This website was created by the children and grandchildren of Carolyn Wilson Field in 2016. We have watched our mother and grandmother make beautiful stringed instruments for the last four decades. In love and admiration, we are preserving records she created for each of her instruments, giving future owners of her instruments access to the details of their creation.
In 1680, Antonio Stradivari established a shop in Cremona, Italy, where he created violins, violas, and cellos. In the late 1970’s, Carolyn Field set up shop on her dining room table in New York City for the same purpose. Her workshop had a magical array of tools. She created instruments with great precision and love.
Carolyn was born in Texas, went to public school in Oklahoma, and college at Swarthmore in Pennsylvania. She grew up surrounded by music; her mother played the piano, her sister became a professional violinist and her brother an amateur violinist. Carolyn began on piano, played flute in school orchestras, but as a young adult she decided to play an instrument that was more needed, and took up the cello.
She was playing cello in a community orchestra in the early 1960’s in Houston when she met her late husband, Frank Field, who worked in the research lab of Humble Oil Company and played violin. They were both married to other people and their families became friends in music and in church activities.
Carolyn had been interested in the acoustics and physics of stringed instruments for a long time, collecting articles from the Scientific American and Physics Today in the 1960’s. More than a decade later, after she and Frank had married, she learned, in moving to New York City, that her cello had been damaged and would cost more to repair than it was worth. Friends referred her to Carleen Hutchins, who taught violin making and repairing and was the author of several of the scientific articles that had fascinated Carolyn earlier.
“I always liked to work with my hands,” Carolyn said in 2005 in North Carolina. She had embarked on a career in 1977 of making instruments – 50 in all, violins, violas and three cellos. “Some are better than others, but they are all good,” remarked Carolyn. One was a commission. Others were bought by adult amateurs, professional players, and talented students – sometimes the grandchildren of friends.
In the 1980’s, Carolyn moved her shop from New York City to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and in 2005, she moved it to Durham, North Carolina. In her shop, Carolyn kept planes, gouges, chisels, scrapers and calipers accurate to the most minute measure. Frank had constructed an electronic sound generator that created patterns in aluminum glitter on the violin tops and back to show Carolyn whether she was within tight tolerances on the dimensions of these plates. The sounds were sometimes so loud she wore ear protectors. She ordered blocks of wood, maple or spruce, from a supply house. She cut them to a pattern, tested the acoustics of pieces and when satisfied with the results, glued them together, carved the ornate scrolls and varnished the wood. She bought fingerboards, pegs and strings to complete the assembly of the instrument. A violin would take at least three months to complete, while larger instruments would take longer.
Most recently, Carolyn played her own handmade “vertical viola,” which was donated to the University of North Carolina in 2016. In Tennessee, Carolyn and Frank did a project about the comparable loudness of instruments, and they both published papers in the Catgut Acoustical Society Journal.
In 2016, Carolyn Field lives in Durham, North Carolina. She still enjoys both chamber and orchestral music, and her tastes embrace a variety of composers. She makes one particularly aware of the “art” in artisan.
The information above was adapted from an article in The Forester, written by Mal Oettinger in 2005.