Steffen Nowak, Maker of fine Violins, Violas and Cellos in baroque and modern style

'Cutaway Bee' Viola model made in 1997

A visit from a’s always exciting to see any of my earlier instruments back in the workshop, whether for some gentle cleaning, check-ups, or just to stay in touch with the owner.
This viola is of course no exception, though only living a bit further down the road in Devon I haven’t seen it and its happy owner Deborah for quite a while now.
Commissioned by her in 1997 and in continuous use ever since, it has weathered a few storms but looks very appealing with some natural wear to the varnish. At the usual areas of direct body contact the varnish has developed the typical wear and soft craquelee in common with some classical oil varnishes. Though my varnish of more recent years does withstand wear somewhat better, this one is not far removed from some of the classical Venetian and also semi modern Italian makers like Fagnola. A gentle retouch here and there, minimum surface polishing to preserve the micro surface textures and it’s looking just fine. And the carved bee design by Mark Barlowas well as the gold filigree wings made by Bristol jeweller Harriet St Leger are always a talking point when encountering this instrument.The violas' sound is warm, mellow and nicely matured.
The photos here were taken just now in July.

Below the text from my original web page:

This cut away model was commissioned by the violinist and viola player Deborah Hamilton. The general idea behind the cutaway design on larger violas is to facilitate the left hand shift in higher positions, which can be difficult for players with a "normal" hand span.

The cutaway model therefore can be of a fairly broad width which, combined with a manageable string length of 14 3/4" (375mm), makes a comfortable instrument, particular for those players who have difficulties with the 16 1/2" model or bigger.
The choice of wood for this viola was a deeply figured one piece slab back of English sycamore with matching ribs. The front was made from a fine straight grained piece of alpine spruce. The slightly softer slab back makes for a good response with a fine tenor quality, yet having strength and projection
The viola commissioned by Ms. Hamilton is extraordinary too because of its uniquely designed head. Instead of the traditional scroll terminus at the end of the pegbox, this instrument is graced by a honeybee! It was carved by Bristol based woodcarver and harpmaker Mark Barlow from alternating pieces of walnut and lime for the bee body, ebony for legs and eyes, and the wings were made from 18ct gold wire in filigree fashion by Bristol Jeweller Harriet St.Leger.
Any future cutaway violas can of course be commissioned with the more traditional scroll, but individual requests for heads can also be designed and executed.

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