Arthur Ferris’ Giant Harp-Violin

Last modified 6-22-2009

Arthur K. Ferris was born in 1872 in Wisconsin and died sometime after 1940. Most of his adult life he worked as a landscape gardener in New Jersey. Starting sometime around 1924 and continuing through his remaining years, he conceived and built an extraordinary family of string instruments.

Giant harp-violin by Arthur K. Ferris, circa 1930

Giant harp-violin by Arthur K. Ferris, circa 1930

There were large, many-necked fiddles, and smaller fiddles with harp necks rising above. There were small violins that fit, for transport and storage, in the body of a larger “suitcase viol.” There were courting instruments, like the “bridal lap harp,” combining harp-like strings and bowed strings into a single instrument to be played together by a man and woman.

Ferris was entirely self-taught in both music and woodwork. He was devoutly religious, covering the insides of his instruments with obscure theological and philosophical notations.

In the April 1991 issue of Experimental Musical Instruments (Volume 6 #6) we included a reprint of a 1938 Popular Science article on Ferris’ work, including reproductions of the original article’s six photographs. Later we managed to locate some higher-quality photos of surviving Ferris instruments and ran them in the December 1993 issue (Volume 9 #3).

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