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The Rural We: Michael Costerisan

Michael Costerisan is a master woodworker in West Stockbridge, Mass. who makes custom cabinets and furniture on a commission basis. In his more than 40 years of woodworking, he’s built almost every conceivable type of furniture, cabinetry and architectural fixture. Just a little over three years ago, he began making folk harps. Now Costerisan, who is originally from Janesville, Wisc., can add harpmaker to his list of skills, and has a business, October Mountain Folk Harps, which are “hand crafted from the heart of the Berkshires.“

After college, I moved away from Wisconsin to do custom woodworking, which was more prevalent on the East Coast than the Midwest. I landed in West Virginia for about 12 years and attended craft shows up and down the East Coast. I was involved with Kripalu when it was still in Pennsylvania, and when it moved up to the Berkshires in 1983, I did, too.

I’ve been in custom work forever, and I still am. But around three years ago, I got interested in harp making. My wife, Karen Andrews (an artist) and I met a woman who was playing sea shanties on a folk harp with a large group of people. I mentioned to her that I did woodworking, and she asked if I could repair her harp. That never happened — she lived too far away — but it got me interested. I thought it was a cool thing, this instrument. I went online and looked up sources for harp making and bought a set of plans, full-size paper templates. I made two harps based on those plans. After that I changed some things, enlarging the harp from 30 to 34 strings, and came up with my own style and design.

I had the advantage of having done so much woodworking that the materials and advice from the guy who made the plans was enough. And from the first, the harps sounded pretty good. It takes me about 40 to 50 hours to make a harp, and I’ve sold over a dozen of them so far. To get the word out, I go to folk festivals and harp shows, and reach out to harp teachers and harp circles.

My goal is for my harp making to become a full-time thing. Cabinet making involves such heavy materials, while the harp is similar to furniture; you need one board for the pillar and the neck, and the body is hollow. Working on a harp is just a lot less stress on the body.

I’ve played guitar since I was in school, and now I’m taking harp lessons, learning how to play it by ear. Karen also plays guitar and sings. I’m trying to get good enough on the harp so I can play it along with her.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/21/17 at 04:07 PM • Permalink