August 4, 2006

Some explanation and apologies

for those of you who have been on my waiting list for years

(and anyone interested in the possibility of commissioning an instrument from me):

I’m writing this letter especially for those of you who contacted me at some point between 1999 and 2003 (and in some cases, more recently), about the possibility of commissioning an instrument from me, and were put on one of my waiting lists. I know some of you were given the impression that after a certain period of time your name would reach the top of that magic list. Presumably, I would contact you at that point to begin the process of designing and building you an instrument, should we both still wish (and be able) to undertake such a project. Indeed, I imagined that it would work that way!
Some of you I have talked to or corresponded with in the intervening years, and so you already know something of my current situation. A few of you will be getting instruments from me in the next several years ("God willing and the creek don’t rise!"); hopefully you know who you are, and realize that this letter doesn’t carry any implication that your commission is in danger.
I’m sure many of you have wondered, "whatever happened to that waiting list I was supposed to be on?". Here’s the story:

In the summer of 1999, after building instruments for over 25 years, something clicked, something achieved some sort of critical mass, and I began to receive interest in my work at a rate far faster than I could keep up with. It is very flattering to have people desire my artwork, and I basically never said "no", but began putting names on my first "official waiting list". I assumed that in fact I wanted to do all this work, and could, and eventually would. At about this same time, Suzy and I were in the process of constructing a new house and shop; this project is still ongoing, although we are living and working in the "new" buildings now. This has slowed down work in other areas of life. And the interest in my instruments has continued fairly steadily.
I have some odd and annoying chronic health problems, including sensitivities to a myriad of different foods and chemical substances. These problems almost certainly are related to misuse of toxic finishing materials in my ignorant youth. Though so far never life-threatening in an immediate sense, they really can impact my quality of life, and have a big effect on my ability to work. As with most health problems, mine are exacerbated by emotional stress. I had a particularly difficult period in spring of 2001, where I couldn’t do any work for several months. At this point I had about 33 people on my "waiting list", for a variety of instruments. The instruments I was making, and most interested in making, were becoming more complex, both functionally and artistically, and taking longer and longer to create. When I finished the Oracle, the first Harp-Sympitar, in early 2001, I realized that it was the only instrument I had been able to complete in a year. During the months that followed, when I was not feeling well enough to work, I reviewed my waiting list. I realized that if I continued being able to produce only one instrument a year, my waiting list would take my entire remaining working life, if not well into my next lifetime! And that would be only making other people’s instruments, other people’s dreams. As an artist, I have a head and heart bursting with ideas for instruments that want to be built. I saw my life laid out before me, with no time or energy for following those inspirations. In a brief moment of insight, I knew that whether or not there was any reality to this vision of my creative life being swallowed up, there was certainly reality to the underlying stress it had been causing in my life. Of course, I’m aware that not many of the instruments on my waiting lists are projects that would individually take me an entire year to make under normal conditions, but this feeling was still strong and real to me. I decided on the spot to stop working on commissions for a year and make one of the instruments that I had inside me wanting to come out. That instrument was the Flying Dream; more of it’s story appears on elsewhere on this web site.
At that time, I also stopped adding names to what I still thought of as my "official" waiting list- the stuff I would somehow try to get to. But I couldn’t ever bring myself to simply say "no" when people called or wrote, wanting one of my creations. So, I started a second, "unconfirmed" waiting list (the "wanting list"). Here, I was clearer ( I thought) about how there were no promises of anything, just an acknowledgment of someone’s sincere interest, and a time relative to other entries. I put nearly another 30 potential clients on this list. Now, although in theory I wasn’t taking new commissions, I had about 60 people that I had taken on some sense of responsibility towards. And what if I didn’t end up being an instrument builder in my next lifetime!!?? What then?
I stopped formally adding names to the "new" list sometime in 2003, but of course the interest is still there, the calls and emails keep coming, and I really do want to make everybody happy.
But I’m not about to start a production shop and hire employees...that’s just not something I can or want to do.
So, I have to figure out some way to be selective about what work I actually want to do, and feel able to do.

