A different kind of craft

When we were out in Seattle a couple weeks ago it dawned on me that my dad is a crafter too…just a different kind. I really wanted do a blog post about him and share his amazing craft with everyone!


This is my dad, Marv. He used to be a research chemist, but now he’s retired. Since the time I can remember he has always had more hobbies than I can keep track of. Trains, trees, birds, drawing, piano, classical music, seashells, sailing, racketball, running. When you start to go through the list, it’s really an impressive amount of interests for one person. About eight years ago he picked up a new, pretty amazing hobby: violin-making!


See that thing in his hand? That’s his most recent violin-in-progress. At the beginning of the week it looked like this:



And by the end of the week it looked like this, complete with its own hand-carved cherry chin rest:



Isn’t that cool? Sometimes I think it’s a little crazy. But it’s definitely cool.

Dad started making violins with a book and a kit after he would come home from work. Now that he’s retired, it’s expanded into nearly a full-time obsession. We’re talking ordering-large-shipments-of-spruce-from-Germany-obsession here. Learning to make violins well is something that takes years and traditionally involves hours and hours of apprentice-style instruction, so Dad has spent numerous weeks during summers and winters at “violin school” and “bow camp” to learn how to craft from experienced violin makers. And just in case you’re wondering, we’re talking no power tools here, everything is done by hand. For the last year he’s been driving into Seattle to work side by side with a local violin maker as a student in his studio. He managed to make this violin in about two and a half months. So far he’s made five violins (one of which I play) and one cello (for my sister Elli). It’s been fun to play the violins he’s made. Each one sounds different, and — I think this is really neat — better than the one before!


On top of that, about five years ago he decided he should probably take some violin lessons so that he could play the instruments he was making. So now he’s getting really good at playing them too.

I’m so fortunate to have grown up in a musical family; classical music was on the radio or record player (and then CD player) all the time and all of us, my three sisters and both my parents, played one or more instruments. While I may have groaned about it as a teenager, waking up at 9 AM sharp on weekends to one of your parents practicing the piano just isn’t something that happens in every house. I used to complain about having to practice the violin or piano when I got home from school, but now I am so grateful to be able to play both instruments reasonably well (and pipe organ maybe not-so-well, but at least I try…). As I get older I appreciate that more and more.

Dad really is an inspiration to me when it comes to doing what you love; he’s always found time for his hobbies, whether it’s practicing piano or making a violin (and of course my mom deserves full credit too for supporting him and helping him to make that happen, especially when we were small). And music is such a wonderful creative outlet, even if you’re just listening.Β I hope you enjoyed meeting my dad and seeing his latest violin!

47 thoughts on “A different kind of craft

  1. Very cool. You have a very creative family – and a connection to Seattle. Maybe someday you can do a class or something out here? I would love to take your handmade wardrobe series. I wish Seattle was closer to Ann Arbor. Too far to commute for the class.

  2. this is so cool, rae. your dad’s violins are truly beautiful and that’s wonderful that you have a creative family. ditto on the class in seattle! i’d come! πŸ™‚

  3. Oh Rae, I love this! I always wanted to play the violin. I’ve now married into a family of musicians, the violin being their “base”. Perhaps some day I’ll do Suzuki with my son/daughter. What a wonderful hobby. I know how much patience and skill goes into crafting such beautiful instruments (in look AND sound). Thank you for sharing a bit of your dad with us!

  4. Thank for sharing this. Your dad’s violin is absolutely beautiful.

    I am a university instructor, as well as an applied chemist researcher. Your dad is truly a great inspiration to me. He put his effort into things that he is interested in and loves. I always wonder if I am getting too serious with my hobbies but reading this post..I got my answer.

    Rae..you also have been a great inspiration to me..thank you very much πŸ™‚

  5. Thank you for this beautiful post ! I play cello too…for now it is setting in my house in Europe..but I always open it when I go home once a year….This is truly an amazing man , your dad. Thank you for sharing that with us.

  6. A couple of times growing up I got to visit our luthier’s workshop. It’s like Santa’s workshop, except real. There’s something magical about those true crafting arts. And something amazing about learning new skills during “retirement”. My own semi-retired mother had her first book published a few weeks ago. So proud of her!

  7. Hi! This post caught my attention greatly! I decided to stop and read through it and appreciate every word you shared! My daughter who is 7 and going to be 8 in a few months has been taking violin and piano lessons since she was 5? She complains when its time to practice the instruments because she feels she never has time to play, but she does! Lately, she is interested in how the instruments were made! I show her this post and told her she might be able to make her own violin someday! Thank you for the post!

  8. Oh Rae, this is so amazing. What a cool hobby! And I love that he is learning it all in his (ahem) advanced years. Sometimes I get to feeling all panicky that I’m not going to have enough time to do the stuff I want to do, then I remember… hey… we’ve got a few more decades. I am also totally jazzed (though not surprised) about your musical background! I don’t remember you ever sharing that? I am a pianist myself and have never ever blogged about it, which is weird, because it is a significant part of my life. GO classical.

