Milton David McClaskey
Growing up in small town Wyoming, with five brothers and sisters, I have always been a builder of things. My parents had been raised on farms and, like most people we knew, were "do-it-yourselfers" long before anyone thought DIY was anything special; it was just the way things got done. I learned a lot by trial and error --my siblings and I can laugh about some of our experiments, particularly those involving the family home-- but along the way, I gained confidence, a variety of skills and a love of woodworking and projects.
When I moved to the beautiful coastal town of Point Reyes Station, California in 1981 it probably surprised no one in my family that, after a couple of years in the kitchen of a small French restaurant, I returned to woodworking. I owned a furniture and cabinet making shop, the Point Reyes Cabinet & Furniture Company there for ten years, starting in a garage as most people do, eventually moving into a 3,000 square foot shop with a couple of full time employees. Working throughout Marin County and San Francisco, we built a wide variety of custom cabinets and furniture for homes and businesses.
I later established a company called Watermark Exhibits in San Rafael, California building traveling exhibitions for companies marketing at trade shows. That work eventually led me into work with museums, initially for natural history museums and visitors centers and later for science museums. This ultimately morphed into project management and a career planning exhibitions for hands on science museums. I was very fortunate to be hired in April 2000 by Joe Ansel of Ansel Associates, Inc. and worked for him and with him for a dozen years, much of that time in Germany. Here’s a link to the museum in Wolfsburg Germany, Phaeno, the planning of which occupied me for nearly six years, changed my life and was a highlight in my career: http://www.phaeno.de/home-en . Unfortunately the English language version of the site lacks much of the content found on the German site.
My somewhat haphazard career path had moved me away from the shop, the smell of newly sawn lumber and building real things and had me parked at a desk in front of a computer managing budgets and schedules and building virtual things. Somewhere along the line, my yearnings to get my hands back on wood began to grow again, but this time it took a slightly different path.
I had started playing the guitar after a few years of attending a week long summer arts and music camp with my family. I really enjoyed it and occasionally took my guitar along on my business trips, but of course carrying a guitar really complicates travel so I decided to try the mandolin, given it's small size and portability. Knowing nothing about mandolins I bought a very inexpensive imported A Style. After playing it for a while without a whole lot of satisfaction I was told by my teacher that if I wanted to play and sound better I really needed a better instrument, and he handed me his to try. Wow! Night and day. I started looking for a new mandolin. Then one day while browsing in the now defunct “Fifth String” instrument shop in Berkeley I came across a book called “Constructing a Bluegrass Mandolin” by Roger H. Siminoff. It was like a lightbulb went on in my head as I read: I could do this!
So, almost before I knew it, I had embarked on a whole new journey, returning to my roots of working with my hands, back to the shop, back to craft, back to the pleasure and satisfaction of making something real and touchable and pleasing to the eye and to the ear! I find that building mandolins combines the most engaging and interesting elements of my career: woodworking and design and quite a little bit of science – oh yes, and MUSIC!!
There is no better feeling and few things as satisfying as hearing the voice of an instrument you have created - unless it is seeing and hearing that instrument in the hands of someone who knows how to make it sing!