Keeneland Magazine

NO4 2013

Keeneland, Investing in Racing's Future since 1936.

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Kentucky Crafted Warren A. May The guitar, and not the dulcimer, frst tugged at Warren May's heartstrings. "I wanted to play the guitar so badly," the Berea woodworker laments. May stands in his sunny shop on Berea's College Square, a city block packed with arts and crafts shops and local restaurants. Pieces of a dulcimer, its wood from the oldest tulip poplar tree in the state, lie on his workbench, awaiting his touch. after college to teach school. May had majored in industrial arts at Eastern Kentucky University. "Everybody plays music in Eastern Kentucky," he said. His students would bring in old dulcimers; intrigued by the instrument, he made his frst Kentucky dulcimer in 1972. The Kentucky dulcimer is noted for its hourglass shape. About fve years later the Mays decided to make the arts their livelihood. They moved to Berea and set up shop around the cor- Instead of becoming a guitarist, May became a noted maker ner from where they are now. Frankye ran a gallery stocked with of Kentucky dulcimers. In doing so, he has helped preserve Ken- the work of 100 different artists and craftsmen; Warren made tucky's offcial state musical instrument, so designated by the dulcimers in the back of the shop. state legislature in 2001. May's dulcimers have traveled far and wide; the Smithson- "This is our 36th year in Berea," said Warren May. "We were one of the frst couples to come to Berea for crafts." ian once bought 100 to sell through its gift catalog; former Gov. The current shop is full of light from a long wall of windows. Martha Layne Collins presented one of May's cherry dulcimers to Up front, May displays the furniture he makes. Toward the back, leaders of Toyota when Kentucky was trying to lure the Japanese he builds and fnishes his dulcimers as customers watch. He automaker to Georgetown in the 1980s. might pluck a tune on the four-string instrument, to show how May, a Carroll County native, didn't know much about dulcimers until he and his wife, Frankye, moved to Eastern Kentucky easy it is to play. With the help of two assistants, May makes his dulcimers from poplar, cherry, and walnut. The woods are air dried. "That makes for a more mellow sound," he said. Such wood is getting harder to fnd, but the Mays have been planting their own supply of trees — Frankye estimates between 800 and 1,000 total — for a number of years. Each wood has a different tonal quality. Cherry is "bright and precise," said May; poplar is "most rustic." Walnut has a deep, warm tone. The wood is kept natural, treated only with a coat of oil and several layers of lacquer. Hummingbird shapes that are an option for the instrument's sound holes are a May trademark. May delves into other woodworking projects, including two lines of solid wood, handcrafted furniture. One, his "Kentucky style" furniture, replicates sideboards, tables, and chests made by the state's early craftsmen. The pieces are elegant in their simplicity and solid in their construction. The other furniture line is carefree and contemporary. It includes a bowed desk that May calls the "adventure desk." Sitting at it feels like being in command of a space ship. "You sit at it and you are ready to fy off for a great adventure," he said. His furniture is beautiful, but in terms of business, dulcimers dominate. "They are about 80 percent of the business," he said. Each instrument sold is numbered and signed, and the tally is quite impressive. To date, May has made 17,000 dulcimers. "That's a dulcimer a day, for 41 years," he said. Warren A. May (859) 986-9293 www.warrenamay.com 62 KEENELAND WINTER 2013

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