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Musical interlude: French violin exhibition makes US debut in Duluth

Dixie Huthmaker called La Fete des Violins a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit.

The temporary, traveling exhibit will feature more than 80 French stringed instruments, including classic, traditional baroque and experimental violins, displayed for 10 days at Huthmaker Violins on Main Street in Duluth.

This unique exhibit was six years in the making, after the Huthmakers - Duluth residents Dixie and Roland - spent a week in France in 2003 meeting small-scale violin and bow makers.

"One of the leaders of the French government asked me, 'Well, how was this?' and I said, 'Well it was just wonderful,'" Dixie Huthmaker recalled. "We got to meet makers that we would have never found otherwise."

The government official then asked Huthmaker, whose instrument of expertise is the viola, what would make the event better.

"I said, 'Bring it to America,'" she recalled.

Two years later, Dixie Huthmaker returned to France for the French/American meetings and was again asked what could be improved upon. She gave the same response and even provided a proposal on how the exhibit would work touring America.

It wasn't until a third trip in June 2008 that the French government agreed with Huthmaker.

"When we were in Avignon last summer, (the official) says, 'OK, Dixie, how was this?' I said, 'This was wonderful, the food is great, the makers are wonderful but it's time to come to America,'" she remembered. "And he said, 'You're right. It's time.'"

Sponsored by the French government and three French agencies, La Fete des Violons will make its debut in America on Sept. 11 at the Huthmakers' violin shop in Duluth.

"We tried to hone in on the old, the new and the future (of French violins)," Dixie Huthmaker said. "There will be a number of instruments that are very old, very valuable, some that will be on display just for information and bows that have to do with the heritage of French making."

New and even experimental instruments - called neolins - will also be on display.

Eight violin makers will accompany the exhibit, meeting with Gwinnett residents and discussing their crafts throughout the first five days of the exhibit.

"You would have to travel all over France and know these people in order to see these instruments," Dixie Huthmaker said. "We're taking a huge sampling of French (violin making) and bringing it here to the people in the Southeast United States."

Arriving Thursday, the luthiers - the French term for those who make or repair stringed instruments - are then expected to make an appearance on "Good Morning America" on Sept. 11 before the exhibit in Duluth officially opens at noon. In conjunction with the exhibit, a free concert will be given at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Red Clay Theatre featuring professional musicians playing some of the violins made by the French luthiers.

Gwinnett residents are invited to return to Huthmaker Violins at 2 p.m. Sept. 13 to experience a "French taste test" in which attendees will be asked to rate the various instruments played based on the characteristics of the sound produced. Following the taste test, those who are musically inclined can try out a few of the instruments. La Fete des Violons will then be open to the public from noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 14-19 and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 19 and 2 to 5 p.m. Sept. 20.

In honor of the exhibit, decorated wooden cutouts shaped like violins hang in the shop windows that line Main Street in downtown Duluth. The community art project, dubbed Street Strings, will be on display through late September.

SideBar: If you go

· What: La Fete des Violons

· When: Exhibit hours are noon to 6 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays from Sept. 14-19

· Where: Huthmaker Violins, 3140 Main St. in Duluth

· Cost: Free

· For more information: Call 1-800-572-1019 or visit www.huthmakerviolins.com