Dick’s Forum – No. 9
I learned of Burdell Tenney from Lester Bardin. However, it would be after Lester’s death before I met Burdell. Burdell was born in El Paso, Texas and during his life has been an architect, artist, violin connoisseur, bow maker, and anything else that struck his fancy.
Burdell could draw anything, and make most anything he needed. For example, he and his wife Betty collected crèche figures and for a time went to great effort to expand and improve their collection. Every year at Christmas they would have an open house, the feature of which would be a display of their crèche in an appropriate scale-model setting. This setting included buildings, animals, fountains, paving, foliage, and other items appropriate to a medieval setting. All made by Burdell.
One year Burdell announced that the setting needed a camel and he was unable to locate the appropriate figure for the setting. Over the next few months he began reading about camels, on more than one occasion I found him watching old movies that had camels in them. Later he told me he was watching the camels’ muscles as they moved to get a sense of scale and proportion. One day I came into his shop and there on his workbench stood a perfectly scaled and modeled camel. Burdell had made it from scratch and it fit the crèche setting perfectly.
Burdell played the violin as a young man. Ben King in Phoenix, I believe was his teacher. He served in the United States Navy in World War II. After the war his major career was as an architect and draftsman. The violin, and more intensely, the bow, were to be lifelong passions for him. Self taught, his techniques, tools, jigs, and concepts were uniquely his own. Sometimes his work bordered on genius and at other times was fraught with difficulty and self doubt, but always he was creative and searching for new ideas and ways of doing things.
My early training and experience in rehairing violin bows was with Burdell. As with other activities his methods and tools were his own and while they seemed to work for him I had trouble making a finished professional product. My search to perfect my product led me to renew a friendship with violin maker Jon Peterson of World of Strings in Long Beach, California and to the Summer String Institutes at California Lutheran University taught by John Vander Horst and Arnold Bone, modern American bow makers. From these luthiers I learned to successfully use modern methods, materials, and tools.