The Organ Transplant
I found an organ donor before Christmas and last weekend we completed the transplant. This particular organ had been stored in a warehouse for many years, but was still in amazingly fine condition despite lack of refrigeration or heating. It was made in 1879 according to the label in side and the case was hand carved from cedar wood. The only other Smith American pump organ like this one I can find online is in a museum in Australia.
This organ was left behind in a storage building and the new owner, as he was cleaning up the shop and “organizing” just wanted it out of the way. Some friends helped with the loading and unloading process and the man who owned it actually made the delivery. We only lost a small piece of trim along the way and he stopped and picked it up.
Now you might wonder, as did my wife, why on earth I would volunteer to be the recipient of this instrument, allow me to explain. A few months ago as I drove down Highway 16, I saw what appeared to be a piano in a pile of trash put out for collection in the Fall Cleanup our city conducts each year. I turned around to see what it could be and found part of a piano (the hammers) and an ancient Epworth pump organ in deplorable condition. My son, Jonatan and I borrowed a pickup and took it home to my studio. Sadly, the organs pedals were missing so I couldn’t pump it, but reaching underneath, I pumped the bellows by hand. It sang for me, a deep melancholy melody as if glad to voice its sorrow of years of neglect. But without pedals, I really couldn’t play it properly. Something in me just wanted let it sing!
So I searched the internet and found a pump organ museum just sixty miles from Mom’s house. I contacted him and he said he might have some pedals I could use. But when he saw the photos, he suggested it was beyond repair. He offered to give me one so the next time I went to Kansas, I made a trip with my brother to Sharon Springs and visited one of the few pump organ museums in the world. After we completed the tour, we went over to his shop and he showed me an old pump organ that had been painted white and all the stop knobs were removed. It did seem to play fairly well, though the bellows leaked some air. We took it to Mom’s house and hauled it to the basement. Much scrubbing revealed a slightly lighter ivory paint, cracked and yellowed from years and painting over an oiled finish wood. It sounded beautiful, in its airy, clunky way. But it was too far from home and the van too small, so it stayed 643 miles away.
I cleaned out my studio, moved all the book making leather and paper into it and set up work benches and lighting. Then I got the call from the organ donor and we completed the transplant last Sunday afternoon. Certain members of my family found little amusement or joy in my new acquisition. In fact, there was a bit of a row after the organ was implanted safely in the studio. My participation in the disturbance fell sadly short of the expectations of the other familymembers and in my joy I accidentally whistled the as I walked away, a very bad idea in hindsight.
As I scrubbed layers of years off my “new” organ, as it sat under the sunny window, beautiful hand painted detailing began to shine through. Close inspection of the stops revealed graceful hand-lettering and I found more hidden featuresthan I knew could exist on an organ. But the best part is that this baby can sing! What amazes me most is that something made 133 years ago can still perform its intended function with finesse. With fourteen stops, strong, tight bellows, and efficient pedals, it lifts the rafters with its voice. I wonder what the neighbors think!
I’ll have to reorganize the book binding area again, but what a contribution the new addition makes to the room! Not only do my outlets for creativity fight for space, they fight each other for the hours of my day. They devour my life with their sweet gnashing teeth and I enjoy every minute of it.