Losing a local legend like Arthur Conner is hard enough in the best of times. In these days with death around us so much because of a pandemic, a loss by the 95-year-old Conner reminds us that mortality is a given at any time.
Conner was a self-taught luthier who made violins, fiddles and mandolins for local, regional and national bluegrass musicians and those of other musical persuasions.
He lived and practiced his craft for more than 50 years in Copper Hill and died Monday.
One of Conner’s five-string fiddles with the ram’s head signature carving was shown on Ken Burns “Country Music” documentary that ran on Public TV last September. Ricky Skaggs was holding it.
Conner made one of those fiddles for Gene Elders, a Roanoker who plays fiddle for George Strait and has performed with Lyle Lovett. Mike Mitchell, whose blugrass albums have been chart hits on Billboard, has one too. Mitchell uses it in his work at his Floyd Music School.
Conner started making instruments in the 1970s, after serving in the Army for World War II and working and retiring from Norfolk & Western/Norfolk Southern. In 2010, he told The Roanoke Times, he has built at least 100 instruments as a self-taught luthier.
He read books about violin makers Giuseppe Guarneri, who studied with Stradivarius.
“We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t copy the older violins,” he told The Roanoke Times in 2010, entertainment write Tad Dickens reported in the Times this week.