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 Post subject: Felix Skowronek timbers
PostPosted: Wed Jun 05, 2019 4:29 am 
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Joined: Sun Dec 12, 2004 4:12 pm
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Location: Malua Bay, on the NSW Nature Coast
Many, many years ago, I met Felix Skowronek as he passed through Canberra. Felix was Professor of Flute at the University of Washington, and was in Australia to collect timber samples. What? Yep, you heard right. Timber samples. Felix wasn’t just any old Professor of Flute, satisfied to play off-the-shelf metal flutes in hum-drum materials like gold, silver and platinum. Felix had given them away and taken up wood. Indeed, the modern resurgence of interest in wooden Boehm flute in the US is attributed largely to him.

Felix wasn’t even content to leave the making of wooden flutes up to commercial flute-makers. He had ideas of what he was after, and he was prepared to go after them. He started making his own flute heads, and they became sought after. Ah, but where to find suitable materials, when you live in Washington State, USA? Flutemakers seek out hard, fine, dense timbers, not at all likely in Washington’s well-watered clime. Such timbers grow on marginal lands, such as central Africa. And outback Australia.

And that’s exactly what brought him here, and why I met him. Felix had heard that the Western Australian goldfields around Kalgoorlie should be worth a look and he did just that. I met him on his way back, in at the ANU’s Department of Forestry. I came away with a box of wood samples….

Time passes, and so has Felix, in 2006. End of an era, I thought, but it seems I thought wrong. I’ve recently been contacted by specialist musical-timbers dealer Laura Robertson on behalf of Felix’s daughter Andrea. Seems the basement of Andrea’s place in Kansas City, Missouri is where Felix’s enormous collection of potential flute timbers has ended up. And Laura and Andrea are trying to find a future for them. A future fitting to them.

I’m imagining that these might be of greatest interest to flute and other woodwind makers who live within trucking distance. But they might also be of great interest to a wider range of makers in general. Given that we have reached the point where some of out traditional timbers are now listed as endangered, it behoves us to look further. Looks like a lot of the hard work might have been done.

Andrea has created and provided an inventory of the Australian timbers Felix had in his collection, and I have a copy for anyone interested. She has also provided background information on Felix and his work, and I can supply those too. And the work goes on – Felix collected timbers from other countries too.

If you are interested in finding out more, get back to me or Laura Robertson <larrkf@gmail.com>


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2019 6:42 pm 
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Location: Melbourne, Australia
Hi Terry,

Speaking as a fellow Aussie, this is all very interesting. You and I both know that Gidgee is a superb wood for flutes. But the point is, you can get supplies of Gidgee from various millers in Australia, and while we have dozens of fantastic desert timbers, they are not commercially available, and you have to go out bush yourself. This is not a feasible idea, and not very sustainable commercially. Say you get one log of a really good species - that's not enough to offer customers or to gain extensive experience with that wood.

So I am not sure what the point of the example timber collection is. Seems mostly academic to me. Unless vast supplies of his wood are being released?


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2019 7:20 pm 
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Location: Malua Bay, on the NSW Nature Coast
Hi Andro

I wouldn't call them vast supplies, but it appears to be a lot more than a sample collection. Which surprised me. It suggests to me that Felix had visited the regions, decided what interested him, and then had local timber-getters forward stuff on later.

He did have timbers from other countries as well, but that hasn't been listed yet. Apart, I note from a box (Box no 28) of Mountain Mahogany, which I think is a dryland US timber that we might have discussed before. No specific listing of amounts other than the note "many, many!". And in the lengths column, "all approx. 7-8 long". Makes me wonder if that was one of Felix's regular local head timbers?

The fact that we are seeing numbers like Box No 28 perhaps gives some idea of the size of the holdings. I reckon if I were a starting-out flute maker within cooee of Kansas City, Missouri, I'd be very interested to get my hands of some of it for experimenting with and perfecting my skills.


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