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Hand-built banjo by Dena Lee
In This Issue: There is a new kid in Cookstown, Ontario and her name is Dena Lee. Her shop, Story Gourd Workshop, located at 9 Queen Street, is quickly becoming a gathering place for musicians, instrument builders and the curious who are turned on by the large selection of hand-crafted banjos in the window. Dena's list of accomplishments is long beginning with musician, instrument maker, teacher, song writer, singer, physician and now business woman. On top of it all Dena is extremely nice as you will soon discover in the article Dena Lee: Welcome To The Story Gourd Workshop.
Last March, at the One of a Kind Show, Carolyn and Linda met a woman who was related to the famous pipe maker Willi Mattner. At the following OOAK Christmas Show Jeanette brought by two calabash pipes which Willi had crafted. These were the types of pipes that Sherlock Holmes smoked. In learning more about Willi from Jeanette, and his use of calabash to make pipes, we just had to share this information with you in this February issue of Gourd Fever.
We also have mail, gourd sightings, music picks and a story about a group of dogs that saved the Little Pengiun population on Australia's Middle Island. Lots to read and learn this month so let's get started by opening the door to Story Gourd Workshop and meeting our featured artist Dena Lee.
Dena Lee - "Welcome To Story Gourd Workshop"
Not long ago Dena Lee moved to Cookstown, Ontario and opened up a shop called the Story Gourd Workshop. Set in a heritage style building, the window of Story Gourd Workshop is filled with hand-made banjos and gourds and inside, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.
Intitially Dena had rented the space to use as a studio but before long she found the need to expand including retail space as well as workshop space. Story Gourd Workshop is quickly becoming a gathering place and resource for people who build their own instruments, enjoy music and would like to learn more about Appalachian culture.
Dena comes from a long line of musicians. Her mother's side of the family is deeply rooted in the Applalachian mountains of Eastern Kentucky and as long as Dena can remember she has been singing or holding an instrument. Her oldest sister taught Dena and her sister to sing harmonies when she was 4-5 years old. By the time she was 7 she was singing on the radio as part of a church radio broadcast that ran every Sunday. They were called the Sims Sisters and the music they sang was very similar if not the same as the Little Warvey Sisters in "Of Brother! Where Art Thou."
It has to be said that Dena's first instrument was her voice. She has done amateur and professional singing and has been in bands, choirs, solo performances, groups, competitions in college and community. She has written songs since she was a teen, played guitar since she was 11 and percussion even before that.
She currently plays guitar, congas, ukulele, banjo, lap steel and dulcimer. Her first recording was in 1990 on a cassette called "Didn't Wait." After singing in the Kent State University Gospel Choir and back up on a few CD's for a few years, she joined a "wedding band" in which she was lead singer and percussionist.
In 2010, she produced her own CD featuring her original songs and ukulele. The album is called "Toe Tapping Irony: Love Songs For The Rest of Us" and can be found at
In light of her extensive involvement with music, instrument making was a natural. Gourds, as most of you know, are common in Ohio where Dena has her medical practice and her first gourd instrument was a kalimba (thumb piano). It was a large, resonant and alluring instrument because of the gourd sound chamber and cedar top. She was impressed by the ability of a simple gourd to have such a voice.
When she learned that the original banjos were made from gourds and goat skin she wanted to learn as much as possible about constructing them. She was sure that the same resonance would come from a banjo as that which flowed from her kalimba and that proved to be true.
In making banjos there are other resonators that can be used besides gourds. Examples are coconuts and cans but it is gourds that provide the rich deep sound of mountain music that Dena loves. For stability Dena prefers to use a wooden rim and the type of wood may vary from banjo to banjo. Softer woods and those that hold too much
moisture will warp with the tension of strings - even the light strings that Dena uses on her instruments.
Dena has used primarily cherry and walnut and has recently started working with ash and elm. Some woods tend to chip or strip when carved and other woods tend to crush with the pressure of the knife or file. Good quality, sharp tools can overcome some of these challenges.
In addition to building banjos to sell, Dena also does custom order work. She states that it is fun to design something that someone wants. Her most recent custom build was a banjo with flames on the head stock and the lobe of the 5th string. It was made of cherry and had a curly maple inlay.
On a personal note Dena lives with her precious little kitty called Carrie. That was the name of the oldest relative on her mother's side which can be traced back to slavery in Kentucky. By the time Carrie passed away she owned her own land. Carrie the kitty is a great inspiration and reminds Dena to always keep things fun.
In addition to her medical practice and her shop in Cookstown, Dena and her mother are writing a series of children's books about her mother's life as a small girl in the mountains of Kentucky. These books are available at Story Gourd Workshop and on Dena's website. The book is called Life In Knifley and is beautifully illustrated with a good story line.
