A man of many lives and rooms

It is always thrilling to move behind the scenes of another person’s creative processes and discover the impetus behind his or her creations. Studying the spaces and routines that nurture an artist or a craftsman can be a key to understanding not only the product, but also the creative approach itself.

Despite how often we say otherwise, the world is big and full of marvellous sights and sounds just waiting to be experienced; one could easily spend a lifetime or more meandering around, chasing sensations and incidents while consuming the creative expressions of others with reckless abandon, giving nothing in return. Clemens Hildebrandt, a Danish luthier (that means a maker of stringed instruments), flirted with this life for many years, and evidence of his travels fills his home-cum-workshop. Paintings, photos, statues, icons from around the world – all are a reminders of his past lives: one spent as a sailor travelling from port to port around Africa and as far away as South America, one spent as a hippie, another as a student at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and the one when he found himself immersed in the European avant-garde art world of the 1970s.

Yet through all the enchanting noise and pleasures of the world, something called to him to slow down, to seek quiet; this caused him to revisit his childhood, that long-ago life when his father was a cellist. Hildebrandt remembers building his first instrument at the age of ten in an attempt to repair the emotional damage caused by his parents’ separation. But that early encounter with his future passion was premature, and like a wandering, rootless youth whose sweetheart might just be the love of his life — but what if she is not? — he broke off and moved on. He needed his ‘wild years,’ as he calls them, to discover the sense of home that was waiting for him at the juncture that has come to be defined by files, saws, and the blissfully surreal moments when musicians and their instruments finally meet.

A faded copy of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s Chilperic hangs askew. On a densely packed bookcase philosophy tomes stand tall alongside books about guitars and occultism, while Niels Bohr rubs shoulders with Paulo Coelho. A bowl of fruit sits among the tools, the hanging horsehair, and half-completed instruments as a vivacious still life. He has brought the world to his home, made it an altar to his craft and life. And in the middle of it all: Hildebrandt, maker of stringed instruments. Standing at his workbench in his long white coat, surrounded by bottles of potions and curiously shaped tools of metal and wood, looking deeply contemplative, he sometimes has the appearance of a mad scientist. Perhaps in his next life.

Continue reading in Oak volume Three