Local Man Makes His Own Violin

February 7, 2014

by Bob Gibbs

With just a random walk past his television set, John Ruggerio received inspiration for his next wood art project.  John glanced at the television, which was tuned to New Hampshire Chronicle.  They were airing a piece on a woodworker that was specializing in handmade violins, violas and cellos.  John sat down to watch the show and told his wife that he could do that.

This got John started on his project of building a handmade violin in his home woodshop.  John has been carving wood since 1994.  He has a special love for making bird carvings and artwork.  The unique signature that he gives his artwork is to give the observer a sense that the birds are flying.  His duck decoys range from new hand painted works to a very large decoy that has been antiqued to look 100 years old and is displayed on his back porch overlooking Canobie Lake.

In 1996, John was awarded a blue ribbon at his very first art competition.  The award winning carving, a canvas back duck floating decoy, later sold quickly in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  John’s first world championship was in 1997 for his great blue heron piece.  John has won many ribbons since then.

John’s workshop is the converted breezeway of the home that he renovated from the inside out.  His home is beautifully decorated with many pieces of his artwork.  He lives there with his wife Joyce; together they have raised three daughters and now enjoy their four grandchildren.  John very much enjoys sailing his boat on the lake in the summer.

In building his violin, he started by purchasing a model kit.  From this kit, he got his dimensions and learned the techniques he would need to build his own instrument from scratch.  He discovered that he needed to make his own specialized clamps and a form to hold the wood as it was formed and then glued into the shape of the violin.  All of the wood needed to be planed and carved to precise thicknesses and weights and then placed into exact angles to meet the expectations of the musician that may one day play the instrument.

John likes to tell the story about the first instrument he built.  He and others tried to play the first violin he built with the bow that he had purchased.  No one who tried was able to produce any sounds.  Back to the drawing board he went.  He soon found out it was not the violin he built that was the problem; it was the bow.  The bow needed to be treated with rosin to allow the bow to make sounds.  Once he rosined up his bow, the family then had to try dad’s violin.

His work isn’t limited to birds and violins.  He has created a sculpture for his church; St. Mathew’s in Windham.  He also built the church a tabernacle for the altar.  His creativity began as a child in his hometown of Swansea, Massachusetts where he had built himself a kayak.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world.  If you have a hobby that you love and you can make some money with it, what more could you want,” asked John, with a big smile on his face.

John’s carving, Fleeing Terns, a lifetime award-winning piece, can be admired at the Concord headquarters of the League of NH Craftsmen where it is periodically exhibited.  In addition, his artwork can be purchased at The Duck Trap in Camden, Maine or at the League of NH Craftsmen’s store in Hanover.  In August, John’s work will also be at Sunapee Fair in New Hampshire.  You can contact the artist at johnruggerio@myfairpoint.net.