Galen works a knife over his violin

Cakes, stones and violins

Year’s ago when I was an associate member of the Stone Sculptor’s Guild in Calgary, I took a lot of advice from a stone carver who’s father had been a cake decorator. This was a formative issue for the young stone carver. He watched his father work tirelessly making art that never lasted. Cakes, after all, are extraordinarily impermanent. Stones less so.

When it comes to stones and cake, the difference in longevity is mostly about the chemical makeup of the medium. There has to be a serious disaster to utterly destroy a stone sculpture. But degrees of permanence is not always so straight forward. Take Wikipedia, for example.

There is a huge community of volunteers and a few paid staff that keep it running. And if Wikipedia lasts a hundred years, and it could, then it will not be simply because of the chemical properties of the medium. It will still exist by the sheer organizing effort of the community of supporters.

Violins are more like Wikipedia than a stone sculpture.1

It doesn’t take much effort to utterly destroy a violin. You would need much less than an earthquake to do so. Heck, our bunny rabbit could easily reduce one to toothpicks in about a day. But despite their relative frailty, violins tend to last well. They generally last longer than people do. Sometimes many centuries.2

And this is evidence of the extent to which they are cared for by artists and artisans. It turns out that the violin is designed so that there is very little that you can’t repair.
Violin carved by Galen Hartley

It’s not every day that you meet a violin maker. But I did. And a couple weeks ago Galen Hartley showed me his workshop, his current violin in progress (nearly finished!) and the rough outline of the next one.

#2 violin by Galen Hartley

Galen Hartley in his workshop

  1. Ha ha! This is a hypothetical comparison, since we don’t really know if Wikipedia will actually last a hundred years. But you get the point.
  2. I actually have no idea if this is the case.

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  1. After seeing the movie the Red Violin (an epic canadian, french, italian production i believe) I am convinced that any instrument/device that is cherished can endure.
    And I didn’t know that Galen is a violin maker, that is way too cool and to quote the goat “that’s just unfair” that’s how cool that is.

  2. One of the principles that the Longnow people have followed in designing their 10 000 year clock is that if it’s going to survive it will have to require winding.

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