Finding the Singing Spruce: Craft Labor, Global Forests, and Musical Instrument Makers in Appalachia [thesis]

Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth
Abstract: Musical instrument makers in the state of West Virginia in the United States pursue "singing," lively instruments that capture ideals of musical tone and "re-enchant" their work and lives through relationships with craft materials and the forest landscape. Suitable tonewoods that grow in the region, such as red spruce (Picea rubens), intersect with makers' desires to craft instruments in the style of famed makers such as the C.F. Martin Company and the Gibson Company as well as
more » ... instruments imbued with a sense of place. While the demand for and symbolic import of instruments made with local wood seems to grow, the availability of the requisite tree species is dominated by resource materialities and temporalities of large land-owners and timber producers that privilege timber harvest in short cycles that clash with the needs of musical instrument crafters. As a result, makers also look to other global forests, such as those of the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, as sources for tonewood capable of becoming a singing instrument. Employing a theoretical framework that emphasizes the relationality of human actors and nonhuman materials, I argue that the work of instrument makers is rendered meaningful in part by a co-constructive process of becoming both instrument and maker. I show how this relationship extends to the forest environment, spiritual and philosophical discourse, and transnational networks that continually re-enchant the work of musical instrument makers in a region questioning the future and sustainability of economic and environmental processes. I join efforts to explore and analyze the political ecology of musical instruments through the affective material relationships and global flows of craft materials placed in an environmental locus of local, regional, and national imaginaries and the futures and failures of capitalist modes of production. By presenting narratives collected through ethnographic apprenticeships, interviews, and archival research, I argue that these makers navigat [...]
doi:10.13023/etd.2019.037 fatcat:uohcq34w4bbfxpplcu2vampxjq