A Dying Breed?

Sam Zygmuntovich is a master craftsman, a violin maker. And I’ve been fascinated by him since I first heard about him a few years ago.

I’ve always admired craftspersons (the traditional word is craftsmen), also called artisans. They are highly skilled and experienced people who make or do things. They are usually manual workers (people who work with their hands) who make things that are both functional (practical; useful) and beautiful.

In Europe – which is what I’m most familiar with – the idea of a master craftsperson goes back to the Middle Ages. There, a young man would become an apprentice (learner) to a master. While he worked for the master, he would learn the master’s craft or trade (work that requires special skill and training). When he finished his training, the apprentice became a journeyman, someone who was fully trained but not yet a master. To become a master, he had to create and submit (present, show) a piece of his work to a group of masters. If they approved it (said it was good), he was accepted as a master craftsperson, allowed to open his own business, and began to enjoy the respect of people in his community.

In the Middle Ages, craftspersons would include carpenters (furniture, wooden houses), tailors (clothes), weavers (cloth), goldsmiths (jewelry and other gold items), cobblers (shoes), wheelwrights (wooden wheels), and others.

Craftspersons are not as prominent (important; well-known) today as they used to be. Many of their jobs have been eliminated (made unnecessary) by manufacturing and other technologies. In fact, some believe that craftspersons are a dying breed, a group of people that is slowly disappearing. But Sam Zygmuntovich is evidence (a sign that something is true) that we can still find them.

The most famous violins are those that were made during the late 17th and 18th centuries (late 1600s-1700s) by Italian masters like Antonio Stradivari. His violins are so respected that the name “Stradivarius” is often used to identify the best of anything. As you would expect, Stradivarius violins are very expensive. The cheapest (lowest price) Stradivarius violins cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in 2011 one was sold for almost 16 million dollars to help victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Sam Zygmuntovich has become one of the most sought-after (wanted but hard to get) violin makers in the world. He has made violins for well-known musicians like Isaac Stern, Joshua Bell, Cho-Ling Lin, and Maxim Vengerov. He has a long waiting list (people who have asked for something but have to wait to get it). Zygmuntovich admits (says it’s true) that he can’t compete with (compare with) the Stradivarius name, but he is confident (sure) that he can make violins that satisfy the requirements of professional violinists.

Zygmuntovich learned violin-making at the Violin Making School of America, where he studied with Peter Prier who was trained in Europe. As a journeyman, he worked at some of the best violin shops in New York, where he had the opportunity to study, restore (make like new), and replicate (make an exact copy) great violins.

Sam is the subject of a book, The Violin Maker: Finding a Centuries-Old Tradition in a Brooklyn Workshop, and several short videos: The Violin Maker (excellent!) and The New Science of Violin Making.

Craftspersons are certainly not a dying breed! What kind of craftspersons do you have where you live? Do you know any?

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

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10 Responses to A Dying Breed?

  1. Dan says:

    Hello everyone,

    I do know someone, that’s my father.
    He’s been a Tailor all his life working moslty with leather and fur wich sold well during the 70s 80s maybe 90s.

    That remainds me that i need to go and visit him. He’s been a while since last time I saw him.
    We have akways been a dysfuncnional family.
    In fact out of four kids, only one went working with him. It did not last, but that is a long story.

    Hey, as a profession I make things as well,(books) does that make myself at least half of a craftsperson?

    Thanks Mr.Warren! always nice reading your posts.

  2. Dan says:

    Hello Everyone,

    The violine is indeed a fine instrument though not my favorite, I like as it sounds.
    It is also a beautiful object to look at.
    Stretching my imagination, I was thinking that Mr.Zygmuntovich and I make something similar, I mean we both make an object that is meant to convey a message, a feeling.
    I am part of the chain for producing books he makes violines. They are also both made out from wood.
    Well, you should hear the noise of a printing press making books, that’s really loud. it’s not certainly the sound you would hear at Mr.Zygmuntovich workplace.
    I have to protect my hearing by wearing hearplugs.

