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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Olwell

A Midwinter Move for the Fluteshop

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

“God is change.”

-Octavia Butler

At long last, it’s moving day for Olwell Flutes! We finally finished the dual purpose workshop/living space we've been building for many years, and just before Christmas, we began the process of moving shop.

It’s been a long time coming and we are so excited to be setting up in the new space that we thought we’d share a little history and some scenes from the move. It also feels like a good opportunity here at the start of a new year to pause and reflect in gratitude for workshops new and old…

In 1988 we moved into a rented space on the upper floor of an old brick building in Massies Mill Virginia, never thinking that it would house the business for the next thirty-four years. The site itself had originally been a bank, constructed in 1921 to serve what was then a bustling small town with a railroad depot, two sawmills, and a host of businesses, but the Great depression took its toll and the bank shut down in 1931. Times changed as they do, and by the 1980s the entrepreneurs, industry, and bankers had left for greener pastures and the railroad had stopped service to the depot. There wasn’t much happening in Massies Mill but that meant an affordable space for a budding flute business—and a weaver friend of Patrick's who rented the downstairs—to set up shop.

View from the window of the Massies Mill Shop, Winter 2023

The old bank building housed us—often in more ways than one—while we gradually transitioned from making bamboo flutes and selling them at arts and crafts festivals to

custom-made conical-bore simple system wooden flutes and doing our best to complete the many orders that continue to fill our infamous waiting list.

Through the years in Massies Mill, we made flutes, swam in the river in summer, and stoked the wood stove in winter. Patrick gradually outfitted the workshop with a collection of vintage machinery, did countless hours of research on flutemaking and flute history, developed his own designs, and became one of the world’s most respected flutemakers; Matthew and Aaron played with tools, flew paper airplanes, rode bikes, and grew up working in the shop; Rowena made flute cases, worked on the production line, designed show displays and letterhead, and did much of the endless series of tasks both small and large that happen behind the scenes to run a family business; and a long series of friends and flute apprentices worked on the instruments as Olwell flutes went out into the world and became an internationally respected name.

Over time, Aaron went from flute apprentice to master craftsman in his own right, and in recent years he and Patrick have been training Matthew and our other trusty apprentice Seth Swingle, both of whom are working their way along the informal apprentice-to-journeyman path of flutemaking. Through all, the old bank building has been a great creative home to us and an important stepping-stone for the business, but as anyone who’s ever visited and experienced the outhouse can attest, it was and is a bit rustic, so an upgraded workspace has been a longtime dream.

Building the new workshop has been a lengthy labor of love, beginning in 2009 and moving in fits and starts, now gradually reaching completion thirteen years later. Now we are

excited to report that we recently passed our final inspection and so commenced an epic hauling of machinery, tools, wood, and materials to the new space, and we’re excited to start making instruments here. We have had fun setting up the machinery and configuring storage for wood and the first few days of making wood chips in the new space have been joyful ones.

Big life transitions are often bittersweet and this one feels especially so, but mostly we are feeling excitement and gratitude to have the opportunity to continue making instruments and to do it in such a beautiful new workspace. Whatever else, it’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of another and we are happy to keep “poking holes in trees” as we say in the fluteshop. Here's to many more years of flutes!

Turning on the lathe for the first time in the new shop...

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