Archie Smith taught me a new word: "luthier." It means someone who makes stringed instruments.
That's what Smith is, along with being a master woodworker. He makes psalteries and dulcimers and decorative wood pieces at his home workshop in Mount Pleasant.
Making these pieces is Smith's second career. He used to teach history at Lees-McRae College; working with wood was just a hobby. But after 30 years of teaching, Smith decided it was time for a change. So he and his wife moved back to the family farm in Mount Pleasant, and he started working with wood full-time.
Now he travels to art fairs all over the country, selling his beautiful work. Last year he was at 30 shows. He loves meeting people who don't think they can play a musical instrument. He introduces them to the psalteries, which Smith claims are so easy anyone can play them.
Playing a bowed psaltery is a little like playing the piano with one finger. Smith compared the plucked psaltery to a connect-the-dots-puzzle. He said he loves the look on someone's face when they discover the beautiful music they can make with a psaltery.
A lot of time goes into the making of one of Smith's instruments. Each of his signature series psalteries is a one-of-a-kind piece, uniquely titled. Smith begins with raw wood and works until he has a beautiful finished product, including 18 coats of lacquer and custom inlays. For the signature series pieces, Smith also makes a matching hanger to mount on the wall so that the instrument becomes a beautiful piece of wall art as well.
For a guy who can't read music, Archie Smith is passionate about sharing the gift of music and his "functional art" with people. He's made instructional DVDs and prepared song sheets so his customers can enjoy the thrill of making music themselves. He said he learned to make musical instruments from wood by "just messing around with it." It's clear that he loves making these pieces and sharing them with people.
On the day I visited Smith at his workshop, he was busy getting a shipment ready to send to Australia, but he took a break to sit down with me. He couldn't sit still for long, however, as he was always jumping up to show me something else, play a different instrument or point out his latest project.
The expression "pride and joy" came to mind when I talked with Smith: the pride he takes in making each piece uniquely beautiful, and the joy he gets from sharing the gift of music.
He loves what he does, and he likes to tell other people about it. He makes presentations to church and civic groups when he's not traveling, and he invites people to contact him if they'd like to hear his instruments.
Visit his website at www.archiesmithinstruments.com. There you can see pictures of his psalteries and dulcimers and learn how to get in touch with Smith, woodworker, musician and really happy guy.