Marquetry Kahuna Silas Kopf’s Flukelele

Arthur Dodge June 10, 2014

I received the following message from Silas Kopf today: “Just a reminder that tomorrow, June 11, is King Kamehameha Day. It’s a time to put on a lei and a grass skirt (or just your finest aloha shirt), pick up a ukulele, strum a few tunes, and celebrate the islands.”

Silas Kopf with his Flukelele

A while back Silas Kopf’s shop assistant, Tom Coughlin, an accomplished furniture artisan and luthier, set about building a baritone ukulele. Silas Kopf, an aspiring amateur player, seized upon this opportunity to “shadow him” and built one as well. But he soon discovered that how-to-play song books for the baratone uke were hard to come bye. So he decided to make a smaller tenor uke.

Now, Silas Kopf is a serious artist with an irrepressible whimsical streak, and a conventional tenor uke seemed a tad boring. So, why not blend his frosty New England-Atlantic origins with his balmy Hawaiian-Pacific inclinations? Hence the “Flukelele” was born.

The Aloha Cabinet

Silas Kopf’s wife Linda jokingly suggested that he should design Hawaiian shirts since he wears them all the time. He was working on a series of elliptical cabinets on stands. Hmm, it had about the right proportions… And Voila! the Aloha Cabinet came into being.

“This is a sign, I think, of the fundamentally self-reflective nature of Kopf’s practice. It is an attitude that is consistent with his pieces of furniture, which are meditations on the relation between maker, object, and image. Sometimes his creations are simply witty, in a Postmodern, reflexive way – a favorite example of mine is the Aloha Cabinet, which depicts seahorses floating in a wash of bubbly bird’s-eye maple, and features naturalistic seaweed (an insider’s pun on “seaweed marquetry”, a dense vegetal style popular in England and the Netherlands during the late seventeenth century).”

Glenn Adamson, Head of graduate studies and deputy head of research, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.