About Andrew Bellis
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"Craft or Art? I consider myself a craftsman making pieces of
art for musicians to use. Bows must firstly satisfy the needs
of players, but they also find pleasure in owning attractive
things that have been made with care and experience. "
I was born in Bournemouth in 1957. Early in my further education, at the Birmingham School of Music (BSM), I became interested in bows for the violin family when I realised my orchestral desk partner’s bow played better than my own. Having spent all my savings on a viola, the only way to acquire a similar bow was to make one.
Previous experience with model making came in useful, so for my first bow I was self-taught as there were no books on the subject. The BSM kept a collection of bows by John Dodd (1752 – 1839), so I carefully copied the measurements of a viola bow stick. Enthusiasm triumphed over common sense and the result was a little too thin, but it worked.
An invitation to visit the highly respected bow maker Arthur Bultitude in Kent showed me what bow making really entailed, and what could be achieved in a 10’ x 6’ workshop. I have worked at home ever since, as commercial premises are financially out of the question.
The bow maker’s materials have always been exotic. Until the mid-1980’s one could freely use pernambuco wood imported from Brazil, ebony from Mauritius, elephant ivory and pearl. Environmental concerns - over which the maker has no control - force the use of some substitute man-made materials, although ironically mammoth ivory is legal as the animals are extinct. I also makes bows where the main shaft is from ‘built cane’ (bamboo). Despite a synthetic version of horsehair being developed in America in the 1970’s, genuine white horse tail hair still remains the choice of most players, coarser black hair being preferred by some double bassists.
I have taught bow making at Oxford University, West Dean College, and elsewhere. I emphasise developing creative skills in young people so that future generations will enjoy hand-made bows. In 2012 I took part in a BBC film project called ‘Scrapheap Orchestra’ in which a symphony orchestra was to play at a BBC Prom concert on instruments made from recycled materials. My innovative bows, mostly upcycled from a 1960’s wardrobe, were well received by the musicians.
Craft or Art? I consider myself a craftsman making pieces of art for musicians to use. Bows must firstly satisfy the needs of players, but they also find pleasure in owning attractive things that have been made with care and experience.