Women and violin making – once and now

By M° Ulrike Dederer
Violin Maker – Zürich

Looking back in history it seems like for centuries violin making was a male craft and art. We find no original labels in violins bearing a female name well into the 20th century.

But is it really true that for centuries women stayed out of the luthiers’ workshops?
I don’t think so! 

In Cremona violin making was traditionally a family-run trade. The family-patriarch’s name was the “brand” of the workshop, the instruments bore (and still bear) labels with his name. Other family members accepted to subordinate themselves.
A prominent example is Antonio Stradivari and his workshop. There are rarely any instruments bearing labels by his sons until he died at the age of 93.

But what about the female members of the family? As living and working space was in the same place, it is very likely that female family members were involved in the working process too. Every hand was needed to run a workshop successfully.

Another example is Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. There are hints* from researches of different sources that Giuseppe’s wife Katarina was a co-worker of her husband and that she might have finished and built instruments after her husband’s death.

In Europe during the 20th century women fought for their rights which led to women’s equality in law. Now women are entitled to run their own workshop and to put their own label into their instruments. Still women are insufficiently visible in the violin making world. But times are changing. Nowadays half of the violin making students are female – and more female violin makers feel encouraged to tread their path and to reach for the stars in a world which was once exclusively for “white men”. 

*see article by Roger Hargrave

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