By Doug Cox
I got the story on the maple I am using on the "Hatch" violin this week.
The "quilted" maple came to me from Tom Bodett. Tom is a Storyteller. You need to be careful about story tellers. They like to tell stories, and they like to tell good stories. According to Gennarose Nethercott, a Brattleboro raised poet, there are three rules of storytelling:
each story has its own rules
at least something has to be true
the story is bigger than any of us
the story has to fit the attention available, so stuff gets left out
stories and numbers (and rules) are relative
So Tom's story was that the wood was collected, from some unknown (to Tom), source by Rich Blazej. Tom had the wood and it was too unique and too small for any project he had yet imagined, yet too special to not keep for something special someday, and maybe a violin would be that something special, and would I like to have a look at it. So I look and something inside says "yes" and off we go. This is the story of many a violin.
I didn't know Rich as a woodworker but we played together - he clarinet, me tuba - in Bruce Corwin's American Legion Band during the Iraq war, and I knew Rich as an activist and a voice for a better world. Turns out he was a draft-resisting CO during Korea, me during Vietnam, his son in the Reagan era, family roots in WW-II. Turns out Souza can inspire community and corporate action in many hearts, for marching not all in the same direction.
So Claude, Rich's son, comes in on Friday with instructions from Tom to tell me more about the wood, now clearly committed to being a violin. Tom knows Claude because Claude made the cabinets in Tom's house and they both love wood. So Claude tells his part of the story:
Richard "Dick" Steele was a cabinet maker in Cambridge Port, VT. I don't know if barns were invented by Yankee hoarders, or Yankee hoarders were invented by barns, but there you have it, chickens and eggs yet again. So Dick worked in wood and collected lots of stuff: 60 old cars around the property, lifetimes of many magazines stacked in corners: anything too valuable to throw away, or perhaps too much trouble to throw away, found a home, or at least a place to stay for a while.
So Dick's estate extended to a barn in Saxtons River that had been a tannery. Some things, including wood and magazines like to be dry and the barn filled, as barns will do. The time comes when life ends and new order asserts itself and Dick's stuff was up for auction. Walter Phelps, another woodworker bought the barn-full, or at least what he wanted of it, and needed help going through stuff and moving out what would live on in his barn. So Claude helps out and gets the pick of a few boards, and then Claude asks Tom for some space to store his share in Tom's barn, and this piece somehow falls to Tom in payment for rent or some-such, and from Tom to me.
So its turns out Rich never saw this wood, and the story is ok without him. The violin taking shape at HatchSpace is the next step in human seduction by extraordinary natural beauty. The wood, as part of the violin, will live on for 300 years in the hands of 12 or more owners. This natural process of seduction and of wood passing through human lives will go on. (The movie "The Red Violin" is a wonderful telling of the story of the life of one violin)
So I don't know where the tree grew, or who cut it down, or when, or who ran the saw through the log, or what other eyes and hands took its measure and set it aside, but I do know something of the why, and how it came to me. I'm pleased to be passing it on in its new form.