Restoring the past

Stephen Bacon never could have imagined that his teenage hobby of buying and repairing broken instruments at flea markets would lead to his current livelihood.

Bacon, 53, who's owned Bellwood Violins in Ashland for nearly 20 years, is shocked by the treasures that turn up in his stringed instrument, restoration and repair shop.

He restored a lute from the 1580s and new and used violins dangle from the ceiling of his business, located at 330 E. Hersey St., Whole and disassembled cellos lay atop tables, while two 17th century violas created by Mozart's violin maker are tucked in a corner. Wood blocks, chisels and varnish are scattered around the various work stations and an ancient, one-stringed Japanese ichi gen-kini stands behind a door.

The Britt and Oregon Shakespeare Festivals have allowed him the privilege of touching some of the most expensive instruments played by world famous musicians.

Lynn Harrell needed quick repairs on his $4 million, 1721 Montagnana cello while at the Jacksonville venue. Bacon fondly remembers that he didn't want to wash his hands for a week after touching it.

He recently finished a three-year restoration project on a 17th century Spanish harp with a bent neck and a thousand little cracks.

"It can take decades upon decades for wooden instruments to get bent out of shape," said Bacon. "And my clients understand that it can take years to bend them back into shape."

Dr. Jack Schuman, a retired art history professor who been collecting historical instruments for more than four decades, owns the antique harp.

"I walked into Steve's shop one day and saw the harp in a thousand little pieces," said Schuman. "I thought I was going to have a heart attack."

Bacon said many of his clients don't want to know his process for restoring and repairing their instruments. "Like Jack, I think they'd get very disturbed by the sight. Musicians become very attached to their instruments. It's a very intimate relationship between the two."

John Lyons of Ashland, who recently retired from the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra, is trying to be patient while Bacon restores his 1821 cello that he's played since the 40s.

"He's done work for me before and he's an excellent craftsman," said Lyons, "But I'll be delighted to get my cello again."


Three generations of Bacon's family were involved one way or another with the violin. His great-grandfather, a grain baron and violinist, founded the Chicago Symphony. Bacon cut his teeth making and restoring stringed instruments in his grandfather's shop in Hermosa Beach, Calif. And his mother, Boney, was an artist and musician.

Bacon tried to rewrite his "destiny with the violin" by serving an apprenticeship in the bike trade for several years. But no matter how many career twists and turns he took, the writing was on the wall.

He started playing the trumpet in third grade; and since that time, he's learned how to play everything from the tuba to the flute. But a violinist virtuoso, he is not.

"I don't sound much better than the beginning violinists who come to my shop," he said.

He's studied music and construction of historical instruments all over the world. But it was the cornetto, a wooden instrument with a small trumpet-like mouthpiece that brought Bacon to Ashland in the first place.

He performed with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Show in 1979 and fell in love with the town. A few years later, he returned and started a shop making recorders before returning to his original passion of repairing stringed instruments.

"All I have ever wanted to do with my life is help people," said Bacon. "And what I've learned throughout the years is that music does just that. It transcends culture, language, everything. So in my own way, I am helping."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x226 at .

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