Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Flagg Paints the Instrument Makers

In 1907, American illustrator James Montgomery Flagg found a newspaper clipping about a remote town in Germany called Markneukirchen, where they made some of the world's best musical instruments.

He decided to travel there to paint the craftsmen at work. It was a remote destination far from the train lines, requiring days of arduous travel. 

When he arrived, he didn't have an introduction, nor did he speak German, and they didn't know who he was. At first no one wanted to pose for this strange artist. 

But eventually he managed to meet the right people and get permission to set up his art supplies in the instrument makers' workshops. 

(Painting by Flagg, courtesy the Markneukirchen Musical Instrument Museum.)
He painted a portrait of Heinrich Theodor Heberlein Jr., known as the "Modern Stradivarius."

They made not only violins, cellos, and basses, but also brass instruments. The fumes in the brass shops were so overwhelming he had to sit outside under an umbrella. One model "held a six-foot iron ladle full of hot lead for a half hour, without resting it against anything!"

Everyone in the village, even older men in their 60s, stayed up until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, talking and singing. Then they woke up at six the next morning to get to work. When they weren't making instruments they were playing them.
"The workmen in the town have numerous bands of their own, and the instruments they play on are those made by themselves. There is a young boys' band which marches quickly through the streets on certain occasions, followed by scores of children. They play one tune for miles, it seems—no sooner finishing it than they start over again, much to their own joy."

Learn more
• Flagg published his sketches and recollections in an article in Scribner's Magazine. You can read the article online at this link.

• There's also a more detailed summary of Flagg's sketching adventure at this instrument maker blog.

• Wikipedia on James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960)

• A profile of Flagg is included in Fred Taraba's book: Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked...

• There's an illustrated monograph about James Montgomery Flagg.

• Markneukirchen is still a center for instrument making. See what the factories look like now on this YouTube video.


Rich said...

"...but eventually he managed to meet the right people and got permission to set up his art supplies in the instrument maker's workshops."
Funny that!
There must have been an awful atmosphere of distrust and suspiction in those times.

But finally Flagg made friends with the instrument-building-cohort;-)...the watercolor portrait masterpiece of the boss, Heinrich Theodor, delivers ample evidence to that.

Never heard of this Stradivari thing:

The history of Illustration with all those unknown artist draftsmen - thanks James for rolling all that up.

Penny Taylor said...

Stradivarius violins are the most prized in the world.

Penny Taylor said...

When I read this I couldn't help but think if which if these men and boys may have perished in The Great War, or the influenza epidemic. The paintings and the rare surviving instrument one of the few records of their talent, hard work, and lives

Rich said...

...not only these men an boys: Painters, poets - any artists had to join the Great War. And lots of them promising young talents perished as well.

What a loss!