The Cover: American Luthier

“Violin” was painted by Walter Tandy Murch (1907-1967), a Canadian-born painter specializing in still life paintings of objects. In it, Murch painted an actual scientific experiment set up by Hutchins in her basement laboratory in Montclair, NJ. The image was first published on the November 1962 cover of Scientific American highlighting the article entitled “The Physics of Violins” by Carleen Maley Hutchins (1911-2009).

Murch wrote in an undated notebook: “I think a painter paints best what he thinks about most. For me this is about objects, objects from my childhood, present surroundings, or a chance object that stimulates my interest.”

Luckily for Hutchins, the violin was one of those objects. Murch loved the violin; he played it for many years as a youth and even toyed at one point with the idea of becoming a musician, but chose art instead. In fact, “Violin” is one of very few musical paintings by Murch. “Metronome” depicts a metronome raised up in the air, and “Piano Action” depicts a partial view of a piano keyboard.

In Walter Tandy Murch: The Spirit of Things, Robert McLaughlin Gallery director David Aurandt wrote about Murch’s “acute artistic exploration of the material world. He is a denizen of the imagination’s restlessness to examine things, not only to comprehend them but also to voice their strangeness. In his paintings we sense a new capacity to see reality’s furniture; he brings the real into critical focus by abstracting it….He obviously shares this perceptual strength with others, of his time, for example the poet Wallace Stevens who writes about poetry and art that, ‘The real is only the base, but it is the base,’ and that ‘Realism is a corruption of reality.’ Murch and Stevens both work within the unique ways the imagination bridges the apparently separate worlds of objective and subjective. Murch holds before us his fascination for the man-made world; because of his work, we re-examine our own absorption in the things all around us, how we’ve brought them into being, how they work.”

Murch painted objects in such a way to make us re-look at them — to see what is apparently very familiar, but to see it new, in a way that encapsulates the strangeness that lies within the familiar. In this way, Murch is a true poet.

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