Ole Tollefson's Violin Patterns

Amy Vach

Catalog Numbers: 2013.029.01-2013.029.14

More than a century ago, La Crosse was home to a violin-maker, Ole Tollefson.

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Tollefson was born in Norway in 1853. At the age of 3, he sailed with his parents to the U.S. The family settled in Detroit, later in Lansing, Iowa, and finally in La Crosse.

For a brief time, Tollefson worked at a grocery store before starting his music career at the Bergh Piano Co. in the violin department. In 1924, he left Bergh and opened his own music store at Fifth and Jay streets making and repairing violins.

In 1927, Tollefson described his life’s work in the La Crosse Tribune: “The violin is a peculiar instrument, and once you become infatuated with its mysteries, you never lose interest.” All of the new instruments sold in Tollefson’s shop were handmade by him.

The patterns pictured were made and used by Tollefson to create his one-of-a-kind violins. These forms were donated to the La Crosse County Historical Society in 2013 by Dan Brodrick, who is himself a luthier -- one who makes or repairs stringed instruments. The items donated include various wooden and wrought-iron forms used to create violins. 

To create his violins, Tollefson used spruce and Pernambuco wood that was guaranteed by his supplier, Rushford and Draper of Liverpool, to be at least 200 years old. That was re-purposed from the masts of old shipwrecks.

The January 1920 edition of The Violinist, a magazine published in Chicago, features violin-makers and shops across the country. In the magazine, Tollefson is described as an American citizen and a dealer who sells all grades of violins, new and old. He is also listed as making violins, cellos, violas, bows and wound strings.

Tollefson died in 1938, and his obituary noted that he was the only recognized violin-maker in western Wisconsin upon his retirement in 1936, and that he was rated among the leading violin-makers in the world.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on October 20, 2018.

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