Stephen Bacon strings 'em up

"Do I create art?" asks Ashland violin luthier and gentleman Stephen Bacon. "That's a good question."

Having repaired, restored and built musical instruments for over thirty years, as proprietor of Bellwood Violin, named for his mother, Bacon has developed a philosophy.

"If you use your hands at something, you are a laborer. If you use your hands and also your head, you are a craftsman. If you bring your heart into it, then you become an artist," said Bacon. "If you bring your passion into something, it feeds you. Very few people ever make big bucks as an artist. The rest of us are fed by our passions."

Walking into Bacon's tucked-away little workshop, nestled off Hersey Street, is like walking into a beautiful inquisition. Rows of instruments, hung and gutted, awaiting resurrection, line the walls amid a menagerie of tools ranging in appearance from exotic to plain brutal.

"They can be made from anything, wood, bone, bamboo, skin, but all cultures have evolved with a certain understanding of instruments," said Bacon. "It's fascinating to look at the ancient and antiqued folk stuff and see how it has evolved into modern instruments."

"Returning to primitive instrument work has always been an attempt to break free," said Bacon. "It's more about proportion than measurement. Every note is a mathematical proportional relationship."

In that sense, Bacon is really a translator, taking the potential of wood and air and crafting it into a vehicle capable of harmonious coupling.

"The whole thing is that violin is fake work," said Bacon. "You strive to create something that looks like an ancient masterpiece. That's an art, a great art, in itself."

Bacon never quite planned his life to go in this direction. Himself a musician, and having schooled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Bacon arrived at Ashland as a musician for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But, after leaving to toil in Europe for awhile, Bacon had the epiphany that he was slightly akimbo to his true calling.

A part time teacher, perpetual student and full-time master-dabbler, Bacon is a lot of fun. "I'm mostly a (wood) turner, and a carver. I know a bit about a paint brush. Anything I can draw, I can carve." And, having done such for thirty years, Bacon has gained a solid reputation at it. Working all the instruments for OSF, and caring for Southern Oregon University's collection of over 700 instruments as well as working with many local musicians and taking specialty commissions, like crafting Olaf Solderbac's eight stringed, dragon-headed "viola of love," keeps Bacon a busy man.

"Sometimes you get neat jobs from the Festival," said Bacon. "They're trying to create soundscapes, something acoustic with a visual aspect to it. I've been called to create some very interesting sound effect instruments."

Bacon has also worked creating some very eclectic fantasy instruments over the years.

"There are actually a lot of instrument makers here," said Bacon. "It's because the wood is here. We have the best Spruce in the nation. There are all kinds of other wood here as well. Each have their own characteristics. Traditionally, each instrument has its own wood, but from an artistic perspective, one doesn't have to be limited to that."

It is similar with the instruments Bacon creates.

"Violins all sound different," said Bacon. "They look different and they feel different. Look at what makes an artist. I learned from teaching at the Wood-working Guild that everyone has their own style, and, after working long enough, that style develops into a sixth sense."

Check out Bellwood Violin at 330 E. Hershey, or call 482-1436.

Share This Story