Ray Sparks Works on Our Guitar

Bricolage and a Bricoleur

One of the funds of knowledge that Appalachian people bring (and this characteristic is not limited to Appalachian culture--it is common in any culture where buying goods is often not an option) is that of bricolage.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BricoleurA bricoleur is a person who uses the materials at hand to create something. Often the materials used were not originally intended for this use. Bricolage is inventiveness--it is creating a new use for old things. It requires looking at the functions of things and figuring out how to use those functions in a new way.

Ray Sparks is a bricoleur.
This is Ray Sparks, who makes and repairs bluegrass instruments. He also plays mandolin and guitar. Ray is from eastern Kentucky and he came to Columbus in the late fifties to get a job. He spent many years working as a cabinet maker and created instruments on the side. Now that he is retired, he can be found in his garage most days, working on instruments. Various people drop by to get him to repair their instruments or just to hang out and play some music.

This is the wood stove in Ray's garage workshop. It's really nice because it keeps the garage REALLY warm (like 80 degrees, even in the middle of the winter). Ray likes his garage to be warm. Behind the stove is Ray's wood supply, much of which comes from Paul Osborne's wood scraps.
The mandolin on the right (next to Ray's grandson's toy gun) is one that Ray made.

How is Ray a bricoleur? Ray went to the dentist and was given a little package of dental floss. Ray decided that the dental floss was just the thing for tying together bow hair when he rehairs violin bows.

To rehair a bow requires a jig. If you look up the process of bow rehairing on the web, it suggests that this is a really tricky job and that you have to have $200-worth of tools and jigs. Not Ray. He made his own bow cradle. He carves his own wooden plugs (which hold in the hair) with whatever he has laying around.

There are always a lot of instruments laying around in Ray's garage, including banjos. People who come by to visit and play music often use whatever he has around. One banjo is a really cheap instrument with amazingly good sound. But Ray didn't want to put a lot of money into it, so he used a pine 2x4 to create the neck of the instrument instead of the usual hard wood.

Bricoleurs are creative problem solvers. There is a great pleasure one finds in figuring out how to fix something without having to go out and buy a part and bricoleurs know this joy.

With technology, there are often many ways a problem can be solved, many ways a task on the computer can be completed. We all need to be bricoleurs so that we can find new ways when old ways don't work and so we can figure out how to apply new technologies to our teaching. It's a good idea to spend some time with a real bricoleur and to notice his or her use of things that are sitting around.