Amati. Montagnana. Vuillaume. Gagliano. Stradivari. Fétique. Tubbs. Stainer. Peccate. Were there a Hall of Fame for violin and bow makers, these names would surely be chiseled in stone over the broad mahogany (or poplar? flamed maple?) doors leading to the exhibition chamber. Italian, French, German, English makers, all proudly represented.
There would be a “modern era” wing, where visitors could marvel at the concentration of master archetiers toiling in the fog of the upper Pacific Northwest, modern examples bathed in gentle light: This is the violin from the blindfold test that bested the Strad! New names would be carved here: Zygmuntowicz, Benning, Siegfried, Carruthers, Miralles, Chin. I imagine a young girl delighting in this place, wondering about the maker of her next instrument—the question never even crossing her mind. Where are all the women?
This spring, the Celebrating Women Luthiers exhibit has an answer: They’re absolutely everywhere.
‘Celebrating Women Luthiers’ is an affirmative statement in reference to the state of the trade for these makers and lutherie in general.
Look through a history book, and the violin makers mentioned are exclusively male. However, rumors of instruments attributed to men having actually been fashioned by women abound. Perhaps the most well-substantiated example is that of Katarina Guarneri (née Roda), who is thought to have worked in a meaningful capacity alongside her husband Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù during his life, and possibly used this training to support herself after his death in 1744.
But the Celebrating Women Luthiers exhibit isn’t about antiquity. It is a testament to the creativity and skill of multiple generations of more modern makers, and an opportunity for players who visit the sponsoring shops to play instruments from all over the world. The traveling exhibit is scheduled to begin mid-March 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia, hosted by Huthmaker Violins and coinciding with the American String Teachers Association national conference. It is to move in early April to Vermont, where it will remain at Vermont Violins in South Burlington until April 16, when it makes another move to Alexandria, Virginia. The exhibition will finish there at Brobst Violins on May 7.
The origin story of this exhibition begins at the Violin Society of America (VSA) convention in 2014. Claire Givens and Joyce Miller (of Bernhardt House of Violins) sponsored a luncheon called “Celebrating Women in the Violin Trade.” Anna Huthmaker and her mother Dixie attended and were inspired to create something interactive, where musicians around the country could have the chance to play instruments they knew were made by women.
The participant selection process started with an open call, with many submissions coming at the behest of experienced luthiers encouraging newer colleagues to participate. In all, the works of nearly three dozen makers were accepted for visitors to examine and enjoy—and purchase. Submissions came from around the world, including the work of a luthier in Iran, who, at press time, was trying to get her instruments to the U.S. for the opening of the exhibit.
Atlanta, Georgia: Huthmaker Violins, March 17–26, 2022
Alexandria, Virginia: Brobst Violins, April 1-16, 2022
South Burlington, Vermont: Vermont Violins, April 25-May 7, 2022
The exhibition runs the gamut in terms of style, specialty, and experience. Instruments and bows by established names like Ute Zahn, Stephanie Voss, and Marilyn Wallin will be shown side-by-side with examples from newer makers, mirroring the real-world camaraderie and mentorship that thrives between generations. Many of these luthiers have won prestigious awards for their work, nearly all of have gone to the schools and intensive training courses that are known for honing raw desire into precision and artistry (several of them are on faculty at such places), and none of them could have gotten to where they are without the support of the lutherie community at large. “Celebrating Women Luthiers”is an affirmative statement in reference to the state of the trade for these makers and lutherie in general—a sample indicating the depth and vibrancy of the whole.
For example, from the group of international participants, exhibit visitors will find the work of Swiss-born luthier Marianne Jost, who is living the dream and posting it on Instagram for all to see. Operating out of Cremona, she provides her audience with an affectionate and artful look into the daily life of a maker: endless curly wood shavings, richly varnished scrolls in profile, ghostly pale violins in progress. Known for instruments with a powerful tone and responsiveness, Jost also studied bow making with masters Vincenzo and Francesco Bissolotti and Giovanni Lucchi. Her instruments are found in shops and in the hands of players all over the world—modern, reverent examples of Cremonese traditions that shape her approach.
Of the many American makers represented, violinist Amelyse Arroyo is a bow maker and restorer living in Gainesville, Florida. As a youngster, she had a burning curiosity to understand the intricacies of how everything worked—Arroyo is the daughter of an engineer—and would frequently importune luthiers to let her watch while they tended to her instrument. She would go on to study music education with an emphasis in violin at college, where she couldn’t help but notice how poorly the instruments of her own students were maintained.
After graduating, her career would be one of passions running in parallel: working in a violin shop for over a decade—doing repairs, maintenance, and setup—while also cultivating a career in teaching and performing. When the shop asked her to learn to rehair bows, the engineer’s mind kicked in again: “I thought, to rehair them I need to know how to repair them, but to do it better, I should learn how to make them!”
Thus began her journey in bow making with her instructors and mentors Lynn Armour Hannings (another featured maker in this exhibit), George Rubino, Steve Beckley, Rodney Mohr, and David Forbes. While she is a bow maker in her own right, she continues look to her current teacher (Forbes) for input. “Right now, my favorite thing is having the approval of my teacher when I do a process well. He often says TLAR, short for that looks about right, to me.” She has some lofty goals: to study in France, make Baroque bows, and win a gold medal at the VSA competition.
Allow your mind to turn again to the little girl (and perhaps her brother) leaving the Hall of Fame, talking excitedly on the way home about seeing the chisel once actually used by Marilyn Wallin; the real sawdust from Stephanie Voss’ shop; the spectacular flame on the back of a Carrie Scoggins violin. This new version presents a more accurate, complete representation of who the makers of fine bows and stringed instruments are today. Perhaps after admiring the work of these makers, the little girl might decide to make an instrument of her own.