View Full Version : Bruce Wei's new approach to inlay

Oct-30-2005, 7:28pm
You're probably all familiar with Bruce Wei's inlays from Taiwan. Heavy on Chinese dragons and chrysanthemums. I wrote to him a few months ago suggesting he try some American themes more suited to the American market. Have a look at this Indian chief holding a flag and a basket of corn. Classic Americana folk art! He's also has some pretty amazing Catholic mandolins up. I'm not crazy about the back, but the Madonna on one of the fingerboards is impressive.
<a href="http://cgi.ebay.com/The-Hand-Crafted-F5-Style-Mandolin-w-MOP-Inlay-43_W0QQitemZ7362095019QQcategoryZ10179QQrdZ

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Chris Baird
Oct-30-2005, 9:12pm
The conjunction of a Native American displaying (psuedo)colonial symbols is generally frowned upon by Native American and those who know that a Native American during colonial times would be doing anything but waving an American Flag.

Oct-30-2005, 9:29pm
I'm going to commission one depicting and American Indian cashing a $24 check at the Bank of New York.
All kidding aside, such requests often lose something in translation. I'm afraid that Mr. Wei got "hit by a cultural bus"
through no fault of his own. He probably knows more about our history than we know about his.

Oct-30-2005, 9:30pm
ALSO, did the Amercian Indians have Kangaroos......? check out the back:p

Bill James
Oct-31-2005, 9:19am
What's sad is the pricing. Regardless of the quality or whether you like it or not, the price this stuff brings wouldn't even pay for the glue here in the US. If the old adage "time is money" was true, this gentleman would be very wealthy.

Tom C
Oct-31-2005, 10:53am
It still looks like a Dragon -holding an American flag with his Kangaroo. I agree with Mandoplyr.

Oct-31-2005, 2:47pm
Man, that is tacky.

Nov-01-2005, 10:00am
I'm certain that Bruce did not design this from scratch, but was working from some authentic circa 1820 folk art or "primative" art. (I get this date from the stars in the flags on the instrument.) Folk art is sort of inherently "tacky" or awkward or clumsy. Some people hate it, some love it. A lot of American artists paint "primatives" because they've learned they can sell it. There are also people who paint that way because it's the only way they know how to paint, and they know nothing about "fine art" and don't realize that what they are doing isn't "fine." I have a several paintings on my walls by Sammy Blimline. He was in his 90s when I bought them. He threw in a watermelon with the purchase. He lived in the house he was born in. He was sure his painting was a gift of God. He'd hold out his hands to me and say, "How can these things be?" (referring to his talent). He was a real "primative," and I'm proud to own four of his "real primatives."

The inlay here is based on that sort of work. If it were done by someone in Tennessee in 1930 we wouldn't hesitate to think it folk art. The complication here is that this 1820s folk art has been taken over by a 21st century Chinese artist who is trying to keep his workshop going.

Add to this, Chris, the fact that these images are VERY AMERICAN, but they are FOLK American and dealing with something which, as you point out, never really was--the image of an Indian chief with a basket full of corn waving an American flag. WE all recognize the irony here. We can't possibly see it WITHOUT irony. But this is NOT an attempt to say that Indians LIKED being pushed out of their land or welcomed the U.S. government or that they were treated fairly. Because for us (if not for Bruce), it is ironic in that it asks us to realize that our past images and imaginations were NOT accurate, were mistaken. Then too, consider that Bruce is in a country under threat of colonization (if you will) by mainland China (where I used to live). By the way, maybe the terminology is "Native American" in Utah, but in Washington, DC the new museum on the mall (which I plan to visit in a few weeks) is the Museum of the American INDIAN, not the Museum of the Native American, and even National Geographic is using American Indian now, if I recall correctly, at least part of the time.

I think it's interesting that Bruce should choose these images from American folk art for this mandolin. I also think it's excellent inlay that would probably cost $10,000 if an American luthier was doing it. Interesting ironies there, too. I was sort of hoping he might go beyond the chrysanthemums and dragons and do some original designs, and perhaps he will if we encourage him. He certainly has the talent. (Or do we look down on him because he's in Taiwan?) By the way, that's a dog, not a kangaroo.

Nov-01-2005, 10:30am
do we look down on him because he's in Taiwan

No, we look down on him because his stuff is gaudy and tacky.

