One of Port Townsend’s master violin bowmakers, who helped make this a place known for bow making, died on Nov. 28.
Paul Siefried, who was a restorer of antique bows for musical instruments and a bow maker for more than four decades, died at the age of 69.
His bows—light, delicate, ornate carved pieces of art—are scattered around the world, in the hands of artists who use them day in and day out to create music.
According to The Strad magazine, which featured Siefried on its cover in July of 1985, his bows “were in the genre of Peccatte and Maire, but with the vibrancy, sensitivity and resilience of bows by legendary makers like Tourte and Voirin.”
Born in Chicago in 1950, Siefried’s first foray into hand work was when he started at a leather shop after leaving art school. Growing up with artist parents, who had a large collection of fine art in their home, Siefried was attracted to creating beauty. At age twenty he applied to enter the violin making school at Mittenwald, but was rejected. That’s when he found a job as an apprentice at Cremona Violin Makers and Dealers in San Francisco.
From there, he moved to Los Angeles to work at Hans Weisshaar, the most famous violin shop on the West Coast at the time. It was there that he refined his skills, teaching himself the art not only of making bows for instruments, but of restoring antique bows.
“Paul was an absolute 100% to the core artist,” said Ole Kanestrom, a fellow bow maker who shared a shop with Siefried in Port Townsend for six years. “Everything in his life was art. He surrounded himself with beauty.”
In 1991, Siefried moved to Port Townsend with his wife and two children and set up shop in his backyard. He began making and restoring bows for musicians around the world.
Bowmaker Charles Espey came to Port Townsend independently of Siefried and also set up shop. The two being here attracted a crowd of artisan bowmakers, creating what Siefried called the ‘mecca’ of bow making. They began training others in the art, keeping the tradition of handmade bows alive.
Recently, these bowmakers—occasionally referred to as the “Port Townsend Five”—were the subject of a new documentary called “The Bowmakers,” made by local director Ward Serrill and produced by Rose Theatre owner Rocky Friedman. In the film, Siefried shared about his life as a bowmaker living in Port Townsend.
For many years, Siefried worked from a restored outbuilding on Jefferson Street, but later was well-known to locals at his and Kanestrom’s shared shop in Uptown, where he could be seen by passersby working on rare antique bows inside.
The shop was known as “The Wild BoHo”—Siefried and Kanestrom had kept the sign of the previous business in the space, nationally noted restaurant “The Wild Coho,” but jokingly changed one letter.
His bows were world-renowned for musicians who would travel to find the perfect bow for their instrument and technique.
“His hands were just dripping with artistry,” said Sigrun Seifert, a German violin maker who worked with Seifried at Weisshaar’s shop. “He always had an elegance to his design.”
Siefried loved the shape and flow of lines, equal curves and tasteful design. But even though the art of bow making is one that requires perfection, he was always at ease in the studio, Seifert said.
“He was so relaxed when he worked,” said Joseph Grubaugh, who like Seifert, met Siefried at Weisshaar’s shop. “He was always leaning back in his chair and whittling away. There was no uptightness, it never looked like a struggle.”
Always humble and good-humored, Siefried was also a well-known maker of “joke bows,” Kanestrom said.
“He had an incredible sense of humor,” he said. “He would make totally perfect bows that were just jokes.”
From a “double bass bow” that was two bows stuck together back to back and completely unplayable, to plywood bows that were made to look like masterpieces, Siefried’s sense of playfulness came out in his creations.
Siefried was also a master of restoration.
“He’s probably one of the best restorers of bows of antiquity in the world,” Kanestrom said. “He was a world class bow maker, but a genius in doing those restorations. It’s a whole world unto itself.”
Taking bows that were hundreds of years old created by some of the original master bow makers, Siefried would restore them in a way that was unseen.
“His restoration was inventive,” Seifert said. “Because of his artistic creativity and his eyesight, he could tune in to exactly what needed to be done.”
Restoring bows is a balance of staying true to the original antique artistry, while also maintaining the bow as a usable tool for musicians.
“There were a hundred bow makers back then and all did something a little different,” Seifert said. “Paul knew everyone’s earmarks, everyone’s traits.”
Siefried’s artistry went beyond violin bows, however. He was also a creator of fine jewelry, a silversmith, a woodworker, and in true Port Townsend tradition, he dabbled in boat building.
Creating things was how he showed he cared, Kanestrom noted, remembering a set of handmade adirondack chairs that showed up on his porch one day with no note.
“I knew it was from him, but he didn’t say anything,” he said. “He was always making beautiful things and giving them away.”
Siefried and Grubaugh would send packages of books back and forth to each other, fostering their love of reading, 20 books at a time.
“He was a voracious reader,” Kanestrom said. “He was incredibly articulate and such a good conversationalist.”
In Port Townsend, Siefried would often take a break from working at his shop to sit out with his binoculars and watch the ships pass on the bay, Grubaugh said.
Beyond Port Townsend, he was known by many for the music his masterpieces created.
“As you all know my father was well loved by many people all over the world,” wrote his son, Nik Siefried, on a Facebook post where hundreds of comments in an array of languages were posted, remembering Siefried and his bows.
A memorial service will be announced in the coming months, according to Nik Siefried.