As my Folklife Program colleagues are out of the office moving our exhibit Made to Be Played: The Traditional Art of Kentucky Luthiers to Hyden, KY, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about lutherie and our exhibit.
Lutherie, as I discovered shortly after working here, is the craft of making or repairing stringed instruments. And for all you intrigued by etymology, luthier comes from the French luth, meaning lute. (Yes, I’m a word nerd and proud of it!)
As I said earlier, I was a total newbie when it came to stringed instruments; I may have sung in my high school choir, but I can’t read music and got as far as playing half of Jingle Bells on the acoustic guitar my parents bought me, much to their chagrin. So, I was able to claim ignorance for a little while, but not for very long.
Of course, when I don’t know something my first instinct is to hit the books…okay, I’ll be honest, the internet. First thing to pop up was a Wikipedia article (no surprises there) and the Guild of American Luthiers. Now I was really embarrassed when I found out they had a convention in my old neck of the woods, Tacoma, WA in 2008. Professional embarrassment not withstanding, I quickly learned a lot about lutherie in general and was surprised by the amount of luthiers Kentucky has to offer.
Our Made to be Played Exhibit obviously highlights the fine craftsmanship and ingenuity that Kentucky lutheirs have brought to their trade, and through the exhibit and the research conducted for it, I’ve had the change to see some instruments that are works of art and makers who are artists. The traveling exhibit is now making its way to Hyden as I type, and features such artists as the late, great Homer Ledford, Warren May, Donna Lamb and several others. Last summer, the Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky Arts Council hosted a larger version of the exhibit that even included performances. Check out the video below for a taste.
So, if you’re going to be in Hyden this month, think about stopping by the Citizens Bank to enjoy the traditional art of Kentucky’s fine luthiers until August 20th.