I dream instruments. It’s been happening for years, since long before I began actually building them. The dreams come in waves. The instruments (and other works) are ancient, and undiscovered, and revealed. Instruments are vehicles for traveling between and connecting. Known and unknown worlds. Old and new.
A dream is a vessel. It carries you somewhere. There’s an act of translation, transmutation, transformation, hinted at and possibly realized through these dreams and in this work. There’s a possibility of encountering, experiencing a sense of Presence, witnessing something ineffable. Reverence is a starting point.
This work has multiple starting points. It depends on considering—looking closely, pausing, looking again. There is intention, and ongoing reflection. The lines in the wood, the weight of the stone, the tension of the strings. Listening: resonance.
The creation of musical instruments is itself a starting point—for sculptures, both instrumental and not—and for the possible music that may emerge through these instruments. Music is a vehicle of prophecy.
This work has multiple starting points. One is simply in the wood—the walnut, salvaged, reclaimed, donated from several friends and local sources; the camphor, from an 80-year-old tree that grew next to our house in an outlying neighborhood of Sonoma, California, and had to be removed; redwood salvaged from old houses; manzanita and madrone.
I've been creating art works of various sorts my whole life. I began playing and studying music by the time I was eight or nine, with piano and a bit of guitar, then trumpet when I was ten, then guitar more intensively when I was fifteen or so. I started building guitars and other stringed instruments in the mid-1990s. I wanted a decent travel instrument, and found a kit mandolin that I put together with minimal tools. I took it to Argentina and left it there in my brother's house.
I'd been studying North Indian Classical music with Ali Akbar Khan, and wanted something fretless—my next several instruments were fretless mandolins and guitars (with a couple of zithers and lyres along the way), but it wasn't until 1999 that I had one refined enough to show off and play in front of master musicians. By then I was sharing a workshop with another luthier, in North Oakland.
In 2000 I got married, took a trip together to India, came back and moved to Sonoma (in 2001). The old house we had found needed a lot of work, and over the next several years, I spent many many hours rebuilding and adding to it. Not much time for instrument building or sculpture, but I managed to create a handful of new pieces. When our son was born in 2011, I decided to become a teacher of art (and sometimes history), which I've been doing since 2015. Over the past decade, alongside teaching, I've built up a more substantial body of work, featured on this website and in shows in Northern California.
Old and New Dreams, by the way, is also the name of a confluence of particular creative musicians (Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell) who came together in the 1970s, initially as members of Ornette Coleman‘s early quartets and quintets. Their music is spontaneous, inspired, prophetic, alive to possibility. It is with gratitude and reverence that I invoke their name.
Steven Zahavi Schwartz