Fall 2023 American Craft Forums

Fall 2023 American Craft Forums



The Violinmaker & The Virtuoso: Craft from the Workshop to the Concert Hall
At its heart, craft is not a static endeavor. Whether you are working with a team of artists, as with glassblowing, or leaning into the “lone artist toiling in their studio” trope, craft lives and breathes, changes and grows between hands and spaces. When the object leaves the studio it takes on new life for someone else in a new place. For luthier Eric Benning of Benning Violins, craft lives through multiple generations of a family business that makes world-renowned stringed instruments for those just learning and those gracing some of the world’s greatest stages. When Benning completes a violin he doesn’t just hang it on the wall; it’s not decorative. He places that violin in the hands of someone like virtuoso violinist Vijay Gupta, who then uses it to direct his own creative force, his gift, his craft. This object that appears static and still, complete, continues its journey through Gupta’s playing.

Join us for a conversation between these two incredibly talented individuals who share a love of, and connection through, music and the instruments that give that music voice. They will discuss the symbiotic relationship between player and maker, explore ideas around how moments of transition and transformation can lead to great joy, and share the ways music can be employed to help other people. What kind of power and promise is inherent in this craft of making beautiful tools for another type of creative energy and expression?


Headshot of Jennifer Vogel

Jennifer Vogel is the senior editor of American Craft. She has worked as a reporter, writer, and editor for many publications and outlets, including Minnesota Public Radio, City Pages, and Mother Jones. Jennifer, who holds a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota, published a memoir, Flim-Flam Man, that won the Minnesota Book Award. She is an avid reader, a decent cook, an enthusiastic boat passenger, and an appreciator of things that are beautiful and also useful.



Vijay Gupta is a violinist, speaker and citizen-artist dedicated to creating spaces of wholeness through music. Hailed by The New Yorker as a “visionary violinist...one of the most radical thinkers in the unradical world of American classical music,” Vijay leads a protean career as a thought leader, performer, collaborator, and communicator.

Vijay is the founder and Artistic Director of Street Symphony, a community of musicians creating connections for people in reentry from homelessness, addiction and incarceration in Los Angeles. Vijay is also a co-founder of the Skid Row Arts Alliance, a consortium dedicated to creating art for - and with - the largest homeless community in America. For his work in “bringing beauty, respite, and purpose to those all too often ignored by society”, Vijay was the recipient of a 2018 MacArthur Fellowship.

Vijay has shared his work with dozens of corporations, campuses, conferences, and communities across America over the past 10 years. Vijay delivered the 33rd annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy for Americans for the Arts and his 2010 TED Talk, “Music is Medicine, Music is Sanity”, has garnered millions of views.

Vijay has performed as an international recitalist, soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral musician for over 20 years, and has collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, Yo-Yo Ma, and appears regularly with the Strings Festival in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Vijay recently released Breathe, as well as his solo violin album, When the Violin, which are available on Bandcamp.

https://guptaviolin.com/ | @guptaviolin

Headshot of Eric Benning.

Eric Benning, Benning Violins, began making his first violin under the direction of his violinmaking parents, Hans and Nancy Benning, at the age of 9. Working only Saturdays and vacation days, Eric completed the violin at age 11. This was the beginning of a passionate desire to craft instruments and to follow in the proud tradition of his family.

In 1997 Eric began training with renowned violinmaker Carl F. Becker Jr., son of Carl Becker Sr., the celebrated Chicago maker who passed on his tradition of master violinmaking to Paul Toenniges, Eric's grandfather and founder of Studio City Music, and to Hans and Nancy Benning. Eric spent time in Mittenwald, Germany learning the craft of elaborate scroll making, a skill and talent for which he's been widely recognized.

Eric has specialized in the making of fine violins, violas and cellos based on the great Italian masterworks, and even a few viola d'amores–crafting over 120 instruments to date–while perfecting the old-world style and working traditions that mark his current work. He has been honored to accept special commissions, including bench copies of the Peregrino de Zanetto viola and a Giovanni Francesco Pressenda violin owned by the LA Philharmonic.

Aside from studying with his family, Eric continues to pursue his understanding of acoustics through various means including summer workshops in Oberlin, Ohio. Eric is recognized world-wide as an expert in evaluation, setup and acoustical adjustments of fine instruments that enable them to sing with their unique and distinctive voice.

Eric is a member of the American federation of Violin and Bow Makers and also the EILA. He has been published in periodicals and newspapers such as The Strad and Strings magazines. He resides in the San Fernando Valley along with his wife and 4 sons.

https://www.benningviolins.com/ | @benningviolins

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