Hey diddle diddle, alum makes a fiddle
By Katie Monsen '96
The rose window of Eastvold
Chapel is the enduring symbol of PLU. Its familiar shape appears
everywhere - on PLU's letterhead, sports schedules, T-shirts and
Now it's even found a place on a fiddle.
The rose window is one of the symbols that decorates the newest addition to the Scandinavian Cultural Center collection, a golden-hued Hardanger fiddle.
The fiddle is the creation of Oregon residents and PLU classmates Lynn Berg and Virginia Langford Shive, both '64. The fiddle's decorative drawings symbolize their memories of the university.
As a prominent emblem of PLU, the rose window plays a large role in the fiddle's decoration. It is interspersed with crosses in mother-of-pearl inlay on the black fingerboard and tailpiece along the center of the instrument.
The rose window also appears in ink on the back of the fiddle. Douglas fir cones burst out of the window's center, supported by ivy twining around rhododendron and daffodil blossoms. The ivy and flowers weave their way onto the sides and front of the violin, as well.
The fir cone seeds that appear in the middle of the back of the fiddle represent the beginnings of adult life and education we had as students at PLU, Berg said. Around the seeds are daffodil blossoms and two long feathers pointing north and south, a reminder of the woodpecker that tried to peck a hole in the aluminum cross on top of Eastvold, he said.
Small trios of dots representing the holy Trinity alternate with mother-of-pearl around the edge of the fiddle. Also around the edge are tiny inked "v" shapes, like the Douglas fir needles that fall on campus.
Sitting atop the neck of the fiddle is a symbol of Norwegian antiquity, a sort of lion or dragon's head, highlighted with gold leaf and baring piano-key ivory teeth. Audun Toven, PLU professor, said the creature is a figure used on stave churches in Norway before they decided whether or not they were Christian.
Berg's interest in fiddle carving began when his daughter Kari '90 began taking violin lessons at age six, said Berg's wife Karen '65. By the time Kari was nine, she was earning a reputation in their home state of Connecticut for her ability to play classical violin and old-time fiddle music.
When Berg, who worked with Travelers Insurance Company at the time, found out how much it cost to keep violins in top shape, his "frugal Norwegian" side got the better of him. "I thought that if I knew how, I could do it myself," he said.
Berg enrolled in a class on violin repair at the University of Hartford, then took more advanced classes at the University of New Hampshire during his summer vacations. His interest continued to grow, and he started to make violins, building on a background in woodworking, primarily in canoes and grandfather clocks. His first violin took four summers to complete, constructed with guidance from a German master violin maker.
When Berg's family moved to Eugene, Ore., in 1991, he began making and repairing stringed instruments at a shop in his home.
In 1993, Berg decided the time had come to try his hand at creating a Hardanger fiddle, inspired by one such instrument that he had acquired a long time ago.
Although very similar in appearance, a Hardanger fiddle is quite different from an ordinary violin. Its structure is more complex, as seen in the gracefully curving slits on top - called "F" holes - that are carved so that one side of the slit actually tucks under the other side. Another difference is the Hardanger fiddle has a second set of strings, located below those played with the bow. These other strings vibrate by picking up resonance, making a droning sound similar to a bagpipe, Berg said.
In addition, the instrument is highly decorated, unlike a regular violin, placing it into the category of folk art, he said. Each one turns out differently, according to the creator's desires and talents. "It's not a precise art," Berg said. "That's what makes it fun."
These instruments are solely an art of Norway, first found in the Hardanger fjord region, Berg said. They traveled to this country with immigrants, who continued this part of the old Norwegian heritage. "Something very traditional is being interpreted here," he said. "This is my little participation in that migration."
Berg, a clarinet drop-out in junior high, had never taken a music or art class before he began making violins. That didn't daunt him, however, and he tried his hand at making the folk instrument. "The first one turned out well," Berg said. "I made another. It turned out okay, too."
Berg had made three Hardanger fiddles and then, in October 1995, had a new idea: to make a fiddle and donate it.
At that point he collaborated with Shive, the wife of Berg's Pflueger Hall roommate, Robert Shive. "We spent three different Saturdays around her kitchen table," he said, describing how he made the trip from his home in Eugene, Ore., to her house in Redmond, across the state. "I had some ideas for the decorative drawings I wanted to incorporate, but didn't know how to do it. I threw out my ideas and she organized them and put them on paper."
Together, Berg and Shive decided how to mesh the rose window into the design.
Berg spent six months and more than 200 hours building and decorating the instrument. It was done by spring of 1996, in time to travel to Mt. Horeb, Wis., for a Hardanger Fiddle Association convention in June. The fiddle also made a trip to a Scandinavian festival in Junction City, Ore., and to the state fair in Salem, Ore., where it won $20 and a blue ribbon.
Berg donated the fiddle to the SCC at Julefest, an annual Scandinavian Christmas celebration. He gave it to the collection on two conditions: that it become part of the permanent collection, and that it always be available to whomever wanted to play it.
Berg sees his gift as his own way of making a contribution to the university. "Some people give money. Some people give kitchens. I give a fiddle," he said.
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