Story and Photos by John Anglim…
Bill Wolmutt is a man who embraces his inconsistencies. He once replied, when I asked how he was doing, “I’m a 21st-century man, but I don’t want to be here.”
He was paraphrasing a line from a Kinks song. The truth is, he’s really more like a 19th-century man, who’s OK with the 21st century — up to a point.
When Bill says these things, it’s always with a twinkle in his eye that lets you know he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he’s content with shades of gray. Like most complicated and thoughtful people, Bill is always willing to examine and revise his positions.
You can see it in the exquisite and unique musical instruments he makes in his tiny basement studio and workshop. And here also are glimpses of the marriage of the past and the present, the happy union of traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design. Inlaid woods, brass, and abalone come together in a perfect harmony that makes each piece a true work of art.
Bill is an instrument maker quite unlike any other. When asked if he is a sculptor who makes instruments or an instrument maker who’s also a sculptor, he seemed genuinely stumped. Once you’ve seen his work, it’s easy to see why that’s a hard question. He makes only one or two instruments a year. Sometimes it’s hard to say exactly what one of his instruments actually is. He calls one such piece a “mandolaymer.” It is a hybrid combining elements of mandolin, ukulele, and dulcimer. He creates one-of-a-kind shapes that defy description.
Some of his pieces look as if they might not even be from this planet. Perhaps that’s because he likes to listen to old black and white science-fiction movies from the ‘50s and ‘60s while he’s working. “I know these old films so well,” he says, “that I don’t even have to watch them when I’m working.” Once again there’s a quirky contradiction: beautiful pieces of art being built to a B-movie soundtrack. Bill’s instruments sell from $2,000 to $6,000. And, yes, he can play them. He’s a pretty fair musician.
A lot of folks in the Valley know Bill by his nickname: Paisley Bill. It seems that back in the day, an old girlfriend’s mother liked Bill so well she began making him paisley shirts. He wore them so often they became his trademark. “I think my girlfriend’s mother liked me better than my girlfriend did,” he laughs.
When Bill isn’t making instruments, he turns his attention to freeform wood sculptures that incorporate graceful curves and highly polished surfaces next to natural burled areas. Or you might find him up on Glade Park with his telescope peering into distant galaxies and nebulae.
Yes, Paisley Bill is a gentle soul who marches to his own drummer. And no matter which century you find him in, you’ll be glad to have made his acquaintance. ***
About the author: John Anglim is a designer, writer, and musician living in Grand Junction Colorado. He was also creative director for Grand Valley Magazine. www.johnanglim.com..
This and other select Grand Valley Magazine stories on this site are part of our GV Classics Collection. This story was featured in the April 2009 issue of Grand Valley Magazine (c) 2009.