A Few Minutes With: Faune Benson Schuitema-The Lady Behind The Luthiers
Photos by Larry Gouine, Cheryl Benson and Faune Benson Schuitema
Each February folks from throughout our area and beyond pack themselves into the Black Box at the Dogwood Center eager to hear the latest edition of the NCCA-Artsplace West Michigan Luthier Concert. This Saturday, February 11 will mark eleven years and once again our local luthiers and musicians will be playing at a sold out show.
It has been a joy to plan this concert each year and take the photographs of the beautiful handmade instruments that are created by our local stringed instrument makers.
It all started with Robert Sayers. He was...
...both a talented musician and woodworker and in 1995 he made a conscience decision to combine his two passions and learn everything that there was to know about building guitars and becoming a luthier. That year he created his first instrument and over the next 20 years completed more than 100 guitars. In addition, over those 20 years he shared his knowledge with more than 40 individuals, and in 2001 my father was one of those people.
The experience was so inspirational for my dad, Don Benson that he has gone on to build many guitars, a bouzouki, and seemingly countless ukuleles. My father is an idea person, anyone who knows him can attest to this, so when I started working as the Special Events Coordinator for NCCA-Artsplace in 2006, he pitched the idea to me for a concert where every instrument was handmade by a local luthier.
So, the NCCA-Artsplace West Michigan Luthier Concert was born. Needless to say, we had no idea what to expect and were unprepared for the amount of people who showed up for the first concert. For those of you who didn't get your tickets in advance and decided to stay when it was standing room only, I applaud you and thank you for staying!
It has now been eleven years since that first concert and one of the things that continue to amaze me every year is the amount of local instrument makers that come out of the woodwork (literally). Through the years 23 different luthiers have been represented at the concert and there are more than 10 others within our region.
Since the very first year there have been three constants; Elon Howe, Mark Swanson, and my dear dad. We have also had to say goodbye to two of our luthiers, Lew Fowler in 2010 and Robert Sayers in 2014. The concerts held those years after their passing were peppered with an air of sadness, but also of joy for the inspiration that they brought to so many.
After I was charged with the responsibility of creating this concert my first call was to Robert Sayers, who not only wished me luck on my endeavor but also supplied me with so many names and phone numbers that it made my head spin. Through the first eight years he was always my first phone call, there were years that he declined to participate and there were years that I had to beg, but he was always there. I always loved the visits to his shop to take photos that would be used as part of the photography exhibit that accompanies each concert. We grew close throughout those years and I truly miss those phone calls and visits, but I also remember them fondly.
I feel that the luthier craft is a tradition that will be carried on from one generation to the next and many of the luthiers that got started in the West Michigan area who were taught by Robert Sayers have also gone on to teach others. Currently, my eleven year old daughter is building her very first ukulele with the help of “Grandpa Don” and I have seen her approach this project with a tenacity and thirst for knowledge like no other time in her eleven years. I know that she will carry this precious experience with her the rest of her life. I am so proud of her for accomplishing this task and so proud of my dad for having the patience to see it through.
I want to thank each person who has attended this concert, participated, and volunteered. Organizing this event has brought me so much joy and I hope that you love it as much as I do.
And for those of you who would like to experience the magic of the Luthier Concert next year, here’s a suggestion.
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