Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with one of my neighbors. Mark Russell and I have been neighbors for several years; he was known to me as the “Violin Guy.” I knew that he had a violin shop in his home, but that was the extent of it. It wasn’t until I sat down with Mark for this interview that I found he wasn’t just a “Violin Guy.” He is truly a “Violin Artist.”
Mark has been a violinmaker for over 25 years. He began repairing instruments for people while he was living in Bloomington, Indiana. “I had done a lot of repair work and I had already made guitars and banjos,” said Mark. A friend of his introduced him to Ole Dahl, who was a violinmaker. He started working for Ole immediately. It was on New Year’s Day in 1980 when Mark finally realized where his life was headed. “It was one of those New Year’s Eve revelations I had while walking in the middle of the street. The gongs were chiming and I just decided at that point that I was going to be a violinmaker,” Mark said. In 1987 Mark went to England for his violin training. He was there for 3 ½ years before returning to the states. He eventually wound up in Fishers where he lives with his wife, Lesley, and two sons, Michael and Christopher.
Ole Dahl was a master at his craft and used only handmade tools to create his instruments. This is a trade that Mark has adapted. Mark has some tools that were given to him by Ole, such as a beautiful cello peg shaver handmade by Ole while he was living in Denmark, but has also made many of his own. This quality makes Mark’s craftsmanship stand out from many. His workshop is filled with handmade tools, handmade templates and solid woods sent from Germany. “When you’re doing repairs you’ll need many different sizes because all instruments are different,” Mark said. Even the glue that he uses is natural. It is made and boiled in his home.
Mark has worked on many precious fine stringed instruments. Everything about his process is meticulous and fine tuned. The time and precision he takes with each instrument shows in the beauty of his work. Each piece is dated and branded with Mark’s name. It usually takes a minimum of at least three months to finish one instrument. As well as the United States, Mark has made instruments for people all over the world. “I have a couple of girls in North Korea play my instruments. Someone in Germany is playing on one,” Mark said. He also had one violin that he sold to a student in Bloomington. “The student loaned it to a guy to do a concert with and the guy stole it. It’s been stolen for the last 12 years and is somewhere in Europe,” Mark said while shaking his head.
Mark loves to restore older instruments because they teach you the historical violin making. “You learn quite a bit about how fine instruments were constructed. Violin making is an old traditional craft,” he said. In addition to making violins, Mark also restores other stringed instruments and does repairs for customers. While I was with Mark, he showed me a beautiful cello he is restoring and also a very unique bow that he is repairing for a customer. The time and dedication he takes for each instrument and customer is amazing.
In addition to his craft, Mark has also served as the Official Luthier of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis for the past 12 years. He does all the restoration, emergency repair and acoustical adjustment for all of the players.
I have to say that I have now gained a new appreciation for the art of violinmaking. If you would like to get in touch with Mark Russell, he can be reached at 595-9144.