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Artistic Artisan: Robyn Sullivan

Artistic Artisan: Robyn Sullivan

Violist Robyn Sullivan first encountered stringed instruments at the age of five, when she heard the daughter of a family friend play the violin. It cast an instant spell, and Robyn knew immediately that she wanted to play as well. Two years of pleading finally paid off when Robyn’s mother signed her up for violin lessons. She continued for many years, eventually switching over to viola in high school and falling in love with the instrument’s sound and tone.

After high school, Robyn was less sure of what career path she wanted to take, though her summer job at a music camp revealed that instrument repair was a frequent necessity. This got her thinking about how interesting it would be to learn how to fix them, or, better yet, build them herself. While majoring in music at Skidmore College, Robyn opted to prepare a senior project rather than write a lengthy paper to complete her degree. She persuaded local violin maker Geoffrey Ovington to show her the ropes and was able to perform on the instrument she made as a capstone to the project. No longer harboring any doubts, Robyn worked in a violin shop after college and then attended the Chicago School of Violin making, earning her certificate in three years alongside an eclectic group of eight students ranging in age from 18 to 70.

After relocating to Milwaukee, Robyn pounded the pavement in search of her first job, eventually landing at Classical Strings where she discovered the vast difference between instrument building and instrument repair. There she honed her craft over two years and then, while raising a family, kept her skills sharp at Korinthian Violins. Since returning to the Chicago area when her husband accepted a new job, Robyn has continued to build and repair instruments from her home workshop.

She also wanted to continue playing, so Robyn sought to join an ensemble for motivation, as she had done in Milwaukee. She looked up the ESO and auditioned for a spot in the viola section, which has proved a challenging and fulfilling pursuit since 2015. Now that her children are older, Robyn is also eager to expand her work with Chicago Strings in Evanston, which recently relocated to 1642 Orrington Avenue. In this rather unique field, Robyn finds that there is always more to learn or research. As the industry has become increasingly transparent, supportive, and open, makers will gather for conventions and learning workshops and share new methods. Robyn enjoys how the profession combines so many different things and allows her to work with her hands. She also finds great pleasure in talking to the musicians, seeing how they play, and learning what distinctive sound each wants from their instrument, which can have unique quirks. From mass-produced student instruments to the finest instruments built by master craftspeople, each one has a personality all its own.

Robyn Sullivan

Robyn Sullivan

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