I was able to spend a few days at our cabin last week. I passed part of the time there reading A Thousand Mornings of Music: The Journal of an Obsession with the Violin (Crown Publishers, 1970), by Arnold Gingrich. Of course, I spent time enjoying my family and fly fishing, as well.
I have long been a fan of Gingrich’s writings, especially of The Well Tempered Angler (Alfred A. Knopf, 1965). In A Thousand Mornings of Music Gingrich writes about a passion that paralleled his interest in all things fly fishing–a passion for violins, which he playfully calls “fiddles” throughout the book. If you have read his angling books or Toys of a Lifetime (Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), you know that he had the tendencies of a collector. In A Thousand Mornings he describes those tendencies, as they were directed toward violins over a period of several years. At the end of that period (and at the end of the book) he had acquired violins made by some of the most respected luthiers in history. Among them was one made by Antonio Stradivari of Cremona (now a of part of northern Italy), in 1672. Gingrich named this violin “The Gudgeon,” after its second owner.
Gingrich’s Stradivarius was played for a period by Hungarian born virtuosa, Erna Rubinstein. Gingrich, himself, during his tenure as a collector, renewed his own studies of violin playing. For a time, he even spent early morning at the Rembert Wurlitzer offices, playing celebrated, rare violins that passed through the company’s hands.
It is no surprise that Gingrich loved both violins and bamboo fly rods. Many people have made comparisons between them, emphasizing the care that must be exercised in forming both, the importance of varnish, and so on. Indeed, I know more than one fly fisher, who collects violins. That said, the work done by luthiers is certainly much more extensive than that done by any fly rod maker.
I recently came across a video that shows a French luthier, Dominique Nicosia, engaged in his craft. The video was made by Baptiste Buob and filmed at the Musée de la lutherie et de l’archèterie françaises de Mirecourt. No doubt, Gingrich would have loved such films. Yet, I hope that neither music nor his interest in instruments would have kept him away from the beauty that we find while fly fishing, a beauty that far exceeds that produced by of any violinist, luthier, or rod maker.
During some recent virtual wanderings, I came across the website of Marlo DiPietro, who makes custom fly tying vises. His work is stunningly beautiful and unique. It might seem odd to some readers to think of vises as art. However, fly tiers can become pretty attached to their tools, and it’s not uncommon for us to appreciate their aesthetic beauty as much as their functionality (see my previous post on “form and function.”). Indeed, I prize my rather common Regal Medallion vise almost as highly as any reel, rod, or even painting in my possession.
DiPietro’s custom vises exist in different realm than my Regal does. His gallery of pictures allows you to check that realm out, if, like me, you don’t have the means to actually purchase one of his vises.
I have had limited time to post lately, due to a busy work schedule. Fortunately, I like my work, and it often takes me to places I like, as well. Recently, I attended some meetings at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana. As is often the case with meetings and conferences in Indian Country, there were some vendors there. Among them was Dion Albert. He was displaying some of his art, which included the beaded rainbow trout knife and sheath pictured below. My picture is not great, but you can still see how amazing this piece is.
The beauty of this knife and sheath brings architect Louis Sullivan to mind. In an 1896 article, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” (Lippincott’s Magazine, March 1896, 408), Sullivan wrote the following:
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law. (Sullivan’s emphasis).
To make Sullivan’s claim absolutely true, we would have to include our emotions as “functions,” since many contemporary expressions of art have no more purpose than to provoke feelings. Also, the Euro-American concept of “art” is not always applicable to traditional Indigenous crafts, of which Mr. Albert’s knife is an expression. But Sullivan was not really speaking of art, and his implication that there is beauty in functionality certainly apply here. They apply to hand made fly rods, artificial flies, and to many other things I love, as well.
Anyone interested in knowing more about Dion Albert’s crafts can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Besides doing beadwork, Mr. Albert produces functional and beautiful items from buckskin, birch bark, and more. He is a member of the Confederated Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille Tribes. Beneath the display board, upon which the knife is resting, you can glimpse beadwork done by another craftsperson. You can contact the “Native Artwork by Linda” at 406-531-5848.
Last week, I took my students to the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections Department of our university libraries. Washington State University’s MASC holds a huge collection of angling texts, many of which were donated by alumni Joan and Vernon Gallup. MASC Department Head Trevor James Bond gave an informative and enjoyable overview of the collection to the students. I urge anyone interested in working with these texts, or even visiting them for the mere pleasure of doing so, to contact him. And if you do visit, let’s wet a line.
Steve Duda, editor of The Flyfish Journal, titles the editor’s column in the latest issue (7:1) of the magazine “Afflicted by Wonder.” In the column, he writes about his passion for “anything having to do with the earliest history of our sport.” He continues on to discuss fifteenth century Breviary of Leonardus Haslinger, about which I wrote some time back.
Duda kindly writes that he was made aware of The Breviary through my own “excellent blog.” I am grateful for this note. I think very highly of The Flyfish Journal, preferring its literary, reflective tone to the more technical and often sensationalistic tone of other outdoor magazines. Of course, this tone is maintained by Duda’s editorial leadership. I should add that he is fine writer, himself, as well.
In “Afflicted by Wonder,” Duda describes how many fly fishers are particularly taken with certain aspects of the sport, which leads them to seek more information and to grow even more passionate about the activity, generally. Like Duda, much of my passion has to do with sporting history. Whatever your passion may be, as a fly fisher, it will likely be fueled by The Flyfish Journal. And if you are not a fly fisher … well, I am sure there are print publications out their for you too, though there are certainly fewer of them than there were in the past.
“There is no necessity of being rich: for I told you, there be as many miseries beyond riches as on this side of them.”
Piscator, the “Master,” speaking to Venator, in Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, 1653.
The Daily Beast recently published a short article on San Francisco’s The Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club, which can trace its origins as far back as 1894. That’s a long tenure for any club. What is even more remarkable is that the club has maintained it physical location, inside of a bustling city, for so many years. Read The Daily Beast article, “The Joy of Fishing in San Francisco,” by James Joiner, for a bit more information.
A few days ago, I fished my home water, the North Fork of the Blackfoot, in Montana. Afterwards, I stopped by the closest fly shop, The Blackfoot Angler, in the tiny town of Ovando. As I entered the shop, a book of poetry happened to catch my eye. I flipped through it and noticed a poem about the North Fork. The book is titled The Wind Blows White (Conflux Press, 2014), and it is written by Eldon Wren Beck. a well-known landscape architect. Beck has a daughter living in the Blackfoot River Drainage, and this area inspired some of his writings. Beck’s poem follows.
Near the North Fork of the Blackfoot
My sack of memories spill open
as drops of a long life
trickle through sun-lit dust
of another day.
In the verdant meadow
a rutted lane passes
by a staggered fence
amidst fields and forest.
Here, a lonely cabin
with roof askew and porch derelict,
random boards nailed
over sightless windows.
No longer tales to tell in rooms within.
Mouldering stumps hunker in the grass.
Once-proud pines lay in decay.
I bow to youthful vigor, squint
into the warm evening
where Grandpa chuckled
at his own jokes
and cows now rub against the fence
under the Ponderosa
where seedlings waltz.