Monday, September 24, 2007

Pau-brasil and the bow-makers

In past blog posts I've written about Pau-brasil (Caesalpinia echinata), a Brazilian tree that provided most of the red dyes of the world for more than 300 years. It's estimated that more than 75 million trees were cut and shipped off to Europe between the 1500s-1800s. About the time synthetic dyes were discovered in the 1800s, not many Pau-brasil trees remained in the wild. Likewise, a big chunk of Brazil's Atlantic Forest had been altered, in part because of the cutting of Pau-brasil. The wood is very much in demand among bow makers of the world, who consider it the standard in their specialized profession. Since the French master bow-maker, F. Tourte, crafted his first bow of this wood 250 years ago, nothing has been been found to equal it in quality for resilience, density, beauty or the ability to hold a curve. Pau-brasil wood is still the standard and if you want a bow made if it, be prepared to pay the price, which can run into the thousand of dollars. I read in a Smithsonian magazine article (The Music Tree) that those bows made by Tourte and cohorts are all collectors items, some costing more than a hundred-thousand dollars. When I show off my own trees at Bosque Santa Lucia, I talk about the discovery of Pau-brasil by Portuguese explorer Cabral in 1500, and how Brazil came by its name. I also talk about the use of the wood for making quality bows and what the craftsmen are doing today to guarantee a stock of the wood for the future. Image: courtesy of Master Bow-maker, Charles Espey.

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