The classical violins in the collections of The Henry Ford get around. In 2011 and 2013, we had them CT scanned at Henry Ford Health System; in February 2013, Sphinx Laureate Gareth Johnson played one at the National Day of Courage; and in October 2014, they were featured on Episode 5 of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation. Now, thanks to a generous grant from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, they are moving out of collections storage and into the Henry Ford Museum, in a display that is planned to go live by February 1, 2015. The violins themselves will be accompanied by a digital kiosk, where visitors will be able to explore additional related artifacts from our online collections. One example of these related artifacts that we’ve just added to our digital collections is the “Badger Gavotte” sheet music for Henry Ford’s Early American Dance Orchestra. Visit our collections website to view other objects related to the Orchestra, dance, and the violins themselves, and plan to visit us next year to see the new exhibit.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
For many of us, the music of our youth holds special meaning. It was no different for successful industrialist Henry Ford (1863-1947).
Country fiddlers had provided the lively music for the rural dances of Henry Ford’s youth during the 1870s and 1880s. Ford loved the sound of a violin, even purchasing an inexpensive fiddle as a young man and teaching himself to play a bit.
In the mid-1920s, Ford—then in his early sixties—sought out this beloved instrument that had provided the “sound track” for Ford’s young adulthood in rural Michigan.
When you think of Henry Ford, you think of cars almost immediately. Violins probably don't come to mind, do they? While it may come as a surprise to some today, Henry was a lover of violins and classic American music. He loved the fiddle and country dancing, two things that reminded him of his childhood. Henry could often be found in Lovett Hall dancing with Clara Ford as the band played and dances were called throughout the night.
Henry amassed an impressive collection of violins in the early part of the 20th century. Those violins are now within the collections of The Henry Ford, but occasionally they are loaned to other institutions for exhibition or, in the case of Sphinx, loaned to promising young musicians, like Gareth Johnson, to be played for new audiences. Gareth recently played the 1709 Siberian Stradivarius during our National Day of Courage in February.
In this video, Curator of Domestic Life Jeanine Head Miller shares additional insight on Henry and his violins, and why having someone like Gareth play them today would have made him very proud.
Conservators at the Henry Ford Museum are collaborating with violin experts to prepare Henry Ford’s personal violin collection for an upcoming permanent display in Henry Ford Museum. The violins, which have been in storage for a number of years, are being examined, analyzed and in some instances conserved for long-term display and potential use in concerts.
In 2010 master violin restorer Ashot Vartanian of Shar Music in Ann Arbor, Mich., repaired the Bergonzi to prepare it for exhibition and a concert in Cremona, Italy.
Later this year Henry Ford’s 1703 Stradivarius violin will travel to Cremona to replace the Bergonzi, which will return to The Henry Ford for examination and analysis. Sharon Que of Sharon Que Violin Restoration and Repair is currently working with Chief Conservator Mary Fahey to evaluate the condition of the violin and to make necessary repairs. The retention of original varnish and wood as well as the preservation of the extraordinary sound of the violin is paramount.
Radiologist Dr. John Bonnett of Henry Ford Hospital and luthier Ray Schryer (Schryer Violin) partnered with Henry Ford Museum staff in 2010 to create CT scan (computed tomography) images of the violins in a quest for information concerning their condition and past repairs. Among other findings the scans revealed areas of old insect damage, previously unseen by the naked eye, in addition to delicate repairs on the interior of the museum’s Guarneri Del Gesu violin.