I personally can't understand why someone would want to take away from the inate beauty of the mandolin design, and what can be done to bring out the natural beauty of a great piece of wood, by adding all that inlay. Less is more, for me...

To each his own, this is just my opinion.

Tom C
Nov-01-2005, 10:30am
If one is to make art for a particalur culture. They must understand it and know the history.

Chris Baird
Nov-01-2005, 11:02am
I wasn't trying to put Bruce down. I've lived among Indians/Native Americans for 10 years now. My above post was a sort of "knee jerk" reaction based on sensibilities that rubbed off from interacting with the navaho nation. The indians hate this kind of art because it propagates a false sense of history and continues to be part of the stigma that contributes to making life hard for them.
#I won't express my opinion on its asthetic worth or execution but I will say that the sentiment is offensive. I'm not generally an avocate of using ingnorance as an excuse.
#"And, I know my song well before I start singin'"

Michael Gowell
Nov-01-2005, 11:25am
Sorry guys (no gals having responded to this thread yet), I'm totally with BlueMountain on this one. #Folk art for sure.

Be careful about condemning artistic expression as "tacky." #You are just revealing your cultural biases by doing so. #To say "To My eye it's tacky" is fine, just a personal opinion, but to Judge it...somebody wrote "Judge Not" as I recall... #

And yes, the Peoples prefer the term 'Indian' to 'Native American', which after all refers to Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who claimed to have "discovered" this continent...did you know that in 1491, before Columbus imported the first [of many] European diseases the Indian population of North & South America exceeded that of Europe?

And the American flag has a long association with Indian painting and beadwork. I refer you to a very nice softcover picture book, 'The Flag in American Indian Art', NY State Historical Association, 1993. #The Lakota {Souix} started using the flag as a decorative element in beadwork in the 1880's. Captured flags were war trophies for Indians. You can see the flag today in new garments at pow-wows, and it "often indicates that the wearer has served in the U.S. Armed Forces, or it honors a parent, friend , or relative in the Armed Forces. #After all, presently the Lakota can only enjoy it's warrior tradition legally by serving as a soldier for the United States." #

So in these mandolins we see a Taiwanese artist expressing his feelings in his medium...nothing else.

I won't pee in your cornflakes if you won't pee in mine.

Michael Gowell
Nov-01-2005, 11:26am
And I upped the bid by $100 out of respect for the work.

Nov-01-2005, 8:55pm
Fascinating info, Maine Michael. Thanks.

I agree with the comment that inlay all over a mandolin is a bit much, and it could well damage the tone a bit, too. I prefer a plain black fretboard with side dots only. But, we DO like a FERN on our "plain" mandolins, don't we, and we do like beautiful wood, and, for some reason, SUNBURSTS. Still, I think this folk art is pretty cool.

Chris, I agree with you that the inlays point to a FALSE HISTORY of Native Americans. True. And I've been on the Navajo reservation half a dozen times and read books about them and taught detective novels in college with Navajo detectives (of course, Hillerman isn't a Navajo). But it's also TRUE HISTORY when it comes to how some Americans in the 1820s sentimentalized the relationship between the indigenous peoples and the colonizers. There WERE people who saw things that way, and those people are part of our past.

This is a bit like the way a lot of people who like bluegrass also respect the Confederate flag--for a variety of possible reasons--while for other people it says something quite different. Some people are trying to outlaw showing the colors, and others are willing to go to jail in order to keep them. It's complex. And it's probably better to offend as few people as possible. If I were playing a gig in Monument Valley, I might hesitate to take that mandolin.

Interesting discussion. Thanks. Meanwhile, I do think Bruce is talented, though his taste is not mine. I wonder if he's already making complete headstock veneers and inlays for any luthiers. (Would you pay $20 for an ebony veneer and pearl inlay with your name and a nice fern of your design?)

mad dawg
Nov-02-2005, 11:51am
I have always marvelled at the amount of time that it must take him to put inlay all over an instrument as he does, but his work is just not my cup of tea. #

(However, I think the dog on the truss-rod cover of his new work would make a great headstock logo on its own. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif )

Nov-02-2005, 12:00pm
Sorry guys (no gals having responded to this thread yet), I'm totally with BlueMountain on this one.
Gotta be careful making that judgment just based on usernames. #I'm pretty sure Kyblue is not a guy. # http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Jim M.
Nov-02-2005, 12:07pm
Sorry guys (no gals having responded to this thread yet), I'm totally with BlueMountain on this one. #Folk art for sure.
Sorry MM, but I disagree. This isn't folk art, it's a copy of folk art. Even a good copy of folk art lacks the inherent primitive naivete that somewhat ameliorates the offensiveness of a particular image. Maybe that would be more apparent if he was inlaying wide-eyed "pickaninnies" in the instruments.

