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Don MacRostie in his workshop holding a mandolin

Athens Mandolin Maker Don MacRostie Awarded 2022 Ohio Heritage Fellowship

Don MacRostie, internationally known and respected as one of the top mandolin builders in the country, has been awarded the 2022 Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award for Material Culture from the Ohio Arts Council (OAC). 

Ohio Heritage Fellowships are awarded in recognition of the significant impact an individual or group has had on the people and communities of the state through their advancement and preservation of the folk or traditional arts. The $5,000 award is given in one of three categories: Performing Arts, Material Culture, or Community Leadership. 

For nearly 50 years, MacRostie has lived and worked as a luthier in Athens County, Ohio. A pioneer and innovator in the field, he has built nearly 350 instruments at his Red Diamond Mandolins shop. His instruments have made their way into the hands of the world’s top performers as well as aspiring musicians. 

MacRostie’s path to becoming a luthier can be traced back to around 1960, when he started guitar in high school. He continued to play and work on his own instruments throughout his time in the United States Navy and, later, as a student at Ohio University. At college, he also picked up a banjo, converting it from a four-string to a five-string instrument.  

A fellow student from Asheville, Ohio, who made dulcimers, jumpstarted his interest in making mandolins. “I looked at that [dulcimer], and I said, ‘by golly, you can make these things, huh?’” said MacRostie. “That’s when I took an interest in building mandolins.” 

When MacRostie started making mandolins in the early 1970s, he said there weren’t many resources available to guide him. Most instruments were made in factories, not by individual makers. He used the few books that existed about guitar building to inspire his mandolin making. A mandolin from a friend also gave him another starting point. He’d take measurements and experiment, "essentially copying, or making my version of that, and then it’s evolved over the years,” he said.  

Not long after he started making instruments, MacRostie said to a friend, “I think this could hold my interest for the rest of my life.” And it has.  

As an educator and mentor, MacRostie has passed on his knowledge and skills as a master luthier to the next generation of instrument builders. For many years, he was director of research and design for the Athens-based Stewart-MacDonald Manufacturing Company, developing many of the tools used in lutherie today. He’s also taught at the American School of Lutherie and has taken on apprentices in his Athens shop. For MacRostie, building mandolins and sharing his knowledge includes more than just the “mechanics of bending sides” but also “part of a philosophy of life.” 

He credits two organizations with which he became involved in the 1980s, the Guild of American Luthiers and the Association of String Instrument Artisans, for helping to cultivate an environment where knowledge-sharing is encouraged. They offered opportunities to connect with fellow makers and performers and display work at trade shows and conventions. Not only did this help MacRostie as he learned the craft, but it also enabled him to pass on his knowledge and facilitated collaborations with makers and performers.  

“We were all excited about doing it ourselves, and getting together and sharing ideas,” said MacRostie. “There was a real openness and us sharing, and nobody thought a thing about telling anybody what they were doing.”  

MacRostie continues to be open about what he’s doing in his workshop today. 

As for the Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award, MacRostie is “quite honored that I was even thought of to [be] nominate[d]” and “happy” to have been selected.  

"I want to thank the Ohio Arts Council for looking at the nomination and thinking that it was worthy of the award,” said MacRostie. “I hope I can spread the word about this whole process and then spread the word about apprenticeships about all the arts, all the crafts...Because, to me, that’s where it’s at.” 

A public ceremony commemorating MacRostie’s achievement will be held during the upcoming Nelsonville Music Festival on Saturday, September 3, at 2:30 p.m. on the Snow Fork Stage (Main Stage). Festival goers are invited to attend. 

OAC Executive Director Donna S. Collins is looking forward to honoring and celebrating MacRostie at this community event near his home in Athens County.  

“Don is an exceptional instrument maker who has dedicated nearly five decades to honing his skills while also advancing the craft on a national and international level,” she said. “His beautifully crafted instruments, constantly evolving making methods, and dedication to teaching and mentorship will ensure the continuation and growth of this traditional art form for generations to come.” 

“Don’s story is just one example of how renowned artists with successful, creative businesses call Ohio home,” she added. 

To learn more about the Ohio Heritage Fellowship program and Ohio folk and traditional arts, visit folkarts.ohioartscouncil.org

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

 

Article by Andrew Paa, OAC Communications Strategist 
Photos courtesy of the nominator and artist.  



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