So the next time you go to Cookstown, Ontario, make sure to stop by at Story Gourd Workshop and say hello to Dena Lee. She is a wonderful person with many talents and it is guaranteed that you will not stop with just one visit. I know we didn't!
To learn more about Dena check out her website at:
To see what Dena is currently building click here:
To learn more about the book Life In Knifley click here:
Hi Dena, Thank you for being our featured artist this month. We love what you are doing and as you know we love dropping by your shop! We'll see you soon. Carolyn and Linda
Willi Mattner: Artist/Master Pipe Builder
My name is Robert Mattner and Will Mattner is my father.
He was born on the Polish/Russian border in 1914. The family endured very hard times in those days thanks to WW1 and later the great Depression. As a result, my father left home at the age of fourteen to join the German Merchant Navy.
When WW II broke out, his ship, The Hagen, on which he was first ship's engineer, was in Durban Harbor undergoing engine repairs. The ship was impounded because it had been registered in Hamburg, Germany. All the crew went to internment camps around Pretoria, mainly Baviaanspoort and Leeuwkop, where they remained for the entire war.
After the war, Germany had nothing to offer, and my father found work with the ship builders James Brown and Hammer in Durban. It was at a local wedding that he met my mother. After they married, my father moved to Johannesburg and joined my grandfather in the pipe-making industry. The company was called Samel's Pipe Hospital at that stage.
My grandfather was a very talented artist who had learnt his pipe-making skills and carving working for Andreas Bauer Meerschaum Pipes in Australia, his country of birth. Over the years, and until his passing, he taught his skills to my father. Later the name of the company changed to Mattner's Pipe Hospital.
Being of Eastern Prussian extraction, my father would accept only the best Corsican briar for his pipes. The briar was obtained in France and he would make regular trips to the suppliers and spend a great amount of time choosing his materials. The grain of the briar as well as minimal wood cavities were of utmost importance.
As a child, I had to help in the factory finely tweaking the finished products. Only the best quality workmanship was acceptable and my father would often say (admonished in German) "If you are going to do a job, do it properly or do not do it at all." To this day the name Willi Mattner is associated with the finest quality pipes and to own one is a privlege.
Due to the sanctions in South Africa, briar became harder to come by and my father was forced to make a change in material for his pipes. In later years, he turned to using calabash, which he obtained from a supplier in Lasismith in the Great Karoo. All those pipes were in Sherlock Holmes style. Unfortunately the calabash powder ruined his eyesight and he eventually could do pipe repairs only from home.
It was during this time that my father met Ebenhart and passed his skills on to him. Today, Ebenhart has progressed to be a fine pipe maker of exceptional skill.
Willi Mattner passed away peacefully in the Johannesburg German Old Age Home in 2005 at the age of ninety-two.
(This letter by Robert Mattner was taken from the website Pipedia, a site dedicated to pipemaking and everything associated with pipe smoking. For more click here:) http://www.pipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
Did You Know - When making a pipe, Willi had to "size-up" your head and face in order that the pipe would compliment your features. For women he would design dainty pipes with bowls that were carved like acorns. He had one of the largest pipe collections as well and some were so large and ornate that they had to sit on the table when smoking them. He was a connoisseur of tobaccos and would mix and blend your pipe tobacco according to the cigarettes you smoked.
Looking Ahead: March 2013
We are thrilled to have with us Jean Henderson of Expressions of Color. Jean began her career as a seamstress and designer and in 1993 turned her attention to doll-making. Her first designs were simple fabric dolls but soon she began to design more elaborate, detailed, soft-sculpted dolls.
In 2007 she discovered gourds and before long her designs included mixed media gourd dolls. She has exhibited at many high-end trade shows including the New York Toy Fair and has made quite a name for herself in collectors circles, retail shops and galleries. A fabulous artist, Jean will inspire you with her attitude abour life and art.
March is a big month for gourd seed sales and although we said that we would introduce our seeds this month (February), we just couldn't fit it in! So now you all have something to look forward to in March!
So until next month, stay warm in these last months of winter, Happy Valentine's Day...
Carolyn Cooper and Linda Bond
PS Stories, ideas, comments - send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Volume 9, Number 95
In this issue:
Dena Lee: "Welcome To The Story Gourd Workshop"
The Bulletin Board: News From Northern Dipper
Willi Mattner: Briar and Calabash Pipe Maker
Out of the Mailbag, Gourd Sightings & Trivia
The Bulletin Board
Two new colors in the Belfast Irish Waxed Linen Thread are available at Northern Dipper
We now have a rich Brown Walnut and Maroon. This strong linen thread is lovely to work with and can be used for coiling and lashing.