All this has been churning inside me for the last several years. During that time I have not been addressing the waiting lists in any strictly chronological way, but rather choosing the projects that seem most aligned with what I want to be doing, the direction my art seems to want to move. I’ve felt a lot of guilt about this; somehow, some part of me feels like I’ve failed all those people who I intended to create something for and haven’t yet, and might never. But it also feels like the true way to be, like I’m finally accepting who I am and what I can and should be doing.

OK, this has been a lot of words; if you’ve made it this far, thanks for hanging in there! Here’s the bottom line:
I’ve realized that this being true to myself, true to what I feel is coming through me (what I sometimes call the Creative Force, or God, or various other names) is really the thing I need to accept and honor, to become. Of course, I still need to make a living, and I still love making instruments for people who make music/art with them. So here’s what this means for those of you still vaguely (or avidly) hoping to get an instrument out of me:

1) I’m currently not making Dreadnautilus guitars. This is a wonderful instrument, and I’ve entertained notions of licensing it’s construction to someone else. But that hasn’t happened, and it’s not the work I’m meant to be doing right now. Should the Dreadnautilus go into production again, or some child of it, I’ll do my best to let those of you who wanted one know.
2) I’m currently not building replicas of any of my previous instruments, or those of other builders (i.e. historical). This is not an inflexible rule (all this is open to change), so feel free to offer me unreasonably vast amounts of money to replicate something; I will feel free to say "no".
3) I am moving toward building my own inspirations, rather than working on commission. When I do consider taking a commission, factors influencing my decision will include whether the "tool", that is the functional aspects of the instrument, is something that interests me and feels in line with my perceived direction, or will teach me things I want or need to learn. Projects that allow my creative inspiration to take charge in some way, and ones that inspire that creativity, are the ones that are most likely to get built, and to get my best energy put into them.
4) At this writing, my focus is on developing the instrument I call the Harp-Sympitar, of which Oracle, the Flying Dream, Big Red and the New Dream are examples that can be found on this web site. I welcome especially any interest in creations along the lines of these instruments. Commissions for instruments like these are currently among the most likely to get my serious consideration.
5) Prices. Yes, they have had to go up! I still try to base my prices on time and materials, but my expenses have increased, and I’ve even begun to think that there may be a time (hopefully not for another 20 or 30 years!) when I can’t physically do the work anymore, and perhaps I need to think about making more than just what I need to live on this year! This is all new to me (even after 34 years!) and I’m still figuring out what my "need" in terms of getting compensated for my artwork really is. It does turn out, no matter how I figure it, that an instrument that takes 1000 hours to build (i.e. The Flying Dream or the New Dream) has to be priced at what I would have not too long ago considered "absurdly high", to say the least. I’ve been using an odd rule of thumb recently, for these Harp-Sympitars; that is to figure about $1000. per string, to get a rough idea of what a project might cost. So a 39-string instrument, like those mentioned, ends up being about $40,000. This has worked out so far, in covering time and materials, shop overhead, and other identified or projected expenses. But it may turn out to not be enough. Compared to other builders, $40. per construction-hour is not at all out of line: I know a number of builders that are getting more like $100 per construction-hour.

In closing, let me say that I’ve been very moved by everyone who has expressed interest in my work; your enthusiasm has supported and encouraged me to keep doing this crazy stuff. Your patience with me as I go through my process of discovering what I can and can’t do, what my truth really is in all this, has my deep gratitude.
I’m not throwing away my waiting lists. I hope that some day I’ll get to make some of you amazing instruments. In the same spirit, please don’t give up on me. If you have any desire to pursue getting an instrument from me, taking into consideration what I’ve described above as my current needs and interests, please let me know.
If I have instruments that become
available for purchase (used or newly made) I will try to let people on my lists know about them, if I think there might be interest.

Again, thanks for your patience with me, for your time reading this lengthy letter, and especially for the joy you take in music and instruments, and your continued expression of that joy. Such joy makes the world a better place!

In Peace and Music,

Fred

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