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The Violin Maker

In the quiet of this town dedicated to the farming community around it an to light industry, was located one of the few shops in the U.S. where the most delicate of musical instruments - the violin - was created in its entirety from wood, gut and horsehair and where artists of the strings could find the hands and cunning to repair violins that have been damaged.

The man whose talents made this possible was A. Ernfried "Halley" Halvarson, who with his friend and co-worker, William Meyers, established a violin business here in 1936.

For 22 years the two men worked together on repair, creation of instruments and allied activities, until in 1958 Mr. Meyers sold his interest in the property and business to Mr. Halvarson. Mr. Meyers and his wife lived a few doors away until he passed away in 1964.

The big brick residence that housed Mr. Halvarson, and his wife and the shop was built by a Nashville physician (Dr. Um. H. Young - in 1870). It had the room to accommodate the many friends and customers who visited, often staying for music sessions, as well as the shop located in the basement. The more valuable were stored in a large safe in the house, although the bank vault on Main street once sheltered a Stradivarius violin between working sessions years ago.

Mr. Halvarson came to the U.S. from Malung, Sweeden, in 1923 to visit a foreign county. He stayed, and although he made three trips back to Sweden, he had no desire to return to live.

A background in violin making and repair gave him his living. For years he worked in Chicago until he and Mr. Meyers who was a salesman for the same firm, looked around for a place to get out into the country and have a business of their own.

The basement shop housed blocks of maple from the Tyrol and spruce from "the Alps". A violinist could order an instrument and choose the pieces desired; mild wood or strong, wide or narrow swirls in the grain. The pieces were cut out by machine then the hands took over the work. Mr. Halvarson made every part of the violin. "The hands of the violin maker are the determining factor, " said Mr. Halvarson. "The qualities of a good violin are the tone. It must be an instrument that plays easily, responds easily, and must have a quality of refinement".

The hand working has much to do with the quality of tone of the finished instrument. In a violin are 98 separate parts to be mated for grain and thickness. Many hours of painstaking toil go into the sides, scroll and inserts trimming the top of the violin.

When World War II broke out, the supply of violin bridges was cut off from Germany, nearly the only source. Meyers and Halvarson made what they needed by hand, then devised a machine to produce bridges. Their annual bridge output was 75,000 to 100,000. Fine seasoned maple from Barry and Eaton Counties went into bridges that sold throughout the U.S. At one time 2,500 bridges per day were made in the shop.

Strings, too, are part of the final product, and much work goes into their creation. Mr. Halverson used only unbleached long, white horsehair for his bows and a white horse with a fine long tail was a valuable and fast disappearing source. Others may have used bleached horsehair, but such did not satisfy Mr. Halvarson.

Violin making and repair was not an easy art to learn. After 5 years, a workman was still a novice at repair work.

Mr. Halvarson was recognized as one of the finest bow makers in the U.S. One of his specialties was to duplicate any bow. He was written up in "Dictionary of Contemporary Violin and Bow Makers", written by an Englishman and published in England. H was also written up in "Bows for Musical Instruments". He produced custom bows, not only duplicating famous old bows, but making bows to the precise requirements of individuals. All parts applied to these bows were made in Mr. Halvarson's shop.