The New Gourd Crop Is In!
We have a large variety of quality gourds for sale.
Call us at 705/435-3307 to book an appointment to come out to the farm or you can do an Internet order.
For more information on our selection click here:
" I am still practicing medicine in the US. I have a solo
Internal Medicine practice where I do general medical care and recovery medicine. I counsel my own patients through a method I developed
7 years ago. The practice has about 3000 patients and a small staff."
"I also give lectures to doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers on medical issues, counselling methods and human rights - including non-violent resistance. I have a consultant practice for meditation and reconcilliation as a part of the educational portion of my work."
"I am in the process of retiring early. One day I realized that I spend a lot of time waiting for things - appointments, meeting, events. So I looked
at my schedule and decided
to set all of those hours into one portion of the month and practice retirement"
"With a course in banjo making plus a one year apprenticeship with Jeff Menzies, I discovered that I had a creative passion for sculpting that I didn't know I had."
"Jeff Menzies is one of Canada's master banjo luthier, and thanks to him, I have been building banjos for two years now. I am and always have been drawn to the high lonesome sound of the banjo as it is manifested in mountain music."
"I like the versatility of the banjo in spite of what popular culture portrays it to be. I love that there are forms of the "banjo" that have emerged in so many cultures around the world from the akonting to the krar to the kora to the sitar to the banjo. What a wonderful testament to the ubiquity of music and man's desire to make sweet melodies."
Advice To New Artists
Listen, Practice, Share, Repeat
"To me making music is as healing as anything I could write on a prescription pad. It is the same soul work. As people come in to visit the shop and talk to me while I build instruments, I listen to them with the same care as I listen to a patient telling me what bothers them."
"I have owned my own medical practice since I finshed residency. It has an art
gallery in the waiting room
and I have hosted musical events there since 1996."
"To me, the business in Cookstown is an extension of what I started long ago. Story Gourd Workshop felt right and it turns out I love it."
"In addition to a retail space and studio I have
afternoon kalimba and gourd ukulele building workshops. But to date I have not developed a workshop for building banjos. With the purchase of a banjo however, people will get one introductory lesson. At this point I am
too busy to give regular weekly lessons."
"My future plans include establishing a kalimba jam in Cookstown once the business is more settled. And there are those who have expressed an interest in a drum group too."
"Not only do I make banjos I also make limberjacks - an Applalachian percussion instrument that looks like a little man dancing. My
variation has a gourd head."
"Starting in February, I will
be playing a set or two on
the last Sunday of every month from 2 - 4 PM at
Story Gourd Workshop.
Hope to see you there! "
Out Of The Mailbag
I've been meaning to send
this for a while now and have finally remembered.
This is a gourd that I think Nicolas painted one time during the summer at your house. We put it up in the backyard at the old place.
I couldn't get a picture of the bird coming out, only going in but as you can see the birds are quite at home in their
gourd bird house.
See you again soon,
This adorable Thanksgiving gourd turkey was spotted by Yolanda Wenting of Orleans, Ontario. It was seen in an old issue of Better Homes and Gardens, November 2009.
Thanks Yolanda, much appreciated!
It's A Dog's Life
In 2005 the Little Penguin population of Austalia's Middle Island had dropped to less than 10 birds. The reasons: the European red fox and tourists. To help these poor penguins replenish their numbers, a science student suggested that they use Maremmas sheepdogs to
help protect the flock.
For centuries the Maremmas had been used in Italy to protect sheep from predators and thieves. The Maremmas,
unlike other herding dogs, do not nip and chase but rather identify with the animals
they are guarding.
In addition to sheep, these dogs are used to protect free-range chickens, goats, llamas and penguins.
Now, in 2013, the penguin numbers are back in the hundreds.
(Taken from The Globe and Mail, January, 2013.)
To learn more about this working dog click here:
Music Pick of the Month
The Songs: The Ballad of Casey Deiss
To learn more about Shawn Phillips click here:
Did you know that astronauts don't cry - at least they don't cry like here on earth.
Due to the zero gravity tears cannot fall down the cheek. Rather they sit in the eye.
This, and hundreds of other "space facts", are currently being sent from space via Twitter by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Questions sent from earth and answers from space! Who would have ever thought.
Sacramento, CA visible at night from the Space Station
In March 2013 Chris Hadfield will be the first Canadian
to command a spaceship when he becomes Commander of the International Space Station.
For an interesting glimpse into what it is like to be an astronaut and to view some amazing photos of earth taken from space click here:
PO Box 1145
5376 Country Rd 56
L0L 1L0, Canada