    Thanks! Bye

    Hey There! Emiliano, if you are reading this, know that somethimes, Gatufo and you are in my thoughts.

  3. Peter says:

    Hi,quite an article.
    Thanks dear warren.
    Very linguistically academic:)
    Yup, your observation is dead-on. craftsmanship Is a thing of past. Nowadays , People are more fascinated by a piece of technology than a fine piece of art. U know , today’s people mostly dig iPad 3 not a masterpiece painted by some world-known painter,or some artifact from the past.
    Well, with changes come cheous and ,and an excessive chorus brings order. Change came and wreaked havoc , the upheaval past and came order.
    All i m saying is Times change; so does people and their damands and interests.
    In today’s digital world hand-craft art has long lost in the shuffle.
    Art gave way to computer-generated world.
    It is sad ,yet we can’t live without. You can get by without art ,but can’t survive without your laptob

  4. lilian says:

    HI everybody
    I live in Iran where the most beautiful expensive carpets have been weaved.Persian Carpet is an essential part of Persian art and culture and dates back to ancient persia.Here you would never buy a machine made carpet unless you didnt have enough money to buy a handcrafts one.thanks,buy

  5. Betty says:

    Dear Warren

    Thank you very much for this stimulating topic about a maker of such a beautiful and sophisticated musical instrument.

    While you admire craftspersons, I admire violin very much. We have at least six of them in my house.

    Both of my daughters learned to play the violin because it is apparently one of the most difficult musical instruments to play and their crazy mother wanted them to learn the hardest things in the world.

    At first I bought two very cheap violins and when they started learning the violin, the cost of learning one and half an hour’s violin was higher than the violin itself.

    Bad violins simply cannot produce good sound. Even the most genius violin teacher does not know how to make it sound better.

    So, off we went, to the violin shops, buy a better violin.

    The thing is, every time we have a new teacher, he/she will make us buy a better and more expensive violin, better bows, better strings, etc. Another reason for buying new violin was, children grow and they need bigger violin when their arms become longer.

    That’s the story about violin and my family.

    Back to the protagonist of this article, Sam Zygmuntovich, he is only so young, and yet already he is world famous for making violins.

    From Peter Falk the actor who played Lieutenant Columbo, to Sam Zygmuntovich; from Lucy and Jeff to Warren; what I learned from them is, they all worked extremely hard to achieve something in their lives.

    What have I achieved? Nothing!

    Sorry, I should not have said that, but it is true that I feel frustrated that I have achieved nothing special in my life.

    About craftpersons as a dying breed: I learned from a wedding wear shop owner that craftpersons who make the special traditional Chinese bridal wedding gowns are a dying breed. The old craftpersons are really dying one by one and there are not many new bloods to continue the skill. That’s why it is very hard to buy one of those bridal wedding gowns now. Mostly they are for hire.

    Thanks again, Warren, I really learned an awful lot from your articles and from your valuable advices from your website “successfulenglish.com” where I obtain “Clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English”.

    I also enjoy reading the post in the blogs in your website.

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂


    I wanted to post in Warren’s blog Fallingwater but it was closed for comment so I have to mention about it in this blog.

    The waterfall underneath the house “Fallingwater” was not very big, otherwise it can be dangerous living on top of a waterfall, I think.

    I remembered reading stories when I was little about a monkey king and his followers getting in and out of some caves behind waterfalls.

    The monkeys looked very happy jumping in and out of the caves, through the water curtain. We called the caves “Water Curtain Caves”, in Chinese it is “Shuilian Cave”.

    By the way, if you have a chance to do the same as the monkeys, you will be happy as well. We have a water feature structure in the “Hong Kong Park” in Central, Hong Kong. Many tourists cannot resist the temptation to walk through the “water curtain” (although it looks dangerous to me) and they all have big smiles on their faces when they do that.

    I think there are many famous water curtain caves in China. Are there any in other countries?

    Thanks and best regards to everyone – all intelligent teachers and intelligent co-learners here*.

