Weldon Gray is a creator. For over 60 years, he has spent his time creating one thing or another. From framing houses to sculpting concrete dinosaurs to developing a magic show for children, Weldon is a man who loves the challenge of puzzling through a problem till he finds a creative solution.
Thirteen years ago, Weldon moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, after living and working in British Columbia for several years. In his new home, Weldon and wife Alice set out to meet people, joining a group called the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA) which recreates the Middle Ages. Members of the SCA are encouraged to dress in period costume and try their hand at various medieval crafts and sports.
Weldon and Alice each put together an outfit and Weldon soon set his sights of acquiring a crossbow. Naturally, medieval crossbows are hard to come by. This did not deter Weldon, though. He simply set about learning all he could about historic crossbows and then set about making himself one! It is a remarkable replica despite its one anachronism – Weldon carved a Chinese-style dragon onto it as he found the medieval examples too kindergarten-like! A fellow member made him some arrows to go with it.
As members of the SCA, Weldon and Alice attended a recital of the ‘Troubdour du Bois’. Weldon loved the sound of the lute and decided to learn how to play. Unfortunately, lutes also are not easily acquired. This was no problem for Weldon, of course. He just did the same thing he had done when he wanted a crossbow. He read articles and studied images and, finally, combining his newly acquired knowledge and skills, he built himself a lute. It wasn’t easy. It took several attempts but eventually figured it out.
Weldon has long since left the SCA but the love of medieval music and historic instruments which he found while a member has remained with him. Patient and determined, Weldon has been recreating one instrument after another – ‘uds, lutes, clarsachs, balalaikas, domra, hurdy gurdies, a theorbo and a psaltery.
Weldon is one of only a handful of people worldwide to have built an organistrum, a medieval ancestor of the hurdy gurdy. No organistrums have survived; only a few sculptures and manuscripts images remain, none of which show the back or the inside of the instrument. Builders must study the images and use what they know about medieval music to make an educated guess at what these were like. Weldon’s organistrum uses a pull tab system.
Weldon makes these instruments both for himself and for others. He has made instruments for musicians across North America. He allows himself six months to complete an instrument preferring not to feel rushed and risk making a costly mistake.
Currently, he is replicating the unusual Fitzgerald Kildare Clarsach. Built in 1680, it is covered in highly elaborate carvings. Weldon says it will be his ‘coup de grace’. Impressive as it is, I suspect that he will go on to tackle ever more challenging projects, celebrating each success with a bowl of ice cream!