From bows to bark

Cellist continues to create art -- now in his wood shop

The first musical instrument Patrick Riley built was this viola da gamba. He also has built three guitars. (Annalise Braught | Bemidji Pioneer)

The first musical instrument Patrick Riley built was this viola da gamba. He also has built three guitars. (Annalise Braught | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Patrick Riley knows something about the arts. He has been the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist for 46 years.

But as a relative newcomer to woodworking, he’s hesitant to call his work art.

Others disagree.

Riley, 73, creates cutting boards, boxes, even guitars and a viola da gamba in his home shop northeast of Bemidji.

“As a musician, because of his instruments, there’s this fascination with the wood and the work that goes into it,” said Lori Forshee-Donnay, executive director of the Watermark Art Center. “His work really celebrates wood and how he presents it. The colors are happy because that’s how the wood is. To him it’s just wood, and it’s just fun for him. But really the end result is this beautiful piece of art.”

Perhaps it’s because of his considerable skill as a musician that Riley uses the word “craft” to describe his woodworking.

“I’m not a sentimental guy,” he said, “but the more I play with the orchestra and the older I get, the more I cherish that feeling of sitting down with my colleagues and making something beautiful. I don’t have that feeling with woodworking, because I’m just not very good at it. But I do get a feeling of pleasant warmth when I come into the shop. I think it’s because there’s no pressure on me. It’s not because I love woodworking the way I love making music.”

Folks who visit the Watermark gift shop and see Riley’s cutting boards might question Riley’s modesty.

“Some of his pieces have been just amazing,” Forshee-Donnay said. “He makes his cutting boards so they’re durable. Over and over we have people say, ‘Oh, they’re too pretty to cut on.’ And he’s like, ‘I want you to cut on it. That’s what I made it for.’ So they’re little pieces of art but they’re functional as well.”

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Source, image(s), credits & more: Bemidji Pioneer | Dennis Doeden