Monday, September 24, 2007

Pau-brasil and the bow-makers, Part III

Charles Espey sent me a series of graphical maps showing the deforestation patterns in the Atlantic Forest from 1940 through 1990. The cutting of the forest started in the 1500s, but it's amazing how much of the forest has disappeared in just the last few decades. There is only about 5% of the old growth forest left! Not to be cynical, but the same thing happened in our country, a long time ago. Old growth forests in the United States are no more than pinpoints on the map today. Like the remaining pieces of the Atlantic Forest, there are people quite eager to cut down the rest. But that's another story; our interest here is, Pau-brasil (also called the Pernambuco tree) and the connection with the bow-makers. My curiosity of how Espey entered the profession got the best of me, so I came right out and asked him about it. I'm honored that he responded to my question. To quote him: "32 years old and doing graphic design and photography in Seattle, I was rowing my rowboat and ran into a piling. When I jumped forward to fend off I stepped on my fiddle case and cracked the instrument. In the shop I went to for repair there was a man making a bow... I got a job repairing bows and 9 months later moved to France and learned the trade there. The moral of the story is the texture of a person’s life is full of the threads of chance encounters, even painful events can thrust you into another world. I have a feeling you’ve grabbed a few threads yourself." Quite a story and so succinctly put. France, that's where the connection between Pau-brasil and the bow-makers started more than 200 years ago. F. Tourte was already the name among bow-makers in the world at that time. His mania for experimenting with every kind of wood he could find led him to a piece of Pau-brasil that he discovered on the outskirts of Paris on a fishing trip. That piece of wood proved far superior to any other wood species he had used previously; and the professional bow-makers of today continue to look at Pau-brasil as the standard. Now, you may wonder how Tourte came by a piece of Brazilian wood on the banks of a river near Paris. Quite simple. Millions of Pau-brasil logs were exported to Europe during the economic rage of red dye. That Smithsonian Institute magazine article (The Music Tree) that I referred to earlier, reports that Paris alone had a stockpile of more than 150 acres of Pau-brasil logs piled head high. I asked Charles Espey to send me some images of his bows. Notice that the one in the attached image carries his signature. Coming up, images of Pau-brasil plantations in Bahia.

1 comment:

GingerV said...

Hello my friend of the north, once again I have enjoyed your story. In regards to the deforestation of the Atlantic Forests - see
august 5, 2007 - RAPE....
for my opinion on the government efforts.