    * According to the survey from “www.alexa.com”, “Compared with all internet users, Eslpod.com’s users are disproportionately highly educated, and they are disproportionately childless women under the age of 45”.

    I don’t know how they did their survey, I only know that I am not particularly highly educated and I am not a childless woman under the age of 45.

    Betty 🙂

  6. Peter says:

    You got it Betty
    You got it all right
    As I Said before , the world is not made of marshmallows. One has to work his/her fingers to the bone to make his way to the top.
    No body sayS that it is easy ,but it is worth going for.
    It is a rewarding effort.
    Well,It does get frustrating ,and tiring sometimes . Well, tough it out, as the end is promising.

    You know thst you have whst it takes to achieve unachievables
    Giive yourself some credit sis. We are doing sth here.
    We are comunicating in a whole other langage here , differen with the language we grow up into.We are ,from different part of the world here ,gathering and talk amongs us 🙂 with some mutual language , we have learned Here ,on this very progaram.
    Jeff and Lucy and Warren they are wonderful and everything. No argue there. But, let’s not forget. It is their mother tongue.
    They made a perfect system here. They come up with a break though approach that works. I give them that
    Don’t get me wrong . They are my personal heros. But, their own the language.
    We make small conversations ,we quip , we banter 🙂
    For all I know , it is worth sth
    Given that , we did achive some unachievable. We didn’t make a difference like eslpod team has done. I m aware of it.
    Yet , we can pass the torch . We can teach all the insight we have been given here.
    I teach some Emglish on the side. Where do u think I get my material from” my one and only Eslpod”
    I m a thief, I know :))
    See , I already made a difference, not at the gratitude Jeff did . Neverthless , I did sth here. And I never sell my self short!!
    I take pride in ( thanks Lucy)saying I dream in English , and it is huge in the world of language Learners.
    You must take pride in what you are doing here too.
    Man , you are the inspiration on this blog. You made a difference already.

    Besides , your big heart is sth that you don’t wanna take for granted.
    Be proud of yourself and stop self-bashing talk.
    Nobody buys it as everybody knows you here around the blog.

    Keep your chin up



  7. Peter says:

    If anything ,you are an accompolished woman.

    Cheers. !

  8. Dan says:

    Hi there Lilian,

    I wish there was a web site like this one to better know your country.
    Unfortunately the only thing that comes out through the media is about you know, some people playing with Uranium.

    Do you know something about carpets? I happen to have this carpet and three cats, unfortunately as you may know cats and carpets do not get along very well.
    Someone of them has urinated on the carpet that is now rolled up in the basement.(Maybe Jeff is right about cats) Do you know how to get that stain out?
    I wonder whether Emiliano has the same issue with Gatufo?

    Come on! I am sure you were joking, right?
    I refuse to read that again.
    I do not want to add anything to what Peter has already wrote to you. Well said Peter!

    Bye guys!

  9. Peter says:

    Thank you Dan for backing me up!
    Betty is something , isn’t she?
    U know, life is all about hard working.
    There is one proverb in English, it is in a way funny.
    It goes like:
    “If ifs and buts were pots and pans there would be no work for timkers’ hands ”
    Basically , it means ” wishing for things is useless you must battle through to get it . You must work hard for it.
    The proverb totally fits in here.
    We are battling through , aren’t we?

    Again, thanks for the support Dan
    I really appriciate you taking time out of your day and read my comments.

    Yours ,

  10. Øyvor says:

    Hi everyone..and thanks to all of you for teaching me English!

    As for manual workers I admire them too..my grandparents, both mom`s and dad`s were
    tailors, shoemakers, carpenters and farmers..my father`s sister is now 93 and still making
    the most beatiful weaving fabrics..one of them has our family name, as her mother invented
    the pattern.
    I really hope craftsmen are nor a dying breed!
    By the way..last summer my husband and I learned how to make and place new “teeth”
    into old hand rakes..it was pretty difficult to carv them to the right size..but so funny!!

    Have a nice day!

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