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Organistrum (medieval hurdy-gurdy), based on stone sculptures from Leon and Burgos (Spain). Designed and built by Wolodymyr Smishkewych and Eugene Smishkewych; hardware, final adjustments, and finish by Melvin Dorries. 2010.
I have to say that the job opening at Fine Woodworking did not describe the job qualifications as “classical singer specializing in early music with a passion for hurdy-gurdies and other obscure instruments, with knowledge of lutherie, who can read, edit, and write articles on woodworking.”
But that’s a good description of who I am, and fortunately for both Fine Woodworking and for me, the match was made. I can add to this mix that I am also a hand tool apasionado (a few steps up from ‘aficionado’), though I’ve never shied away from power tools, and my woodworker’s heart is in a happily-shifting love affair between Japanese and European tools and techniques.
Although I originally hail from central New Jersey, I recently moved with my partner (also a professional musician) and three children to Connecticut from León, Spain, where I had been freelancing in music for a short time. Before that, I’d been living in Bloomington, Indiana. It’s a wonderful town with a great university, great music of all kinds, and amazing craftspeople. (Also known on the silver screen for bicycling and basketball–remember “Breaking Away” and “Hoosiers?”)
As a youngster I often looked fondly over my Spanish grandfather’s shoulder while he worked in his amazingly compact workshop in Galicia, Spain, but my hands-on experience with carpentry and home improvement happened at the hands of my father, who is a whiz at home projects. He’s created an immense amount of built-ins, made beds, and repaired countless things in the course of our growing up (being the oldest of four brothers meant lots of things around the house were prone to breakage). My musical interests gave a twist to my woodworking ones: in the last decade, I became more and more involved in lutherie. From 2003-2004 I enrolled at the violinmaking program at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, under master violinmaker Thomas Sparks. My interests lay in very early string instruments, and in the photos above you can see my first instrument, a reconstruction of a Germanic lyre based on archeological digs from Oberflacht, Germany. Also pictured is an organistrum, the medieval model of an instrument known as the hurdy-gurdy. It was designed by me based on stone carvings on the cathedrals of León and Burgos, Spain. It was principally constructed by my brother, Eugene Smishkewych, a luthier also trained at Indiana, with metalwork, finish and final details by Melvin Dorries of Hurdy Gurdy Crafters in Metamora, MI.
As a new associate editor at Fine Woodworking, I’m incredibly excited to be a part of crafting the premier woodworking magazine that has been my own constant woodworking companion for years. Although I’ll be sure to touch on numerous topics in my contributions to the magazine and the website, I’ll be especially prone to waxing poetic about vintage goodies, amazing new hand tools, my favorite Japanese or Western doodad du jour, or the delight of finding and working with reclaimed wood. Luckily, I’m in the best company for those kids of pursuits here at Fine Woodworking.
I’m looking forward to our future conversations on this blog. I’m also looking forward to pumpkin pie this weekend. Happy Thanksgiving holiday to all those of you celebrating it!
Germanic lyre, after archeological finds in Oberflacht, Germany. Designed and built by Wolodymyr Smishkewych. 2004.
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@Justo, muchísimas gracias por tu comentario. Efectivamente, uno de los cinceles en curva para los zocos (el que lleva forma de dedo del pié, para cavar el fondo interior) lo utilizamos también en la luthiería medieval para desbastar los huecos en instrumentos de cuerda como las fídulas, de cuerpo hecho de pieza única algo que hay en común no solo con los que hacen zuecos sino también que hacen rabeles, por Asturias y Cantabria.
@Justo, thanks so much for your comment. In fact, one of the clog-makers tools that we share in common for medieval lutherie is the toe-shaped curved gouge, which we use in instrument making to hollow out the recesses of solid-body instruments such as medieval fiddles; we share this technique with clog-makers and those who make rebecs, in Asturias and Cantabria for example.
@kenerv1, Thanks for your interest! I can't guarantee that since I am no longer an associate editor at FWW (as of 2011) however, do check back at my blog since I may be writing on the topic of who to restore and repair a nyckelharpa, sometime this autumn or early winter! One interesting thing you may like to check out is the moraharpa, the n-harpa's medieval ancestor. Have fun!
Both my granfathers where from Galicia, and both, being farmers from very small villages, had a rudimentary woodworking shop in which they made varios agricultural implements, very rustic furniture and even shoes with wooden soles and leather uppers(zuecos in spanish).
It has been very emotive to read your blog. I have also noticed the musical instruments in Leon, Burgos and other medieval churches, but is the conection whith Galicia that has called my atention.
I am now 67, live in Madrid and work wood as a serious hobby.I think that your work is very impresive and your decision to interpret old sculptures admirable.
Thank you for all.
Que grande eres Bloyu esto no es impresionante es MARVELOUS !!! madre mia que talento Tiene que ser dificilisimo hacer eso (como todos los instrumentos) pero tocarlo no tiene que ser nada facil
Glad to see you here. I now have reason to hope that I might see an article on building a Swedish Nyckelharpa in Fine Woodworking. Am I going too far?
Thanks for your comments. Musical instruments are indeed as wonderful to make as their construction is mysterious to behold. Lutherie, a term applied mostly to building string instruments, is something that is much easier to do when guided by a master builder. Having said that, I should note that a very considerable number of luthiers have been and are self-taught! One good way to enter the world of instrument building is to find a kit to start you off inexpensively. For the most recent kit I've seen, check Grizzly's page, where if you search for 'guitar' or even 'ukulele' you'll find several of their nicely-priced kits. Other places you can start include luthier suppliers such as Stewart Macdonald (stewmac.com) and Metropolitan Music (metmusic.com); they also have kits as well as wood, tools, and parts for guitars, violins, and more.
@YonedaD: I'll be happy to post them some time soon. When I do, I'll see if I can get a way to link them to photos in the Gallery.
Enjoyed both your blog writing and the photo of the hurdy-gurdy.
Would love to see more. Would also love to build one, but despite extensive woodworking experience, don't know where to start with musical instruments.
Could you write an article?
Thanks, Frank Gloeckner
Cool! Could please you post some mp3s of your instruments? I haven't heard-a-hurdy-gurdy in a month of Sundays.
Carl Swensson's woodworking skills go very, very deep. But they go wide as well.
The Shakers had this diminutive design pegged
Fast, fun approach to making a comfortable, casual seat
In this video Michael finishes the first of the three boxes. Gluing-up, planing, sanding and finishing bring a new piece of art to the world.
In this video Michael starts work on the second box, a carved and painted Saddle lid box.
Michael begins carving the saddle lid box with his ripple pattern along the top. Then turns to his 5/30 gouge to texture the sides of the box. This isn't work…
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