued me most was wondering what violin he used. I looked: it was the Gibson Stradivarius, ex-Huberman, ex because it was stolen twice, once, in 1919, out of a Viennese hotel room, and returned, and the next time, in 1936, out of Huberman's Carnegie Hall dressing room by a musician named Julian Altman. Altman went on to use it for the next 50 years! On his deathbed, he confessed to his wife, who returned the violin and received $236,000. When Joshua Bell bought it in 2001 he paid 4 mil. Violins have lives like you and me, only longer and more expensive!

Katrina doesn't quite know where all this is taking her— book conservation? art? academia? She may continue in a PhD program, or she may just continue making beautiful books and paper. What ever she does she will use her hands.

holding a hand made treat for a friend