Arsenios Corbishley is working up a strangely tuneful beat on his cello, sending thick wood shavings spilling off his work table and onto the floor as he rhythmically scrapes out the inside of the top piece of his latest work-in-progress.
The Oklahoma City artist years ago shifted his childhood interest in playing the cello into a budding career as a luthier, a maker of stringed instruments such as violins, cellos and violas.
As he uses a gouge to steadily scoop away curls of spruce, two smiling men in suits swing through the studio doors and briefly observe, and passersby occasionally pause at the wide windows facing Broadway Avenue to watch him create his elegant, and ultimately musical, art.
“The experience of being here in the studio isn’t like anything that I would’ve expected to have as a violin maker. Typically, in every shop that I’ve worked in, the repair people, the instrument-maker people, are always shoved back like into a corner,” said Corbishley, who also fixes violins, violas and cellos.
“So having a studio that’s on street level with all these windows, I kind of call it a fishbowl. ... But I’m getting used to it.”
For the past 10 months, Corbishley, 30, has been handcrafting instruments in the airy studio in the northwest corner of the Skirvin Hilton Hotel’s first floor. He is the second artist to occupy the space as Skirvin artist in residence.
“For an instrument maker to be in a residency like this is a bit unique, I think. I mean, this particular residency opportunity is unique in a lot of ways. Getting to have a space — and this particular, beautiful space — for a year is kind of incredible,” he said, taking a break from crafting a new cello on a recent Friday morning.
Formally known as the Skirvin Paseo Artist Creativity Exposition, or SPACE, the residency is a partnership between the landmark downtown hotel and the Paseo Arts Association, which manages the formal selection process.
The application process for the 2014-15 residency is to begin Monday, with a July 28 deadline for entries. In September, Corbishley’s time at the Skirvin will end, and another artist will move into the space.
“We are so fortunate to have the Skirvin in our city,” Paseo Arts Association President Joy Reed Belt said in an email. “This program increases awareness of the arts and thereby contributes to quality of life in Oklahoma City to both visitors and residents.”
Launched in 2012, SPACE is modeled after a similar program at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, which, like the Skirvin, is owned by Marcus Hotels and Resorts.
“We very much enjoy supporting the local arts community and also creating an experiential touch point for our guests,” Brett Sundstrom, Skirvin general manager, said in an email.
Along with the studio space, which is open to the public during set business hours, the Skirvin artist in residence receives a monthly $1,000 stipend and free parking and meals in the hotel’s employee cafeteria.
“It supported me for a year ... and I was very productive in that space,” said Oklahoma City visual artist Romy Owens, the Skirvin’s first artist in residence.
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