18th Century Violin Maker's Shop, Audio Tour Track #3003
18th Century Violin Maker's Shop, W. Foster Tracy, 1979, 1:12 scale
18th Century Violin Maker’s Shop, located in our museum's A Little Magic Theater Gallery.
Created by W. Foster Tracy in 1979. This piece is Number Two of six identical works in existence. The piece was created in 1:12 scale, where one inch in miniature is equivalent to 12 inches in the full scale.
W. Foster Tracy, known as Tracy to his friends, was a well-known American miniaturist who specialized in making miniature string instruments. The subject of this piece is a literal, one-inch scale reproduction of what a violin maker’s studio might look like in the 18th century, and it is made all the more compelling because the scene itself is encased within an actual full-scale violin. To achieve this, the majority of the front face of the violin has been removed, leaving the hollow interior as the space in which to re-create the studio. The depth of a violin's interior space is just less than two inches, so really what is shown here is merely a slice of the workshop, just one wall of what would be a much larger space extending past the boundaries of the violin vessel.
A violin’s body is pear-shaped, comprised of three main areas: the rounded upper bout, the rounded lower bout, and the inward-curving waist in between the two. The full-scale violin vessel is 23.5” long, with approximately 14” of that length being the neck. In the one-inch scale, a violin is just under two inches in length. When first encountering this piece, visitors are immediately overcome with admiration for the minuscule and authentically reproduced details, the rich warm colors of the raw and varnished wood, and the immediate understanding of the work’s scale, due to the full-scale object itself being directly present.
When looking into this violin shop, to the left there is a narrow wooden work table with a square wooden stool tucked beneath. To the right and to the left, climbing upwards along the interior waist of the larger violin vessel there are miniature shelf ledges on which rest glass jars and various tools of the trade. The interior back of the vessel has been carefully carved with shallow vertical lines from top to bottom to imitate the appearance of wooden planks, with the tiniest of dots to appear as nails in the boards. This illusion creates the back wall of the workshop, and along this wall, in the lower bout, there are even more hanging tools, including palette knives, multiple types of hand-saws, calipers, wrenches, pencil sketches no larger than a postage stamp, violin parts in progress, and a row of hanging bows. In the upper bout, sloping downward at an angle from left to right, there is a wooden rack along which six miniature completed violins are hanging. In an actual violin-makers studio, you would find many such racks, with row after row of completed violins suspended from the ceiling. There is also a miniature cello in this workshop, its neck leaning against the work table, adding to the scale comparison.
A hidden light fixture built into the upper bout sheds light downward into the body of the violin vessel. A narrow rectangular piece of stained glass in between the lights and the studio’s interior add just a touch of warm color to the studio’s lighting, imitating the light shafts of sunrise, creating a serene mood for the studio. This studio would’ve required excellent natural light sources in the days before electricity - Tracy placed just one small candle and one small oil lamp in the studio.
Tracy was the founder and first president of IGMA, the International Guild of Miniature Artisans. His strict adherence to accuracy of scale and authenticity in detail are readily present in this piece: there are curled pieces of wood shavings and sawdust covering the floor, and the glass jars on the shelves contain real pigments, varnishes, paint thinner, and glue. Tracy used authentic violin woods when crafting his instruments, including bird’s-eye maple, spruce, and ebony. He even carefully signed the interior of each violin, in the same manner as they are signed in the full-scale.