By Justin Franz, 4-24-12
||Caption: Artist Nick Oberling paints on the violin he and his wife, Jennifer Li, are creating for the upcoming “Virtuoso Violins,” a fundraiser for the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Among the various landscape and figure paintings scattered in the studio of Nick Oberling and Jennifer Li, one piece sticks out. A delicate silver violin sits unfinished and, every once in awhile, Oberling will lift it off the workbench and awkwardly affix it to his easel.
Oberling will be doing that more often in the next few weeks because the decorated violin is due to arrive at the Glacier Symphony and Chorale’s office by May 1. There it will be gathered up with 11 other violins to be auctioned off this summer as a fundraiser for the symphony, now in its 29th season. Before the auction, however, the 12 violins will be placed on display throughout the valley.
Oberling and Li assisted volunteer chairperson Margene Barry in selecting a dozen prominent Flathead Valley artists to decorate the wooden instruments. Barry said many other groups have done similar fundraisers. Oberling said when he was first asked to help, there was no doubt about what his answer would be.
“What motivated me is that I love the symphony and it’s such an outstanding institution here,” he said.
Both Oberling and Li got their art careers started in New York, before moving to a secluded plot of land west of Kalispell in 1998. Today they are professional artists and raise their family here in the Flathead. Thanks to the Internet, both artists are able to sell their work around the world, meaning it doesn’t really matter if they’re separated from the country’s biggest art markets.
Yet even with years of experience under their belts, painting a violin wasn’t as easy as they had hoped.
“The violin is such a beautiful object and we had a hard time getting started,” Li said, adding that the couple was concerned that whatever they put on it would overshadow the instrument’s natural lines.
“We had to stare at it for awhile and figure out what to do with it because it was also a lot smaller than what we thought it would be,” Oberling said.
But there were plenty of other challenges too, including how to attach the violin to an easel and how to display it when done; both issues that were eventually resolved. Oberling said the hardest and most time-consuming part is just about to begin, as the couple puts the finishing touches on the piece, which is coated silver and features a scene of small songbirds, playing into the piece’s title “Duet.”
Alan Satterlee, executive director of the symphony, said the violin fundraiser has given his group the chance to collaborate with other area artists, which is one of its “core values.” He doesn’t know how much money the violins will bring in, but he’s hopeful that this summer’s fundraiser will get the symphony’s budget off to a good start going into its 30th season in October. Satterlee said the symphony is planning a big year and its budget will need to increase by 15 percent in order to pull off the extensive schedule. The symphony’s annual budget is about $630,000.
“We’re going to go all out and bring some special talent here,” he said.
In order to do that, the symphony will need the help of local talent first. Talent like Oberling, Li and the other artists lending a helping hand.
The finished violins will be on display in Whitefish and Kalispell later this spring. For more information, check out www.gscmusic.org
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