“When you cut down a tree, what you make from it should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.”
~ Richard Powers, The Overstory
Christina Yankovich recognized very early that she wanted to live a life that was an expression of being a creative person—a full life, immersed abundantly in Creative Spirit. Little did she know that her life’s pursuit would sprout so many interesting and varied expressions of creativity in the fertile soil of Huntsville. For not only is she a master gardener committed to self-sustenance, but a jeweler, a small business entrepreneur, and above all a world-class violin luthier. From her small studio on a nondescript Huntsville street, she shapes wood patiently, lovingly coaxing forth the most beautiful of instruments that will engender a music that some claim is closest to the sound of a human heart singing.
Throughout most of her formative years, Yankovich chased the arts with passion and determination. She knew that she was meant to work at the craft of making something out of elemental materials. It took time before her calling would become apparent but she was guided by an energy and capacity for learning and enthusiastic curiosity.
Enrolled in the Ontario College of Arts and Design to study pottery, photography and drawing, she came across a violin posing in a shop window at a local music store, on her way home from class one afternoon. She was smitten immediately. The beauty of the instrument and the workmanship it takes to craft such an instrument struck her with clarifying purpose. While her playing ability developed more slowly, she soon found an instructor attached to the programming of OCAD who offered beginner courses in violin construction. Her instructor, Phillip Davis, is a renowned teacher of stringed instrument fabrication, and Yankovich was to spend several years not only in study but also as an apprentice with Davis. In 2001, she had the opportunity of lifetime to deepen her studies at The Newark International School of Violin Making in the United Kingdom, where she learned advanced techniques and applied craftsmanship, building violas and violins. It was a dream come true, not only because Yankovich had been born in England but, also, it gave she and her husband the opportunity of lifetime: to live and work in a special environment. To this day, Yankovich maintains monthly contact with the school via Skype.
The violin is one of the world’s most popular instruments, despite the difficulty of mastering even preliminary fingering and intonation. From classical to jazz, country to baroque folk music, the violin is the most versatile and adaptable of all musical instruments. In purity of tone and its extraordinary range, the violin, in the hands of a developed player, is capable of expressing the finest of emotions and musical thought. One has only to spend an afternoon with a group of Cape Breton fiddlers to know and experience the joy and exuberance that the violin can deliver.
Formalized in form and construction by the Italian Andrea Amati in the 1500s, the violin has been built following the same standards throughout the centuries. Although most builders typically follow the templates developed by Stradivarius, the better-known family name of tradesmen who carried on traditional violin-making, Christina Yankovich builds according to the Strand designs which have proven over time to produce the highest quality.
The art of building a handmade violin is beyond doubt one of the more demanding and satisfying applied crafts to be undertaken by any serious luthier. Typically, it takes one to two years to construct a violin. Every step of the process in one of exactitude and precision, with an attention to detail that only the most ardent of artisans are capable of.
Starting with finest air-dried wood—curly maple or plain for the back, Sitka Spruce or similar vibrational-tone wood for the top, ebony fingerboards—each element of the instrument has to be meticulously hand-crafted and tuned with tiny finger planes that shave the wood to exact specifications.
The top and back of a violin have to be carefully shaped and tap-tuned to deliver the musical promise held within its frame. No power tools can be utilized and each aspect of building has been matched with the mathematical proportions that have sustained the trade throughout its history. Hand-carved scrolls typically finalize the violin’s neck and it is said that the scroll demonstrates the artist’s strongest skill. The scroll is the perhaps the most mysterious artistic attribute of a violin, dating back to its ancient origins and mystical beginnings. The final act of polishing and varnishing a violin is its maker’s most-guarded secret.
Given that it often takes one or more years to make such an instrument, it is notable that Yankovich has only made five commissioned violins in her career as a luthier here in Huntsville, but their sound is beyond heavenly and they are very much cherished by the musicians who possess them. She also does repairs and restorations.
The video below includes two sound samples of skilled violinists playing on Yankovich violins.
Yankovich is also a highly skilled jeweler, mostly of wooden jewelry keeping with her specialty as a wood manufacturer.
Along with her jewelry, Yankovich has become an entrepreneur as a micro-greens producer. Micro greens are the germinated stocks of highly nutritious vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and sunflower. Micro greens, which in themselves are another highly demanding trade, are well known as one of the preeminent small-scale food sources that health experts recommend a daily portion of and are well regarded as a perfect, high-energy, raw food utilized for salads and juicing.
With these two trades, Yankovich usually spends her summers as a vendor in the area-wide farmers’ markets and local food outlets.
Perhaps one of the passions that Yankovich is most focused on is urban gardening, which she believes will be of utmost value and critical importance. Not only is self-sustentation necessary, it is a vital component of her lifestyle and health aspirations. Homegrown food is known to be the healthy choice if possible but also there is the creative aspect of farming and knowing soil, seed, and water in a loving relationship that produces food for family. In these somewhat uncertain times, it is motivating to witness someone transforming land into productive use and time into useful artifacts.
To say Christina Yankovich is a Renaissance woman might perhaps miss the point. She is woman who creates a life rich with possibilities, happiness, and music. Her violins will be treasured heirlooms in any family fortunate enough to possess one. Yankovich is proof that a life spent in creativity in all its varied forms and outcomes is one worthy of seeking. Be inspired to do so!
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