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Fulton sisters celebrate 10 years of bow rehairing, restoration business

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FULTON — Sitting in her small workshop, Mary Wipf softy stroked the fine, blonde Mongolian horse hair in her hands.

Hugging it at times, 65-year-old Wipf loves to touch the horse hair, which she will next use to rehair a violin.

“This is how the hair comes,” she said, holding it by one end. “Beautiful, premium — and a lot of bucks.”

With dozens of specialized tools and material, Wipf, along with her sister Liz Soladay, have repaired hundreds of bows for violins and violas for area schools using this hair.

And going into their 10th year since learning the bow rehairing craft and opening up Con Brio Studio in Soladay’s home in Fulton, the duo couldn’t be happier with how their lives have worked out.

It was in 2006 when the sisters, who were in their mid-50s, found themselves asking if they were happy with their jobs and life.

Soladay, now 67, was a laid-off musician, and after 20 years of living and working in Los Angeles, moved back to Fulton. Wipf has had various jobs in the area, from working in an office to substitute teaching.

Loving to play violin, Soladay then decided to start her teaching career and realized there was no nearby shop that could fix instruments for her students.

“I discovered quickly that my students had nowhere to get their bows worked on, actually nowhere to get their instruments worked on,” Soladay said. “ … It occurred to me it might be a little bit of a niche here.”

Since living in Los Angeles, Soladay knew of a woman who had started her own shop in violin making and repairs. Asking if she could help them learn the trade, Soladay and Wipf jumped in a plane traveling to Cremona, Italy to learn the art of violin making.

With financial help from their father, the sisters — who have been playing violin since they were 5 years old — spent two and a half weeks studying in Cremona with Giovanni Lucchi. Lucchi is an Italian bow maker known for beginning the first school of bow making in Italy, and the “best bowmaker in Italy,” according to Wipf and Soladay.

While there, the two quickly realized this was a difficult craft to master, and returned to the United States deciding to specialize in bow rehairing rather than a full-service shop.

Determined to master bow rehairing, the sisters signed up for master classes within the United States. And now the duo is celebrating 10 years of business, and this summer has been extremely busy.

But that’s OK with the duo, who are just happy to help musicians perfect their instrument.

“Sitting in the orchestra and watching people play wonderful music on bows I have done, there’s just no kick like it on the planet,” Wipf said.

A fondness for Fulton

Walking the streets of Fulton, which has a population fewer than 100, Wipf and Soladay said everyone knows where the bow shop is.

“When people come to the shop, we always give them directions, and we tell them to ask anybody,” Wipf said. “We have the world’s best neighbors, and they just get a kick out of this.”

Both sisters credit their late father for their success, as he funded and supported them through their midlife career change.

And living and working in Fulton is one of the best benefits of the business, as both grew up in the small town, Wipf and Soladay said.

But it all goes back to 10 years ago, when both decided picking up a new career was the way to go — and neither sister has any plans to stop anytime soon.

“Sometimes opportunity comes up and you got to go after that,” Wipf said. “There’s nothing worse than saying, ‘What if?’ ”