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All photos by Rende Zoutewelle

Well, it is an all-consuming project. I do have a life….I think. But I basically wake up and go to sleep thinking about which flowers fit where, color balance, leaf size contrasts etc.

Rende’s photos have captured some of  the atmosphere of the étalage (aka shop or oil painting studio) where I’m working on the instrument. It is a small space – not even enough to walk completely around the case. A new instrument like this needs to be kept at an even temperature and humidity to prevent drying out, so it is on the chilly side – about 15 degrees centigrade. I wrap up well before I go to ‘work’.

Despite that inconvenience, I do like having it all concentrated down here, the previous ones took over my entire attic studio. That meant I really couldn’t do anything else.

Johan said that with the sound board being painted, the instrument is starting to come alive.

As soon as it was brought here, I felt it already had a soul from the amazing amount of love and care that the builder, Matthias, had put into it, and from all the thought that had gone into it even before the case was built. Now that I’m adding my part, there is such a strong visual emphasis, it is hard to remember that

the real soul of this instrument lies in the sound it will make.

Anyway, it is a really cool project to be involved in. I have to slow down to paint each plant and animal portrait as if it were the only one. And one by one they are forming a whole painted songboard.

woodpecker attacks songboard

Definitely connected to the long tradition of songboard painting, and yet also belonging to the 21st century in the choices we’ve made, both visually and in content.  For example, Johan had requests for various flowers and other elements to be included which are personal symbols connected to his own life. For a few people, beside the aesthetic quality, there will be added layers of meaning to the things painted on the instrument.

When it goes back to Germany at the end of the month, Matthias will make the keyboards (there are two) and attach the strings. And then it will be able to sing.

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Ingrid and Stuart outside of Bon Papillon Gallery,Café, Framers, & Shop

I was lucky enough to stumble on Bon Papillon last summer when in Edinburgh. I’d just visited the wool shop nearby and needed a cup of tea and a place to just chill for awhile.  It was festival time, and my search for knitting wools had brought me onto a side street off busy Prince’s street, a good way down the hill. It was a relief to get away from the intense bustle and crowds, and when I saw the little terrace and art gallery offering cake and coffee, I couldn’t resist.

Bon Papillon had just opened a few months earlier. Once inside I sat down at a wooden table in a lovely, warm and intriguing interior and had the best cake and coffee I can remember having in a long time. And the prices were as friendly as the owners. I chatted a bit with Ingrid Nilsson about her art and this new venture she was embarking on with her partner Stuart Allan. It turns out Ingrid is an exhibiting artist, and Stuart has 20 years experience in catering. Judging from the deliciousness factor of the food there (11 on a scale from 1-10), that’s not hard to believe.

How can you choose????

Stuart's Beet & Ginger cake with lemon frosting

I have mixed feelings about sharing this here, because part of the pleasure, of course, is the surprise in discovering a gem like this. I’d hate to see it overrun and the owners start to consider expanding; the appeal is in the intimacy of a small 2 person place with so much attention to detail. For me the charm lies in the combination of amazing, food made with  pure, natural ingredients, the friendly ambiance which leads to conversation between tables should you wish (people bring their knitting and sketchbooks), the reasonable prices, and the great selection of art. I should add that Stuart has started a framing shop in the back, and it looks like this too is done with the same care and high standard as his cooking. Even though it is not edible!

Café interior

Stuart framing

So, when you are in Edinburgh, do go to this little haven on Howe street, say hi to Ingrid and Stuart,and eat some cake for me.

Oh almost forgot to say, they carry my felt brooches.
Tip- they’ve got some wonderful art shows coming up, see their blog .

Hanzeclavecimbel progress

January 28, 2012

Classic rosette wreath around sound hole

The above photo is from a previous instrument painted in 2007 (made by H.van Gelder). The ‘rose’ is not yet added, the rose is a metal, usually gold-leafed, emblem of the particular instrument builder.

Because of the labour intensive nature of painting the harpsichord, I’ve not had the time/energy to blog. But I’ve got everything set up and am painting now, so there is a moment to touch in.

The above photo shows a fairly classical treatment of the rosette wreath around the sound- hole of these 17th century Flemish harpsichords.

Johan, my client (and new friend), wanted a slightly different take on it. Indeed, the whole harpsichord is shaping up to be firmly rooted in the best tradition, yet entirely of this age as well.

