Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bob and Bows!

This is most excellent:

Going against the grain, he helps make music
By Kristen Peterson <>Las Vegas Sun

Delicately holding a polished and exquisite Emile Ouchard bow between the tips of his fingers, then placing it in its case, Bob Stewart says, "The French are to bows what Italians are to violins."
He picks up a James Tubbs bow, circa 1905, and says the British bow maker is one of his favorites, even though Tubbs' later bows were thought to be a "little bit clumsy , " with larger proportions. Then he examines one of his own creations, a cello bow.
In the course of history, this would seem an anomaly. Stewart's workbench in his tidy Las Vegas garage is a leap from the centuries-old traditions of European shops and craftsmen in musty urban storefronts.
The man himself has shaken the symphonic stereotype. Once he showed up at a client's doorstep and was told, "I expected you to be an old white guy."
"There aren't a lot of black people doing this," he says nonchalantly.
Moreover, in Las Vegas there aren't many people doing this at all.
Stewart is the go-to guy for bow repair, along with Jim Wilson, who repairs violins at Violin Outlet. Professional symphonic string players, fiddlers, students, they know him well. Expensive and rare bows are often sent to shops in Los Angeles or New York steeped in high-caliber bow repair. For everything else, Stewart and Wilson have essentially cornered the market.
But Stewart may just be the only bow maker in this city.
The South Philadelphia native played guitar, double bass and cello before apprenticing with a maker in New Jersey. He made his first bow by age 22, worked in shops and freelanced and dabbled in other professions before settling in Las Vegas in 1990.
He rehairs, repairs, restores and invests in rare bows.
His days of making bows have waned. He's made about 80 bows. At 53, he now makes only a couple of bows a year, including a bow he recently made for Las Vegas Philharmonic cellist Elena Kapustina.
Beginning with a plank of pernambuco wood from the jungles of South America, Stewart whittles and planes the stick into an octagonal shape, bevels the frog made of ebony, adds its metal parts and creates the camber in the stick. Stewart used to cut his own mother of pearl for the frog, but now orders them pre-cut.
Finishing the bows is more intuitive and less scientific. He works according to what looks and feels a certain weight, feel and graduations. After decades of working with bows, he has a pretty good idea of what he's doing. "They're very delicate and there is a subtlety about the beauty of the wood."
And they are expensive. A French bow in good shape is probably worth $15,000 to $20,000. A Tourte cello bow sold for $200,000 at auction last fall.
Although rare and expensive bows are sent away for repairs, much of Las Vegas, including members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, relies on Stewart, who is also president of the Las Vegas Chamber Music Society.
"He's absolutely a godsend," says Mary Straub, who teaches violin at the Nevada School of the Arts. Straub sends Stewart about 50 bows a year from her students and has had him work on her bows. "If there's small crack or something has come unglued and we say we need it done tonight, he'll do it. He keeps us going."

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