Revealing Sartory's secrets: A look at one of the 20th century's finest bow makers

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Often called the finest bow maker of the 20th century, Eugène Sartory was a fastidious artisan whose work shows efficiency and reliability. Richard Morency examines a bow from Sartory’s middle period to reveal his working methods

Held in Paris in 1889, the Exposition Universelle celebrated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution and the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower. In December of the same year, Eugène Nicolas Sartory arrived in Paris with a few tools, an extraordinary talent, a certain audacity and a great sense of business. This young bow maker, just 18 years of age, was to become one of the most famous craftsmen of his time. Most bow makers and collectors agree that Sartory’s bows are of great beauty, the result of their unique style, choice of wood and efficiency of construction. How was he able to produce bows of such quality so consistently? What tools did he use, and how did he use them?

A study of Sartory’s bows reveals a number of characteristic details. Looking at the traces left by the tools, one gains a glimpse into his working method, his gestures and movements. While it is tempting to speculate about Sartory’s way of working and the tools he used, we can be certain of little – not having seen the great bow maker at his workbench. Still, we can strive to reach this ideal of beauty in the making of modern bows, or at least draw inspiration from it. Attempting to copy the work of master bow makers of the past can be a formative experience – indeed, a number of present-day bow makers consider it essential to the development of expertise. So let us imagine Sartory in his time, and explore this great bow maker’s art with pleasure, curiosity, humility and all the respect that we owe him…

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