Violin making has historically been an overwhelmingly male dominated industry. When we hear of the great makers of the past there’s nary a woman to be heard of. Perhaps Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati households had the genetic misfortune to only produce males, but most likely women weren’t permitted to enter the industry – or if they did they did so without recognition (as we’ll se below). Thankfully, times are changing and more women are coming to the foreground. Below is a list of five women who for one reason or another I think deserve some recognition, but this list is by no means exhaustive.
Carleen Hutchins, 1911–2009
Hutchins was a multi-faceted violinmaker and researcher, best known for her creation, in the 1950s/60s, of a family of eight proportionally-sized violins now known as the violin octet and for a considerable body of research into the acoustics of violins. Hutchins’ greatest innovation, still used by many violinmakers, was a technique known as free-plate tuning. When not attached to a violin, the top and back are called free plates. Her technique gives makers a precise way to refine these plates before a violin is assembled.
In 1963, Hutchins co-founded the Catgut Acoustical Society, which develops scientific insights into the construction of new and conventional instruments of the violin family.
In her 98 years, Hutchins squeezed in a lot. She was the founder of the New Violin Family Association, creator-in-chief of the Violin Octet, author of more than 100 technical publications, editor of two volumes of collected papers in violin acoustics, four grants from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music, recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships, an Honorary Fellowship from the Acoustical Society of America, and four honorary doctorates. The Hutchins Consort, named after Hutchins, is a California ensemble featuring all eight instruments.
Rowan Armour-Brown, 1948–1996
Armour-Browne trained under Giobatta Morassi at the International Violin Making School in Cremona, graduating in 1975, and then spent a period with Gil Solomon in Britain as a restorer. For the next 20 years she had her own workshop producing approximately 120 new instruments.
For many years she taught at the summer schools at Loughborough and Cambridge and ran an evening class in Leamington Spa. She was also a lecturer at the Newark School of Violin Making for five years.
Her work was exhibited and won awards at various festivals and exhibitions.
Katarina Guarneri, c.1700–1748
Katrina was wife of Bartolomeo Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’, whom she married in 1722. Accounts handed down from Carlo Bergonzi II. the grandson and namesake of the great violin maker and contemporary of Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu imply that the wife of `del Gesu assisted him in his work.
Tracing whether these accounts are correct is a difficult task as it is thought that there did once exist violins bearing Katarina’s name, but these have since been removed. Roger Hargrave explores this interesting topic in details here: http://www.roger-hargrave.de/PDF/Artikel/Strad/Artikel_2000_09_Seeking_MRS_Guarneri_PDF.pdf
Olga Adelmann, 1913–2000
Adelmann worked in Berlin, Germany. She trained as a pupil of Otto Möckel and subsequently worked for C. Jung and G. Ullmann. Adelmann was an expert restorer and to reflect this she received the highest award of the violin makers guild in 1945 for her contributions to the craft.
She also worked with guitar maker R. Rossmeisl in Berlin 1950-1953 before being appointed restorer at the Musical Instrument Museum, Berlin from 1955. Adelmann translated Sacconi’s The ‘Secrets’ of Stradivari into German. In 1980 she retired but remained active as a maker.
Juliet has been designing and hand-making violins, violas, cellos and the occasional double bass since 1954 when she graduated from a course in violin making from the Bavaria State School in southeast Germany. Juliet returned to Cambridge in 1956 and set up as Cambridge's first independent violin maker.
In 1960 she began running an evening class in violin making at the local polytechnic. By 1986, the classes had expanded to such a degree that new premises were required, so she founded a workshop as the permentant home for her classes and making. Juliet officially retired from teaching in 2005 although she still contributes informally to classes. In 2006 she was awarded an MBE for sevices to music and violin making.