Making Matters: How six bow makers crafted a bow in three days

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Making a bow in three days is a tall order for anyone – but for six bow makers together? Pierre Nehr explains how April’s ‘Bow Rush’ event in Paris became an educational experience for all concerned

In 2019 the organisers of the Franco-European Viola Association, Anne-Aurore Anstett and Jacques Borsarello, approached me with a unique proposition. At their most recent congress, they had organised a number of luthiers to collaborate on making a viola in just three days. The task had been successful and now they wanted my help to expand the project: would it be possible for six bow makers to work together on a single viola bow? This, they thought, would enable the participants to witness their own working methods in close proximity, and hopefully provide an interesting spectacle for the assembled crowd of musicians, luthiers and bow makers at the next event. The three-day time limit gave us the title of the project: ‘Bow Rush’.

The idea sounded both crazy and unprecedented (for me, finishing a bow normally takes around two weeks), so of course I said yes to it. Among other things, bow making is a craft taught by a master bow maker to an apprentice, meaning that techniques and manufacturing conventions can vary wildly between makers. And even though all of us descend in some way from the ‘Mirecourt school’, and we’re all familiar with each other’s bows, none of us had ever observed one another at work. So the six people I contacted straight away were winners at the 2019 competition: Victor Bernard, Doriane Bodart, Niall Flemming, Samuel Barreau, Alexandre Micheau and Jon Hess. All took no time to accept the challenge, although the last two had to drop out and were replaced by Emmanuel Carlier and Henry Guerra…

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