I sit down across from Jónas R. Jónsson as he sits engrossed in his work surrounded by his many tools, he seems utterly content, a man at ease. He ask´s whether he should stop and turn off the music. I tell him not to, by all means keep going. I would simply like to start the interview by asking him what he is doing.
I‘m repairing a small blemish that formed under the Bridge on this Violin, is seems that the Bridge had been put in place before the varnish had fully dried, and then a late owner must have moved it around, which has caused small damages in the varnish. This I am repairing because aside from this, it is a rather whole and beautiful instrument. It was a bit like the Violin was missing a tooth on a otherwise lovely face.
How did you get into that, it must not surely be the most common of trades?
I came about an old Violin that needed restoration and came into my possession, at which point I found that getting it restored was not as easy as there wasn´t anyone that specialised in restoration. That lead me to start tinkering with it myself and I found it to be such a pleasure that, I bought a few more, to play around with in my spare time. That led me to searching for a school were I could study restoration further, that is, change my occupation.
“for the most part it’s attention to detail and fine crafting”
You have had a long association with music?
That is the basis for all of this, I have been much more associated with music than crafts, the craft being more at a hobby level. The lions share of the task in restoration and repair is getting the sound right, setting the instrument up and making sure that the sound is just that perfect and that’s where having been involved with music helps me quite a lot. It is necessary that you either play the instrument or have a real interest in music.
This takes time, doesn’t it?
Yes, for the most part it’s attention to detail and fine crafting. No matter where you put your finger down it’s all finery and a question of how much poise and staying power you have to follow through with the smallest of tasks. Taking time to do what is in front of you, it all takes time like every single action in this world.
I can then infer that you went abroad to study this craft?
I went to a small private school in the UK. You see, there is a large and well respected Violin making and restoration School in Newark where both Hans Jóhannsson and Jón Marínó, our two finest violin makers studied, and two of the teachers from there had just set up their own little school, that coincided with my search for a place to study. That lead to the wonderful situation where we were three pupils with two teachers, as close as you can get to learning with a grand master in the modern world. Classes in the larger school for instance have anything up to 30 individuals in a year.
(At this point Jónas becomes thoroughly engrossed in his work,
he uses a ear pin to rub in two kinds of adhesive material)
That seems to be a very useful tool if an unlikely one, do you often employ unusual tools and technique in your work?
Yes most definitely, in this job you have to be creative in your solutions, for example this thing here, the meagre ear pin, is incredibly versatile and useful for all manner of tasks, especially finer detail work.
Still you have an eclectic range of instruments here, they must have been hard to come by?
These are all old tools and when I started my studies, the school being near Sheffield in Yorkshire where they championed a new way of working steel, and Sheffield Steel which is famous for its durability and hardness, all of these tools were built there. What I did was to go to antique shops and sales around there and buy rather a lot of them, what you see here is but a portion of the whole. Somehow though each of them seems to have its individual character and uses, one has great balance, one here for instance is a lovely chisel, probably around ninety years old, wonderful steel and bit and is probably one of my chisels I use the most. I found it lying, rusting and dirty in a pile of scrap in one of the shops and cant have paid more than a quid for it. Its a treasure for me!
This must have been horrible to get through customs in the modern world that we live in?
No no, this all I had shipped home when I came back home, I would not have liked to have had this in my pocket.
What characterizes your normal day?
I come into the workshop at around ten, ten-ish. Let me put it this way, my day is calm and devoid of any stress that would be the best way of putting it, and here I’ll sit to lunchtime maybe and then again to around four, five a clock listening to good music (that we can attest to) and working on a Violin. People then drop in every now and then, with something they want me to look at, or with an enquiry, or even just to talk! With these windows I’ve seen that the atmosphere in the city has changed, I mean random people just drop in to say hi, and tourists of course a fair few of them. The time just slips by, comfortably mind you.
This is a luxury few get to enjoy. Yes, but I have done so much in my life that I saw this as a new challenge and a new way of life, this is the first time in a long time that I have worked such regular hours, in such a regular working environment. My occupational horizons have narrowed you could say and that is just wonderful, another thing that is great is all this light that I get through the windows.
“I leave the music on, I feel there should be music here continuously around the clock”
I have been mentioning to people that we where going to do a small interview with you and it seems that nearly everyone in the city has stood and marveld at your workshop.
Yes, I even get comments on the workshops Facebook page about that, and that is wonderful in a sense, at first when I opened I drew back the curtains in fear of burglary, but it felt strange to leave it like that in the evenings, it had no panache, so now I leave the light on, the curtains are in their place and I leave the music on, I feel there should be music here continuously around the clock. It is an absolute privilege to be able to sit all day, tinker and listen to good music.
Here around the workshop I see all kinds of varnish, coatings and plenty of materials I can’t put my name to, this must be hard to get your hands on?
I’m in contact with special distributors that specialize in these goods, these colours here are for instance special oil colours for violin restorers, that is to say these are the common colours that you find on the violins, ranging in tone from the lightest like that one there, and up to the dark one you see up near the top of the shelf, and by blending them together I can get all the tones I need. One of the reasons for joining the school that I did was that the tutors put you in contact with the suppliers and under their tutelage when I came home I nearly had the workshop ready. After the initial search for good premises for the workshop, I simply unpacked and already had roughly 95% of the tools and materials I need to open my workshop.
You mentioned a change in lifestyle and I can’t help and notice your bicycle by the door.
It’s a new rhythm, less computer, phone, car, etc. I hadn’t envisaged it before hand but has been all the more welcome.
Sitting in the workshop one feels as if in slow motion, were as the rest of the world skitters by in a speeded up timelaps. Movement is smooth and accurate. Sounds crisp and undistorted by traffic and passers by. One wants to use words like serene and blissful but over usage of said words has decreased their relevance, so a simple observation of the facts is in order. On my dictaphone it says; voice recording 3. 21. Minutes, 59 seconds. I have no recollection of any timekeeping in there nor having indeed cared the slightest, for me that hour or so was simply a great tonic against the hustle and bustle of day to day life (yes to me it felt like a hour, two even).
Find his workshop at Óðinsgata 1
Interview: Guðni Rúnar
Photographs: Nanna Dís