Michael Mathews carefully opened a music case Saturday and pulled out a vintage 1880s-era violin.
“It came in my possession three weeks ago,” Mathews said. “It’s a violin that was owned by my great-grandfather. Knowing my interest in history, (my family) gave it to me.”
Mathews doesn’t know the exact year it was manufactured, saying “I am guessing between the Civil War and 1900. I’m almost assured it was in the 1880s.”
Mathews, 53, of Melrose, brought the instrument to the Sounds of Eau Claire History Harvest on Saturday, held at Chippewa Valley Museum. He sat down with UW-Eau Claire history students who photographed his heirloom and recorded video of him sharing his story about the instrument.
Dan Ott, UW-Eau Claire public historian professor, said more than 100 people had stopped at the museum by midday Saturday, bringing everything from music posters to instruments to scrapbooks.
“There’ve been plenty of fantastic items brought in,” Ott said.
The goal is to collect data about music history in the Chippewa Valley, he said.
“It’s a project where we are inviting the community to bring in their heirlooms,” Ott explained. “We digitize and record them, and they bring (the pieces) home with them.”
Ott said the goal is to create an archive of the collection, which can be placed online and reviewed.
“We started it as an oral history project, because people here are interested in music,” Ott said. “But we have limited stuff. So, we invited the people into to show off what they have.”
Mathews said he was thrilled to show off the priceless violin and record the video.
“It was perfect timing,” he said of the history harvest. “I thought it was a great way to share it, but keep it, too.”
Mackenzie Walters, a UW-Eau Claire public history senior, said it has been an interesting project, and she enjoyed listening to the stories.
“We had another guy come in with a big bass drum. On one side was a mural of an Indian. It was probably painted in the ‘30s or ‘40s. There is so much more to music history than we thought of.”
UW-Eau Claire public history student Lizzy Schmidt said that the project was a requirement for students in the class, but she was happy to participate in it.
“Especially in this area, where music is such a fundamental part of the community, this music from the past has such a connection to what we have now,” Schmidt said.
Walters said she enjoyed recording the sit-down interviews.
“It’s super-powerful how much trust they give you to share their stories,” Walters said. “It’s very heartwarming to be part of this.”
Robert Decker, 71, is a lifelong Eau Claire resident, and he brought in his Les Paul guitar he purchased in about 1970. Decker was lead singer for the Sensational Caretakers, a rock group that performed across five states through the mid-1960s, playing multiple times a week in each city where they stopped.
Decker brought a program with pictures and information about his time in that band. He’s been told the guitar could probably sell for $5,000 today, although he admits it needs a bit of restoration.
Decker learned about the history harvest because his son-in-law works at Chippewa Valley Museum.
“They were talking about the music scene in Eau Claire in the past,” Decker said. “It’s a whole different music scene now.”