Since the early 20th century, members of the Benning family have been making violins renowned for their beauty, sound and craftsmanship.
One day, mid-summer, I stopped by Los Angeles violin shop Benning Violins in Studio City for repairs on a friend's cello. German-born Hans Benning was at his work station, a violin on his bench and a wood plane in his strong, lean hand. To his left was his son, Eric. And next to Eric was Eric's son, Nathan. All three wore shop aprons and the fine dust of aged, hand-picked Bavarian and Bosnian spruce and maple.
Nathan, 13, was busy. Head down, he was working on a project that filled his dad and grandfather with pride. In a family that has been in the business since the early 20th century, faithful to an old-world craft that takes great patience, Nathan was making his first violin.
Hans surveyed his grandson through wire-rimmed spectacles, proud of the multi-generational operation. I asked Nathan what he thought of his work, and he deferred to the masters in his midst. His grandfather put it like this:
"He's got talent."
The shop's history is a bit complicated, but the roots go back to Illinois, Eric explained, where "my grandfather's sister married Carl Becker Sr., and he was the god of all violin makers in America."