Thanks to my students for letting me know it had been published!
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Perfection for the Ages
By Aurelio Sanchez
Of the Journal
University of New Mexico fine-arts graduate student Cedra Wood said an "aura of mystery" fascinates her whenever she helps craft a reproduction of a vintage violin made by 16th- and 17th-century violin-making masters like Italians Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari.
"I think the fascination lies in why we try to make exact replicas of these instruments, right down to the sound," she said.
"It comes from trying to find out where Amati and Stradivari were coming from, and from striving for the greatness that was theirs and other violin makers during an era when music from a violin was the most beautiful."
Wood and White are part of the New Mexico Musical Heritage Project at UNM, which teaches students the art of violin making and how to play folk music of New Mexico.
The medal bestowed on the pair during the international competition in Italy is particularly prestigious, White said, because their work was recognized by a jury composed of the most famous violin makers and players of Europe.
"What was most impressive was the perfection of her (Cedra) artwork, done originally (by Amati) on commission for King Charles IX of France and King Phillip II of Spain," White said.
"All of the jurors were very impressed with her outstanding work," he said, adding that he attended the competition. Wood said she couldn't attend, but was excited when White sent a cryptic e-mail informing her of the medal.
"I was tremendously excited," said Wood, who became part of the project when White recruited her after seeing one of her paintings that contained violins.
"I figured if she could paint a violin in a painting, then she can do a wonderful job in painting a real violin," White said.
A laborious, intricate and time-consuming process, the making of the medal-winning violin took more than a year, Wood said.
"There's something really attractive about learning skills that are so specific, precise and lovely," she added.
The process involves first cutting wood from a forest, delicately shaping and carving the instrument body with a variety of tools, gluing, sanding, preparing varnish and applying multiple coats of varnish, painting, attaching fingerboard, soundpost and bridge, and installing strings.
"They seem like small treasures when they're finally done," Wood said of the violins. "It felt like I was connecting to another era, another world."
White said the images on the backs of the violins made by Andrea Amati are either religious or courtly images to please the kings and queens and musicians in the courts of France and Spain.
Reproduction violins and violas generally begin at $10,000 and go up, "especially if they are awarded a medal for workmanship or antique work."
White describes "another world" in 17th-century New Mexico, when Franciscan friars arriving with the Spanish explorers brought Italian-made violins and instrument-making skills.
"One of the things that Franciscans did to try to convert the indigenous peoples of what is now Mexico and New Mexico was to teach them to make and to play violins," White said.
Evidence of that is reflected in the traditional re-enactments of the matachines, an ancient dance drama staged in the Southwest for centuries.
"To this day, the matachines drama is performed, but today they're playing factory-made violins made in Germany, when they could be making and playing the same instruments that belonged to the early settlers, adventurers and priests of New Mexico," White said.
White said he hopes that winning a medal at the international competition will raise awareness of the work done by the New Mexico Musical Heritage Project. "It's important for New Mexicans to know that long before anybody made or played violins in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, people were making and playing them in New Mexico."