And for mandolin content, has anyone played one of these mandos? How do they sound?

Michael Gowell
Nov-02-2005, 2:17pm
Kyblue, I do beg your pardon for assuming your gender...yet another limitation of a words-only forum.

Dale Ludewig
Nov-02-2005, 2:21pm
kyblue is definitely not a guy. I met her at IBMA. Very pleasant by the way. And ran away with Fletcher's octave!

Ted Eschliman
Nov-02-2005, 2:31pm
Personally, I'm holding out for the "Dogs Playing Mando" inlay.

Nov-02-2005, 2:34pm
Very pleasant by the way.
Perhaps, but she's very opinionated. #Just ask Fletcher. #Told him too much 'bling' on that octave with the gold tuners and such, so she's not likely to like a lot of inlay or ornate painting. #

But, she still tries to be tolerent of the taste of others, believe it or not!



Nov-02-2005, 2:44pm
It is obvious that Mr. Wei is an incredibly talented inlay artist. I think I've said it before....he seems to view a mandolin as an object to attach a lot of inlay to that can also be used to play music. I think most Americans view a mandolin as being a musical instrument that can also be made to look beautiful.

If I were as good at inlay as he is, I'd be proud of my work and want to do more of it too, I'm sure. BlueMountain's suggestion to him that he try to build a mandolin that would appeal to the American market is a very valid and wise one - from a marketing standpoint. I just think that Mr. Wei needs to realize that tone and (what we consider to be) tasteful decoration are the things that will have broader appeal in this market. I wouldn't expect to sell a lot of "Texas"-theme decorations and furniture (rustic wood and stone with an occasional Lone Star, etc....) in Thailand.

I think he has enough talent to build a really nice mandolin if he focused on tone first and dropped 90% of the ornamentation. I don't intend that as a slam - just pointing out the difference in perspectives.

Nov-02-2005, 3:29pm
I own two of Bruce's instruments and while I too would enjoy "Dogs Playing Mando" on the back of my instrument, I have settled for more restrained creations. The instrument shown below is not only pleasing to my eye, but, it is loud and has a mellow, rich tone with wonderful sustain. I will be taking it to SuperGrass in February and intend to thrust it into the hands of anybody that passes. This instrument plays easily and the slightly wider neck (1 and 1/4" at nut) seems to work very nicely for me. In fairness, I did add a different tailpiece and made a bridge from ebony wood that has improved the tone considerably. I think all of us need to not only play their instrument, but also play "with it" to obtain it's best tonal qualities.

mad dawg
Nov-02-2005, 4:26pm
Personally, I'm holding out for the "Dogs Playing Mando" inlay.

Jim M.
Nov-02-2005, 4:27pm
Can someone explain -- do Bruce Wei's and Antonio Tsai's instruments and accessories come from different shops?

Nov-02-2005, 9:24pm
I'm with Ted on this one.

Nov-03-2005, 12:25am
I love folk art...this is just tacky looking. I haven't liked anything I have seen him do. Sometimes less is more. Owning that mandolin would be like wearing an american flag shirt with happy fourth of July on the back and Made in China on the label. Just bad taste all around.

Paul Hostetter
Nov-03-2005, 11:21pm
In answer to Jim M - I doubt it. I bought two of the same model, one from each of them, and except for the inlay theme itself, they were utterly identical. They're shipped from Vietnam, and I'm fairly certain they're both just middlemen. I noticed both had really random fret placement (which matched) and needed some real attention to get them to play in tune and buzz-free. I too ditched the bone bridge inserts in favor of ebony and the tone improved noticeably. After all the setup stuff, they're really fun to play, and quite unlike western mandolins. The inlay, on close inspection, is pretty crude. #

If they're from different shops, I bet the shops are in the same little village in Vietnam. Do not buy Bruce Wei's inlay supplies unless you like MOP potato chips.

Nov-04-2005, 11:35am
After reading this thread I happened to look up at my Elderly Calendar for the month of November.



comes with a promotional paper weight


and hard case, only $7500.