As I mentioned before, there are at least 3 of us directly involved with the hands-on birthing this instrument (plus there are many more supporters of this project behiind the scenes): Matthias Griewisch, the master builder/creator: Johan Hofmann, accomplished harpsichord player, musician, and teacher; and me, Sarah, the sound board decorator/flower factory.  And each one has their craft and input. The collaboration is fun and inspiring.  (Johan on left, Matthias on right).

Johan and Matthias in Matthias's workshop

As far as we (and music historians) know, this instrument has never been replicated before. It is a world premier and won’t be unveiled until the Peter de Groot music festival in Holland  this July. It has some surprising, unconvenitonal details, so I can only give you tantalizing glimpses of the work process.

Where this is all leading to is that the rosette wreath is done. On this instrument it is flowerless. Johan chose for bay leaf and ivy. Here it is,  Compare it to the one above, it has a whole different feel.

Rosette wreath around the Hanzeclavecimbel

Photos of harpsichords by Rende Zoutewelle. Photo in workshop, Bert Kiewiet

Ex-shop and oil painting studio ready for harpsichord

In December 2010, Johan Hofmann a respected Dutch harpsichordist and teacher, contacted me about an exciting project. He was having a new instrument made by Matthias Griewisch. Griewisch is considered by some to be one of the best period instrument builders working today.  My part in this would be to paint the songboard full of flowers as is traditionally done with Flemish keyboard instruments from around the mid-1600’s. The image below is of an instrument made by Herwil van Gelder for Jan Dirk Immelman. I painted it in 2007.

harpsichord decoration

I am deeply honoured to be involved in this project. In August last year I went to Edinburgh’s Museum of old instruments, St Cecilia’s and studied the original, unrestored version of this rare double manual harpsichord.

Ruckers double manual harpsichord circa 1638 photo St Cecilia's-

Johan and I (and Matthias via Johan) have been brainstorming about this instrument for a year now- how it would look, what we wanted to keep from the tradition, what we could change to reflect the times we live in as well as Johan and Matthias’ aesthetic preferences. And of course my sense of how this would all influence the sound board decoration.

It has been a fun and exciting collaboration so far, punctuated by dinner out on the terrace here, a pastry-filled birthday meeting, and climaxing in Johan and friend Bert’s return from Germany yesterday and the delivery of the ‘case’. (The case is the upper body of the harpsichord containing the songboard- the strings and keyboard will be added later).

It is so beautiful. It is just so beautiful. (I’ve been listening a lot to Aerial by Kate Bush, these words should be heard as music, they are about 45 seconds into the video).

It/she/he already has a soul. Here is a picture of him/her under wraps, awaiting adornment with garlands, flowers and arabesques. This will take about 6-8 weeks.

More will be revealed later.

Under wraps

Completing the series of  quotes on the craft life from ‘A Cabinet Maker’s Notebook’:

I’ve never believed that a really good craftsman is intended for a tremendous public…the craftsman lives in a condition where the size of his public is almost in inverse proportion to the quality of his work…(or) the total content of the work that he does.

And he really hasn’t that much use for a hundred or two hundred people banging on his door, wanting things, because finally, this craftsman is the one who does the work himself, and gives people something very personal and therefore not accessible to everyone.

Continuing quotes on the craft life from ‘A Cabinet Maker’s Notebook’:

There is a true need to create in a climate in which (fine work) can be done and appreciated.

Maybe this atmosphere of understanding will come…But until it does come, work. Even when you are worried, work. Don’t be pressured by originality..(the pressure of always having to create something new). It’s a losing battle. And so exhausting. Stay out of it.

It took me a long time to realize this and accept my unoriginal self. [Sarah’s note – he is too humble here, his works are beautiful and original]. Try to find the sort of people for whom there is another originality – that of the quiet object in unquiet times. It is rather ironic…We’re so uptight that relaxation is something new, especially with regard to things. So a piece in low key, where wood has its message and there is an idea and an inspiration, where someone has worked honestly and well but with humility too –  this is original.

Krenov Cabinet on stand

Continuing quotes on the craft life from ‘A Cabinet Maker’s Notebook’:

The best is by its very nature selective: why not accept it as such? This doesn’t make crafts as nostalgia or entertainment or therapy less justifiable. It’s simply that s a dedication, as the center of one’s life, craft is one thing- and as anything else it is a different and separate matter.

Both are needed. Between them we should have an enriching dialogue.
But force them together and you get gibberish.