We’re all familiar with
mixed-media art quilting, but rarely does one see this medium interpreted in
wood. Nonetheless, mandolin maker Rolfe Gerhardt was inspired by his
wife’s quilting (her piece "Fall Splendor" is shown here), and decided to create a mandolin with the theme of fabric,
needle, and thread. Here, he describes how this unique instrument-textile
hybrid came to be:
“I had started working with
quilted maple wood a few years ago, after some 35 years of building
mandolins. Up until then, my mandolins used what we call ‘fiddleback’ or ‘tiger-striped’
maple. Quilted maple has a burl figure in the wood that looks like it was
quilted. Since my mandolin design was well-developed—I had built over 400
mandolins—I was also beginning to create ‘art’ mandolins with unique colors and
complex inlays following themes. One was called ‘Daisies,’ and was
finished in green with detailed daisy inlays that took two full weeks to create.
“My wife, Susan, is an art
quilter, very active in area quilt groups and good enough to win occasional
ribbons in the state quilt show. So, naturally, quilting and quilted maple
eventually came together in my mind for an art mandolin. I decided that the
primary inlay would be on the finger rest which would have a hand with a thimble
and needle ‘quilting’ the edge of a quilted maple burl. The hand was a
pinkish mother-of-pearl, and the needle a shaped piece of pewter. The
tailpiece would have a spool of thread inlay; this turned out to be the most
challenging work since each strand of thread had to be separate to look right.
A fine plastic line served as thread.
“The biggest problem in
constructing this mandolin was figuring out how to indicate position markers on
the fingerboard for the player. I spent months trying to create little quilt
blocks of tiny pieces of colored wood, and it just didn’t work. Then it
came to me to use the thread running through the needle on the finger rest and run
it up the fingerboard with loops where the position markers should be.
Success! The finished mandolin was everything I hoped it would be, and I
photographed it on Susan’s quilting table for a proper setting.”
To see the mandolin “Quilting,”
and other art mandolins by Rolfe, visit his website.