  9. Oh, and we were that family, too. Tuba Christmas tradition and the family string quartet (named yes, we have no viola), and I love being able to play the piano and cello. I just hope I have the fortitude to do it with my kids.

  10. I can’t handle how awesome this is, and I could write for days about why I so admire your dad for taking up this new craft. And I think violin-making is probably the very definition of “craft”. It’s just AWESOME, and so is he!

  11. Rae, this was one of my favorite posts! My husband and I truly believe in having a passion and hobby. My husband makes wine and brews his own beer in his spare time and I have my sewing thing. I think it is SO important as people age that they continue to be active. I too grew up in a house full of music. I am a singer and play piano (to a degree)……the hubby plays guitar. We are starting Savannah in piano lessons when she turns 4. Anyway, just loved this post……..it really hit home πŸ™‚

  12. Amazing. My two kids are learning violin 6 & 8. When the next one turns 4 he will learn the cello. Music is such a valuable thing to know! I’m a barely passable piano player and I want so much more for my kids.

  13. You look a lot like your dad!
    I love to finally get to see these gorgeous creations after hearing about them. Thanks so much for sharing!

    A class in Seattle may not be so far-fetched πŸ™‚

  14. That is awesome! I am the only person in my family that crafts/sews. But my 17 year old son plays classical guitar. He takes lessons from a master guitarist. He’s been playing for almost 4 years and before that he played clarinet for 4 years. We love listening to him practice daily, without any prompting. That’s how much he loves it. I always wished that I could play an instrument. I’ll stick with listening to my son play.

  15. Love this post! It’s so inspiring that he took on something so intensive when he retired. Most people (myself included) would shrug off the idea of doing something like that because it’s typically a life/career choice. Good for him!

    Also, very cool to know that you play the violin. I also play the violin and didn’t love the practicing growing up, but I do love having the skill! I majored in music, and now I teach singing and violin

  16. What a fascinating hobby; thanks for sharing your dad’s story. I hated practicing the piano growing up, but I’m really glad I know how now.

  17. I loved this post! I never thought of featuring either of my parents on my blog, although both deserve it! What a fantastic retirement hobby. My dad just retired and I think I can see his interest in trains creeping out more and more. And if I know him, by next Christmas he’ll have a full handmade village for his train to choo-choo around. πŸ™‚

  18. SO cool! I wish I had a piano in my house so my kids could complain about my playing. πŸ™‚ But now, they just have my sewing to complain about. I recently watched The Red Violin, so this post was cool to read after seeing that!

  19. Awesome! My violin teacher growing up was a luthier, and she made all of the parts for my violin, and made her own violins. She eventually moved to Italy to join a rather large school that made violins. I eventually stopped playing violin, but I still have the one with all of her custom parts, and I’m still in awe of the craft today.

  20. Not a very easy hobby to jump into, but much respect to your dad for enjoying it and doing well. I wish I could say I had that much commitment to a hobby!

  21. I have the violin my great-grandfather played over 100 years ago, then was passed down to my great-aunt, I thought that was cool. One made by your dad is even cooler!!
    I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to start learning piano and other stuff, here’s to hoping they get my musical ability πŸ™‚

  22. Apples don’t fall far from trees! What a unique thing to do. I haven’t picked my violin up in years and my piano is gathering dust. I will dust these off this season for caroling with my littles! Thanks!

  23. So when will your dad start a blog about his violin crafting? And when will he start taking orders? πŸ˜‰
    Truly inspiring. I wish my dad would throw himself into something useful in his retirement. You have a wonderful example for you and your children in his tenacity. Thanks for sharing!

  24. I believe there is a genetic predisposition to creativity. Musicality is a lovely gift to share with your family…and even more so when you can play on an instrument of your own making! It’s really cool to see where some of your roots are, Rae.

  25. AWESOME!!! Beautiful violins!! Although to me he doesn’t look old enough to be retired!! Loved the post. I’m originally from Michigan, but across the state. I lived on Lake Huron, and now temporarily make my home in SE Wisconsin.

  26. Beautiful, thank you for sharing. I won’t tell my daughter you actually appreciate being made to practice – she likes seeing your stuff while I’m noodling around in blogland and I don’t want her thinking you are to blame for my “meanness”. πŸ˜‰

  27. I also want to thank you for sharing you dad and his hobby. My husband and I both have music degrees and can appreciate all the time your dad puts into his “hobby”! I hope you will share all the comments with him.
    The instrument is very beautiful.

  28. Hi Rae! Your dad is awesome! I just have to share that my hubby has been building mandolins for the last 10 years as a hobby & it is truly an amazing thing to see a hunk of wood transform into a beautiful instrument. The scroll & curved lines of a violin are much like a mandolin too. And it is awesome to watch my kids dance & play to his playing on one that he carved by hand himself!

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