Replicating the Bunworth
The Bunworth harp, the only
early Irish wire strung harp that resides outside the British
isles, is in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
The BMFA is very proactive in making their collection come alive
for visitors, in some cases literally. The commission to make
a playing copy of the Bunworth is a example of this direction,
under the curatorship of Darcy Kuronen. I am very grateful to
him for trusting me to take on this task, and for the support
he provided during the process.
I initially visited the harp
in February 2009, accompanied by Ann Heymann and Nancy Hurrell.
Together, we gathered all the data necessary to draw an accurate
likeness of the harp. We also took MANY photos, from every conceivable
Measuring a harp is
not exactly easy, there are few straight lines, and they are often
deformed with age. I have concluded that there are three points
common to all harps, and I have developed my procedure for data
collection based on this- The point where the neck meets the top
of the soundbox I call point A. The point where the neck meets
the front pillar, I call point B. In like manner, the point where
the front pillar meets the bottom of the soundbox is point C.
All other points on the harp can be described by measuring to
two of these fixed locations. To be more accurate, I have added
more points- I fix a telescoping wooden stick between points B
and C. I then strike a line from this stick to the 15th string
hole in the belly of the harp, at a right angle. This becomes
point D. Additionally, I call the 15th string hole E, and the
15th tuning peg point G. This gives me many triangulation possibilities,
to eliminate as much error as possible.
Once the data is entered
in neat columns on paper, this needs to be converted to the likeness
of a harp. I do this back in the shop on a large sheet of paper,
first laying out my triangle ABC. I then add all the other points,
and by constantly referring to my photos, I develop a drawing
of the harp. By pasting this paper drawing onto sheet aluminum,
I can cut out templates that not only give me the shapes to cut
the wood, but also indicate very accurately where to drill holes
and so forth.
Then, it is time to
start cutting wood. The Museum had samples taken of the wood of
the soundbox, the front pillar, and the neck of the harp. We expected
the soundbox to be willow, but were surprised to find that the
neck and pillar are also willow. As it turns out, English white
willow has naturalized in the upper midwest of the US, and I was
able to locate some wonderful large logs to work with.
After much labor with
a very large chainsaw, I had the blocks of willow needed. From
past experience, I knew that it is best to rough out the interior
of the soundbox immediately. It dries much more quickly and with
less cracking because the water leaves the wood evenly from all
the exposed surfaces.
Carving the details
is time consuming, but a very satisfying part of the job.
The parts must be fitted
together very carefully, as they are held together in the finished
harp only by the string tension, no screws or Super Glue! In this
photo, the neck and pillar are made of walnut. I built a prototype
instrument first, to test my design, and later got the information
that the neck and pillar of the original are willow. Ann Heymann
now has that prototype harp (with the walnut neck and pillar)
on a semi-permanent loan.
In an effort to do
a thorough reconstruction of the harp, samples were taken by the
Museum of the pigments present on the original instrument. By
careful analysis of this information, Assistant Furniture Curator
Christine Schaette developed a working procedure for the application
of the various layers. She also carefully traced all of the decortations
on Mylar film and sent them to me. Fortunately, the Mylar tracings
coincided with the wooden parts that I had fashioned!
The first layer is
a sizing of red lead in hide glue. Don't try this at home, the
lead is toxic, notice my gloves.
After the sizing is
smoothed out, the lines of the decorations were transferred onto
the harp, and all lines were lightly incised. This made it easier
to add each pigment in turn, just stay inside the lines. The pigments
are naturally occuring substances in a linseed oil varnish. The
red is vermillion, the black is furnace black, the white is white
lead, the blue is azurite, ane the green is malachite.
Finally, the metal
parts were installed, and the stringing could be done. The harp
in this photo is the prototype again, it was painted before the
true pigments arrived from the Museum. (The prototype's red is
Rustoleum from the hardware store, not as elegant as the vermillion
used on the final version.)
Here is the finished
Bunworth on display in the BMFA next to the original. An inagural
concert was given at the Museum on June 12, 2011 by Ann Heymann
assisted by husband Charlie. She did great research to put together
an appropriate program, I hope there will be a book or recording
at some time in the future.
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